This is according to Theuns Horne of Hough & Horne Consultants. They are evaluators and consultants on literacy, functional literacy (Abet) and communication skills.
He had just received the results of Grade 11 pupils who had applied for bursaries with an industrial giant.
"There are no words to describe the shocking findings," he said.
The pupils' English and numeric skills are worse this year than the group tested last year.
"What is even more alarming is that the company only selected the cream of 5 000 applications received countrywide. About 260 candidates had been tested."
Deterioration was evident in English competency with mother-tongue speakers of both Afrikaans and English, as well as African language speakers who were educated in English. The biggest deterioration had been with the last group.
Literacy figures have all dropped
All in all, last year the English of 29% of English mother-tongue speakers had been at Grade 11 level, as opposed to this year's 25%.
The English of 30% of Afrikaans speakers had been at Grade 11 level last year, but had now dropped to 22%.
Of African-language speakers, who were educated in English, 11% came through at Grade 11 level last year. This year, the figure was only 9%.
According to Horne, many more pupils' English in this group was below Grade 10 level. The majority were on Grade 8 level and many were below Grade 7 level.
No English or Afrikaans mother-tongue speakers were registered at below Grade 7 level.
While a lot more than 70% of the English and Afrikaans mother-tongue speakers' maths skills came up well, Horne was shocked that only 18% of the African-language speakers were at this level. Last year, the figure was 25%.
According to Horne, 8% of Grade 11 African-language speakers' maths was on Grade 4 level.
Bridging courses 'will be needed'
Horne feels the education system should improve drastically to upgrade the poor literacy levels.
"The majority of South Africans, about 85%, are penalised because they prefer being educated in English which is often their second or even third language."
If education in English is continued, bridging courses will need to be looked at as a matter of urgency.
"What happens now is not to anyone's advantage, and pupils are deceived because exams are apparently cooked.
"It doesn't make sense that their skills are this bad while the pass rate looks better each year."