Johannesburg - The drop in the 2014 matric pass rate could in part be attributed to curriculum changes, an academic said on Monday.The 2014 matrics were the first group of learners who were fully Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) compliant, said Professor Veronica McKay, acting dean of education at Unisa.Caps replaced Outcomes-Based Education (OBE)."Caps are very specific. They determine what content needs to be taught each term. And for matric learners it indicates what content should be taught every fortnight."Because Caps specified content, the workload was higher compared to OBE, which depended on the teacher's interpretation of the learning outcome.The third paper in mathematics was also compulsory for the first time, having previously been an optional paper. This may have been another factor in the lower pass rate.English numbers 'surprising'McKay said what was surprising was the increased number of pupils who failed English first language."We know English as a first language is taken by second language speakers," she said."A lot of schools are doing English as a first language with second language learners. To perform poorly with English impacts on other learning areas."The fact that the Eastern Cape fared the worst in the country, with a 65.4% pass rate, was not a surprise given the province's size and lack of infrastructure."Your poorer schools are in the rural areas and they are the schools that often struggle to attract teachers. They are schools sometimes without electricity, water, etc.," McKay said."Yet, you still get out of rural schools some bright stars because some of the kids are really motivated and resilient. Resilience is a word we can acknowledge with the matric results."Gauteng best performerIt was not surprising that Gauteng was the country's best performing province, with an 84.7% pass rate.The Western Cape however, the country's fourth best province with an 82.2% pass rate, was a disappointment, she said. In 2013 the province had an 85.1% pass rate."The Western Cape has been traditionally strong. For me, the Western Cape has been a disappointment."McKay said the basic education department had done the right thing by focusing on Grade R."Matric starts in Grade R. We focus on that 1% of the pass rate. We become almost obsessed with that figure," she said."But what is really important is getting the kids in Grade R prepared, and preparing them in Grade 1, 2, and 3. Those are the learners we need to watch, those in Grade R."That's the way we are really going to turn the system around. I'm pleased that there is a focus on early childhood development."