The matric class of 2018 proved to be a vintage year, with the national pass rate nudging 80%, and KwaZulu-Natal’s passes improving to 76,2% — a 3,3 percentage point increase on 2017.The province was also announced as a main contributor towards distinctions achieved in the country.A total of 157 000 distinctions were achieved in 2018 (a decline of 2,6% from 2017) with the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo (all considered rural provinces) making up 46,9% of the total.The results were announced on Thursday evening by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.In a speech broadcast live on SABC News, she said the class of 2018 recorded the fourth highest enrolment of full-time candidates, and the most part-time candidates since 1994 — the start of the basic education system in South Africa.The total number of candidates was around 800 800.Motshekga said it “is noteworthy that KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape registered the highest numbers of full-time and part-time candidates in the country”.She said all but one province in the country achieved higher than a 70% pass rate. Limpopo achieved 69,4% — a 3,8 percentage point improvement from 2017.Four provinces achieved above 70%, among them the Eastern Cape, which showed a 5,6% improvement — the largest in the country.Other provinces over 70% are the Northern Cape (73,3%), KwaZulu-Natal (76,2%) and Mpumalanga (79%) — an improvement of 4,2%.The North West, the Western Cape, the Free State and Gauteng all achieved a pass rate above 80%, with Gauteng coming in at number one with 87,9%.Motshekga said it was also important to note that a total of 312 700 candidates (78,3%) who achieved bachelor and diploma passes are eligible for studies at higher education institutions.“The 86 790 candidates, equivalent to 21,7%, who obtained certificate passes may register at TVET and other skills training institutions,” she said.She added that the class of 2018 was the first to take 12 new subject offerings — SA Sign Language (home language) as well as civil technologies, mechanical technologies and electrical technologies, each with three subjects, as well as technical mathematics and technical science.Motshekga said 2018 also saw the largest number of progressed pupils — over-aged pupils who have repeated Grade 11 more than once — writing their exams.KwaZulu-Natal had the fourth highest number of passes by progressed pupils in the country (63,4%) while Gauteng had the highest (70,3%) and the Western Cape’s progressed pupils pass rate was 33,6%.“We are convinced that, had the provinces not provided the ‘package of support and interventions’ to the progressed learners, some of our young people could have fallen through the cracks,” Motshekga said.“It is for this reason that we continue to encourage provinces to support struggling learners, not only during their matric years, but right through the system.“This will definitely improve the through-put and retention of learners, especially in the senior and FET phases, where we experience high failure and drop-out rates.”She added that 3 856 pupils with special educational needs wrote the 2018 NSC examinations — an increase of 39,9% from 2017 — and 3 051 of those pupils passed the examinations.Just over 1 900 distinctions were achieved by special needs pupils.No-fee schools had 241 340 passes, with 84 700 bachelor passes — 53% of the bachelor passes. In 2016, these schools had only six percent of the bachelor passes.The quintile ranking system determines how much the government funds schools per pupil — schools in quintiles one to three are the poorest and get more government funding.While none of the KwaZulu-Natal districts was in the top 10 countrywide, Amajuba was the province’s best performer in 2018.“The 2018 NSC overall pass rate, with the progressed learners included, stands at 78,2%. This is a 3,1% improvement from what was achieved in 2017,” the minister said.“We will be the first to concede that, despite the notable stability of and improvements in the system, we are yet to cross our own Rubicon. We must agree that much has been achieved, but much more needs to be done in the areas of efficiency and quality.”DA MP Nomsa Marchesi said Motshekga had “failed dismally to address the large number of learners who don’t write matric in the first place”.She said “nearly half the learners who enrolled in Grade 1 in 2007, did not write the full-time matric exams in 2018 as they were expected to”.“A good quality, timely matric qualification is essential for school leavers to further their education and training and secure jobs to put an end to the cycle of poverty.“In the DA-run Western Cape we continue to keep learners in school and maintain the lowest drop-out rate in the country. We will keep fighting for learners to have the best possible start to adult life ...” she said.AfriForum made a similar point about the number of drop-outs, as did NGO Equal Education (see page 2).Deputy director Alana Bailey said the youngsters who disappear from the system “are left stranded without skills”. — WR.