Teachers did not expect the matric class of 2022 to perform as well as it did, given the many challenges this cohort of pupils faced over the past three years.
This was the consensus among teachers' unions, which hailed the matriculants as champions who overcame the worst.
"Under the circumstances, they have done more than what we expected, in the sense that these are pupils who faced a number of challenges," Ben Machipi, general secretary of the Professional Educators' Union, told City Press following the release of the 2022 matric results by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Thursday evening.
The class of 2022 achieved a pass rate of 80.1%, recording an improvement in the matric pass rate when compared with the 76.4% pass rate achieved by the class of 2021.
"Starting from their Grade 10 year, they faced the challenge of Covid-19, which destabilised a lot of things for them throughout 2020 and again in 2021," Machipi said.
He said pupils from KwaZulu-Natal overcame unprecedented hardships, having had to also contend with the floods that engulfed the province in April last year, destroying infrastructure and leaving many families displaced.
Like Machipi, SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said both teachers and pupils must be commended for their efforts, adding that higher expectations than this would have been unfair.
While he commended the 80.1% pass rate, Maluleke said that other factors besides the figure needed to be considered.
"As Sadtu, we have always said that what determines our response to the pass rate is not the overall percentage, but how we fare in the quality of passing," he said.
"We need to look at the bachelor's pass, [which pupils require to pursue a bachelor's degree] in university, as well as how pupils have faired in individual subjects. That is how we determine the quality of the education system."
Motshekga announced that 278 814 pupils had achieved a bachelor's pas. The matric class of 2022 had the largest cohort of candidates to date. A total of 753 964 full-time and 167 915 part-time candidates registered to write their final matric exams.
National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel acknowledged that issues including rotational attendance, online and hybrid classes, as well as forced school closures made the past few years an extra difficult period.
Even with the ongoing load shedding crisis, Maluleke was optimistic that "without any other distractions", the matric class of 2023 would sustain a healthy pass rate.
"If there is no other distraction besides load shedding, we believe that we will sustain the upward movement in terms of the number of subjects that pupils pass, as well as see an improvement in education as a whole through lessons we have learned in dealing with any sort of pandemic, such as the current load shedding. We now know how to deal with this pandemic, meaning we will see improvement.
"There are children who have never used electricity in rural areas, and in the townships there will also be schools that never use electricity."
"However, the load shedding experience is painful and it is unacceptable that it should be happening because there are pupils and schools that rely heavily on electricity. We hope the basic education department will ensure that those schools remain connected because we had called for Eskom to isolate schools and regard them as national key points," he said.