Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to announce that the matric pass rate has breached the 80% threshold for the first time.
City Press can also reveal that the Free State has reclaimed the top spot from Gauteng, which has reportedly dropped to second position.
North West grabbed third position, with the Western Cape completing the top four.
Insiders, education experts and commentators attributed the improvement in the pass rate to the maturing of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement, holiday schools and a significant improvement in infrastructure, and pupil and teacher support material, all of which boosted the pass rate up from 78.2% last year.
“The department is going to announce the highest matric pass rate. The system is on the rise,” said an insider in the department.
“The biggest thing is that the department needs to account for the increase in terms of performance across the board. If we aren’t able to do that, people will accuse us of cooking the results. The department has done what it said it would do – identified weaknesses in the system, addressed them and made sure that teaching and learning take place.”
A senior executive in the department in the Eastern Cape revealed that her provincehad recorded the most significant improvement in years.
“What I can tell you is that we’re on the other side of 75%, up from 70.6% in 2018. We’ve worked very hard.”
Another official in the Free State said his province had displaced Gauteng in terms of overall academic success.
“I won’t give you details now, but I can tell you that we’re the best-performing province, followed by Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape.”
Educational expert Professor Mary Metcalfe said that, considering that the pass rate had been growing by more than 1.6% over the past decade, the improvement was to be expected.
“The national pass rate for the National Senior Certificate has been steadily improving over the past 10 years from 62.6% in 2008 to 78.2% in 2018. This is an average increase of 1.6% a year,” she said.
“There’s no reason to expect a marked change from that pattern. This figure, however, tells us little about the overall performance of the system.
“It tells us that 80% or so of the pupils who reached Grade 12 [which is only 60% of the pupils who start school] passed. We must remember that this is only 37% of those who started the journey.
“Our national attention should be on the 63% who’ve fallen by the wayside along the way, what we must do to address their economic and social inclusion and what we can do to make sure more succeed in future.”
So effective are the winter and spring holiday camps that the department organises for matric pupils that the performance in quintile one, two and three schools – the poorest schools in the country – has, for the first time, surpassed the performance in former model C schools.
“We’re now starting to see that it doesn’t matter where or who you are. When given the opportunity, you’ll perform,” said the insider, adding that 44 of 75 education districts had achieved a pass rate of 80% and above.
A report that the department presented to SA’s Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, Umalusi, last month shows that the holiday camp schools attracted more than 530 000 matric pupils across the country’s provinces.
It also shows that the camps resulted in pupils receiving an additional 20 schooling days. The holiday schools targeted high-risk pupils, progressed pupils and schools that enrolled more than 100 pupils for a single subject, as well as schools that enrolled more than 50 pupils but had achieved a matric pass rate of less than 60% in 2018.
The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, spent 21 days visiting 114 holiday camp schools.
The detailed report covers the subjects offered in the camps, the topics covered by them, the quality of teaching, the type of support offered, the duration of each subject per day and attendance levels.
About 88% of polled pupils said the camps had been “very helpful”.
A pupil at Wiggins Secondary School in Durban who was interviewed about her experiences said: “Winter school teachers are dedicated and show a genuine concern for pupils. Interacting with pupils from other schools provided us with opportunities to learn from each other.”
Similarly, a pupil at Seleje Secondary School outside Mahikeng in North West said: “They taught us new techniques on how to answer exam questions. The feedback was clear and we understood concepts better.”
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi yesterday said it would come as no surprise if the matric pass rate continued to rise.
“We can only go upwards. Over the past few years, there’s been serious competition at the top, middle and bottom of the provincial matric pass rate ranking. Provinces at the bottom have made a significant push upwards, and most of those at the top have sustained their rankings.”
Lesufi added that the department had made big investments in the sector over the past decade.
“We’ve invested billions in infrastructure, material development, stabilisation of the curriculum and teacher development.”
The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, declined to comment on the anticipated pass rate announcement, but said: “The department has always planned to record an improvement and any increase in quality of passes would be welcome.”
He added that he was happy that Umalusi had acknowledged the strategic interventions that the department had put in place to improve the sector.
Mweli said he had spent a significant amount of time in provinces monitoring and supporting teachers and pupils.
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