Mmusi Maimane: Matrics passed but the DBE failed the exam

When examining the 2019 matric results, we should separate the performance of students from the performance of the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

Students who did well must be celebrated because they bucked the system's constraints. However, the performance of the DBE must be reformed to better prepare our citizens to compete in economies of the future.

Based on the metrics identified in the department's 2011 to 2014 Strategic Plan (Department of Basic Education, 2011), the DBE has not met its targets, including the following:

1. Improving the quality of basic education.

2. Increasing performance in mathematics and science.

3. Increasing the number of learners eligible for bachelor’s programmes at university.

4. Increasing the number of learners who pass maths.

5. Increasing the number of learners who pass physical science.

When assessing these metrics, the improvements have been negligible in respect of those targets. Take for example maths. In 2011, 224 000 students sat for the exam.

In 2018, only 234 000 students sat - an increase of only 4.46% in eight years. Using the real metric of 50% as a pass mark over the eight year period, the pass rate is only 22% (Department of Basic Education , 2018).

Looking at physical sciences in 2011; 181 000 students sat for the exam. In 2018, there was a decline of 4.97% and only 172 000 students sat for the exam.

Using the real metric of 50% as a pass mark over the eight year period, the pass rate is only 25.2%.

Maths performance 2011 – 2018


1. Average pass mark (over 2011-2018) period = 22%

2. Growth rate in pass mark = 0.39 % per year.

3. Percentage change in number of students sitting for maths exam = 4.46%.

4. It will take 72.5 years to get half of the students who sit for the exam to pass maths at the current rate of progress.

Physical science performance 2011- 2018


1. Average mark (2011-2018) = 25.2%

2. Growth rate in pass mark = 1.16%

3. Percentage change in number of students sitting for the physical science exam from (2011-2018) = -4.97%.

4. It will take 26 years to get 50% of the students who take the exam to get a 50% pass mark.

Bachelor’s pass trends


Looking at the metric used to measure university acceptance likelihood (the bachelor's pass) the discrepancy between South Africa’s two education systems is glaring. In the private education sector the prospects of university entry are 9/10 and in the public schooling system, those prospects are an average 3/10. This is not a pathway to creating an equal platform for all South Africans to pursue opportunity. There’s a need for change.

The following are immediate reforms the department should implement to change our trajectory:

1. Measure our pass rate using 50%: using a mix of 30% and 40% to measure a pass mark is misleading and projects a reality that does not exist in and outside our classrooms. The future is digital – we can’t set the bare minimum of reading for meaning in primary school or passing at 30% to prepare for competitive citizenry.

2. Provide learners with full academic support: this includes tutors and additional learning materials. Our performance in maths and other science, technology, engineering and maths economy (STEM) subjects is far behind the global curve.

3. Provide a safe and stable learning environment: deploy the army in the short term to all township schools. They should be sanctuaries, not death zones. Crime ridden learning spaces create mental and emotional trauma, affecting student performance. Include social workers and psychologists as support.

4. Restructure teacher remuneration: our teachers are underpaid and under-motivated. High performing teachers must to be paid accordingly, while low performing teachers must make space for passionate talent. Government should incentivise teachers to perform at the highest standard.

5. Remove the power of unions from education: the primary reason for the existence of labour unions is to ensure workers are not exploited. By treating and paying teachers fairly, the role of unions largely falls away. Appointing the right School Heads and management and giving them the authority to run schools effectively.

I am calling for these tough political and financial commitments because our history, our economic challenges and the global competitive environment enjoin us to do better. I recently met the Swedish minister of education and we spoke at length about their education system.

It is clear that skills and development are a fundamental part of the success of Nordic countries. South Africa needs to heed these lessons and take tough decisions to change our trajectory.

Few governments are skilled at matching their educational outcomes to the demands of their economies. We must not shy away from this challenge.

What SA needs is to recognise that the future of our nation is digital and the sooner we don't just set the bare minimum standard the better it will be for us to produce citizens who can compete in future economies.

The world does not owe us anything, we need to compete to secure our place in a future dominated by technology and climate change. We need learners who will be able to compete in these economies.

Our current metrics are grossly inadequate and send the wrong message.

I make these contributions fully aware that our government merely pays lip service to education.

We must take charge of our destinies and create solutions for our children. We can’t afford to wait for this government to get its act together – if we do, we’ll be waiting forever.

As a father and a concerned parent, I am tired of waiting and I plan to launch a pilot mathematics support programme in five high-density areas in March.

These five maths support centers will aim to assist at least 100 maths students in each community to improve their performance so they have a secure footing in the STEM economy.

I call on action-orientated South Africans to join me in this initiative.

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