“I refuse to celebrate mediocrity!” says Pot to Kettle

I don’t understand the reaction to the recent matric results. Have we gotten so used to complaining? Are we so easily fooled to even complain about the good things that happen in our country? We are truly a twitter nation, making snap judgements based on headlines, dropping comments like they were change, and moving on to the next story to vent about.

The context

The grade 12 pass rate in 2012 was 73.9% and it increased in 2013 to 78.2%. That is a significant improvement by any measure. This has made people very excited, but the wrong kind of excited. The immediate reaction from some quarters was that the results were cooked before you factor anything else into it. Now add the fact that the Western Cape did not occupy one of the top two positions as it had in previous years. It did not come third either. It came in fourth place. Once you’ve absorbed that then factor in the fact that in 2013 the pass mark was dropped to 30%. That means you only need to know 30% of what you have been taught to advance from grade 12. These facts have strengthened the perception that the results were tampered with.  No wait, that’s a bit of an understatement. These facts have convinced people that the results were doctored. No, that’s not quite right either. These facts have solidified the fact that the ruling party have been for years now tampering with not just the results but with the students themselves and the teachers and the markers to ensure that in 2013 the pass rate would be 78%.

The Da Angie Code

Yes, there is a national conspiracy to ensure that weak students never write matric and thereby guaranteeing that the government can celebrate improved pass rates. It is a conspiracy that involves teachers, students and their parents. They have agreed, under coercion from the government, to hold back weak students in grades 10 and 11 so that they do not sit for matric exams the following year. Robert Ludlum, were he still alive, would be impressed with the ingenuity to pull this off. Imagine the number of people involved in this, and there has not been a single leak on social media! Think of the efficiency of the government agents that have infiltrated the school system. Here in South Africa! I cannot wait for the movie to be made. To the Conspiracy Theorists (now on referred as CT) this project is called ‘culling’ (yes the same word used to describe the practice of controlled killing of animals).

Is the dropout problem new in 2013?

The high (extremely high) dropout rate in students after grade 9 has been cited by them for this assertion (it is no longer a hypothesis, or even a theory it is now a fact as far as the CT are concerned). Roughly 500 000 students wrote the grade 12 exam in 2013. Twelve years prior when the class of 2013 started grade 1 there were about one million students who registered. That means 500 000 students did not even make it to matric to write the exam. That is a ridiculously high number. A study was done a few years ago and a committee formed to investigate the reasons for this drop out. One of the things they found was that the dropout rate in primary school is so small as to be negligible. Their findings are detailed in the above report. This was done in 2007, it is interesting that no one talked about culling back then. Another report is available from 2011. Again there was no talk of culling. One has to wonder why there is talk of it now. As if to suggest the high dropout has only affected the class of 2013 (less than half the kids who started school in 200 wrote exams in 2012). And it clearly shows that there is something seriously wrong with education in this country and how it is being managed. I am not disputing that. But to suggest a nation-wide government-led conspiracy, really?

Some say we are lagging behind other nations in the world and in the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe with all its problems has been used as an example for comparison. It has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, significantly higher than South Africa and this is rightly due to their fantastic education system. Except it’s not so fantastic. In 2011 the primary school pass rate was 45%. The pass rate for O-levels (which is what they do after form 4 or grade 10, an equivalent of grade 12) was 19.5% in the same year. So maybe let’s stay clear of using Zimbabwe as a comparison.

What about the rest of the world? We are so far behind the likes of the UK that any comparison is ludicrous. From what I can gather, students are free to do whatever after grade 10 (form 4). Apparently only about 20% go on to form 6, our grade 12 equivalent. And then they decide how and when to complete their studies, with the average being 3 to 4 subjects being taken a year. The point is there are so many differences to the system itself that one cannot compare the two. Although in the states grade 11 and 12 are compulsory it is much the same in terms of comparison. Even between different states in the US there are differences in policy.

The (sudden) call for an investigation

Before we go on let’s address the other two factors that have led to conspiracy talk. Why is the fact that the Western Cape has dropped from number one to four matter in this case? Because it is the one province run by the opposition party and they just happen to be the ones screaming for an investigation into the results. As I’ve mentioned before this was the first year a call for an investigation has been heard regarding the improved results. If you take one and put it together with the other you can only come to one conclusion. Contrary to what other defendants of the results have said, I do not believe it is a race issue although I understand why they would say it is. Let’s face it as soon as you shout race it muddies the waters a bit and makes everything difficult from there onwards. It is purely a political decision. It is an election year and no good news from any party can be celebrated, especially when my party has not done as well as expected. That, I believe, is the reason for the call to investigate.

“And the other thing that everyone has been going on about?”

“Oh yes, the drop of the pass mark to 30%! Almost forgot about that.”

This article from a retired headmaster is the perfect read for you if you are in the stable that believes the drop to 30% is criminal and eroding the quality of education in this country. The pass mark in the previous regime was, wait for it, 331/3%.

“Wait, so we are complaining about a 31/3% drop?”

“Um, yes. Yes we are.”

“But people have been going on about 50%?!”

Yes they have, and they have been, and continue to be, wrong. The same people who went through that very same schooling system.

Some went to the trouble of quoting the FS University VC, “You no longer need 50% to pass certain subjects, which means that you can be completely ignorant of more than half of the subject matter content and still pass.”  Yeah, you never needed 50% on any subject, ever! I urge you to go into the DoE website and find out for yourself what the requirements for passing at each level are.

But the poor kids will struggle at varsity!

The final point I want to address is this fear that university students are being compromised by this. There is concern that kids going to university are being set up for failure. As in “these kids will get to university and fail.” Huh? The pass mark was dropped, not the university entrance requirements. A kid who passed with 34% or 30% is still not going to make it to tertiary. None of the kids who pass between 30% and 34% will be at university, so how has it affected university dropout rates? Again, you just have to check the DoE website and you will see that to get to university you need a 50% pass mark in at least four of your subjects, subjects that carry 20 credits. Keep in mind that universities determine their own entry requirements; this just makes you eligible to attend a university. So if they (the universities) have lowered their admission requirement to accept kids that are not suitable to study at university then they should be held to account (with Bra Blade if he’s involved). It’s got nothing to do with matric pass marks.

Cause for celebration

I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 8 provinces with greater than 70% pass rate and 4 at over 80%. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 61950 more kids who passed matric than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 35708 more kids who achieved a bachelor’s pass and 20411 more who achieved a diploma pass than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that the non-diploma and non-bachelor passes only account for 9.4% of the improvement from 2012. And if you believe in the conspiracy theory and the culling, then I suggest you get Dan Brown on the case although you may have more luck with Tom Eaton for this one.


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