Pass rate is not the problem
On Tuesday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will announce that the matric pass rate has declined for the second time in five years. Critics will be ready to heap blame and find scapegoats for this fall in matric performance. It is, however, important to maintain a sense of perspective.
As John Volmink, head of education quality assurance body Umalusi, said when making preliminary remarks about this year’s matric examination process, the education authorities will not and should not drop standards to give us a false picture of improvement.
Explaining the drop, Volmink pointed to the cognitive demands of the question papers, the improved quality of script markers and language demands on non-English speakers.
No doubt, thousands of matriculants who did not make the grade will be hurting. However, the unnecessary focus and pressure on matric is misplaced and hides what could be pertinent structural issues within the education system.
For too long, many South Africans decried the low bar for passes in basic education, saying there was no point in producing hundreds of thousands of matriculants who were actually not well prepared for the job market or tertiary institutions.
We should rather focus on ensuring that, before they reach matric, our children are intensely and properly prepared while progressing through all 11 grades, and that matric is a product of adequate preparation, rather than an end in itself.
Linked to this is a need to insist that matric passes are actually in subjects that are in line with the economic requirements of this country.
The education system should be able to identify youngsters who have technical aptitude and who should be appropriately guided towards muchneeded qualifications and skills.
Education authorities should work with teachers’ unions to find solutions to address the shortcomings in education, which are manifold.
The corruption in the system, manifested by the employment and promotion of unqualified teachers who bribe their way in, should be confronted and rooted out.
The problems in the system are not a mystery to anyone. All that is required is an admission that they exist and a commitment to resolving them, rather than being quick to point fingers.