Forget pass rates and assess quality
WHILE Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s announcement of our improved national pass rate of 72.5% from 2015’s 70.7% sparked a flurry of statistical debates around retention rates, standardisation, adjustments and culling, we collectively become so bogged down by the numbers that we miss the qualitative richness of the stories behind why fewer than half of the original class of 2016 finished – and passed – their schooling as well as what a matric pass means for those pupils who were celebrating on January 5.
Can we congratulate ourselves on producing a bigger batch of work-ready and university-ready young adults?
Indicators such as the time taken for many students to obtain university qualifications, the high drop-out rates at universities and many graduates’ lack of literacy and numeracy, point to the blinkered view which the matric pass rate gives us.
While the consensus is that more attention needs to be paid to lower grades, what does this mean in a practical sense?
It is clear that the foundation which our pupils gain during their primary education is failing to carry them through to matric, with maths and science being particular weak points.
The long-term implications of this is something that the pass rate does not tell us – that the quality of education is more important than its quantity in determining both the economic growth of countries and how individuals perform in their careers.
In other words, receiving a matric pass does not mean that a pupil has the expected cognitive skills to show for his or her 12 years of schooling.
Researchers define a quality education as a curriculum which provides pupils with the knowledge, skills and values that society expects from its graduates.
However, a pass rate can only provide us with a measure of the extent to which knowledge, and to some extent, skills, have been acquired.
How can we ascertain whether our graduates can work effectively as part of a team? Or communicate effectively? We hold thumbs and hope for the best.
We may have improved on the access to education, but we are still a long way off in defining what quality of education means in the South African context.
We have become so focused on the end goal, passing matric, that how we get there has become irrelevant.
Sure, we can poke and prod the statistics, interrogate their meaning and compare provincial performance, but the pass rate is only a number.
If we hope to build a dynamic and entrepreneurial workforce equipped to deal with the challenges we are facing, then perhaps it’s time to relook at what we are measuring and how we are measuring it. CEO of Think Digital College
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ECSTATIC: Matriculants at Monument Park High school which obtained a 98.4% pass rate.