Image showing Just Grace's Matric Class of 2020 | Langa, Cape Town | Matric Learning Assistance | NPO | NGO

Uncovering The ABCs Behind The 2020 Matric Results

No one needs reminding of how difficult the 2020 year was – we all experienced it – and while many of us found it a challenge, some of us were most grateful not to be writing matric. The Class of 2020 certainly will go down in history as one of the most resilient, disciplined, and dedicated groups of matrics, that’s for sure!

At Just Grace, we were fortunate enough to work alongside the dynamic leaders of tomorrow, helping students navigate distance learning, extra lessons, and changing exam timetables. We’re incredibly proud of the learners in our programmes, and we’re following their journeys closely – you can too by following our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages here. 

However, we need to consider the overall 2020 matric statistics to understand Just Grace’s impact and get the real picture of the quality of education in South Africa. We must delve into how our matric pass (and drop-out) rate is structured and talked about in the media and by the very Ministers who announce it.

Reality Check

Before we can get excited about the Government-announced pass rate, we must understand how it works and why the grading system still needs attention.

While we celebrate our learners’ successes, not every child was as lucky or included. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga proclaimed that she expected a “blood bath” considering the disruptive academic year before proudly announcing the overall pass to be 76.2%. 

However, according to the former Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Jonathan Jansen, it is a blood bath as “the pass percentage for inmates writing the grade 12 (NSC) exam was 86.3%, but only 76.2% for those in regular school. You are, therefore, more likely to get a good pass in prison than in school.”

Nicky Roberts, an Associate Professor in maths education in the Department of Childhood Education, University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus, stated that the 2020 matric class was largely sheltered from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic as the NSC exam measures two years of learning. She predicts that the Class of 2021 is the one we need to worry about, as they could possibly have a full two years of disruptive learning.


What About the ‘Drop-outs’?

In 2019, Angie Motshekga published statistics focusing on the drop-out rate of learners in South African schools. These statistics included youths aged up to 25 years and established that since 2009 there has been a steady increase in learners who have completed grade 12 (growing from 44.9% in 2009 to 53.8% in 2018). This sounds promising, up until one considers the below charts, which look at the percentage of learners who drop out after each school grade. 

Figure 2: Chart representing the percentage of youths dropping out after attaining each grade up until Matric

One will immediately see that from grade 9 there’s a sharp increase in the percentage of youth who drop out. In grade 11, it increases to almost a quarter of the overall class – and that’s before even reaching matric. When talking about the matric results, we also need to factor in the number of children who “should have” been able to reach this grade had they been offered better support and access to education. 

What About Those Who Opted For the Multiple Examination Opportunity (MEO) or Modularisation?

In recent years, provisions were made for learners to enrol in a matric programme whereby they could finish matric and write exams over two years. In theory, this sounded promising; however, in practice, it fell short. 

For the 2018/2019 exams, for example, of the 88 828 learners who opted to write the MEO Matric (otherwise known as Modularisation), 6 354 (7.1%) passed, with only 352 passing maths, and just three distinctions achieved. Of more concern was a large number of students (9 007) who didn’t arrive to write the exams. 

Figure 3: Table representing the number of students in the MEO programme who achieved, failed, or didn’t arrive to complete their NSC exam. 

According to a Mail & Guardian article published on 17 January 2020, the MEO was labelled as a “much-abused scheme,” which has since been cancelled and replaced with a system of “progressed learners.”

In her announcement, Motshekga blamed the scrapping on the fact that the MEO was “being used by some schools as a gatekeeping mechanism and not for its original intentions.” She added that it was used to “cull learners” who would have otherwise brought the overall pass rate down.

Did Progressed Learners Contribute to the Pass Rate Drop in 2020?

After the scrapping of MEO/Modularization learners, the Department of Basic Education’s Director-General Mathanzima Mweli concluded that the 2020 drop in matric pass rate was largely due to the over 70 000 progressed learners who sat for the 2020 exams. The progression policy was started to minimise the high drop-out rate while maximising school retention, but did it live up to this?

Progressed learners were the ones who had prepared to write matric over two years through the MEO but now had to write their end-of-year exam in one sitting – irrespective of their performance during the year. Of the over 70 000 progressed learners who wrote the 2020 National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, over 24 000 passed. According to Mweli, if progressed learners hadn’t been included in the overall matric pass rate, it would have been 81.2% instead of 76.2%. 

When asked why there was such a high fail rate in the number of progressed learners (46 000), Angie Motshekga informed the media that the 2020 progressed learners from 2019 didn’t receive the necessary academic support because of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Low Uptake of Difficult Subjects

Not everyone is mathematically inclined or interested in physical science. However, the low uptake in these subjects sheds light on how these subjects are valued. In some provinces and schools, the focus is on getting a better report card, and therefore, enrolling in these subjects is discouraged. 

Of the 233 315 candidates who wrote mathematics, 125 526 passed (53.8% pass rate), and of the 174 310 candidates who wrote physical science, 114 758 passed (65.8%), revealing a drop of almost 10% from 2019. 

Let’s now consider our surrounding schools near to Just Grace in Langa, Cape Town. For example, at one of them, just 20% of learners took pure maths, with the remainder opting for maths literacy. Of the 20% who took maths, only 36% of students passed. At Just Grace, one of our aims is to increase the uptake of pure maths – and it’s working. With more than double the number of students who took maths compared to other local schools, 80% of our pure maths students passed. 

Having candidates enrolled in these two subjects and obtaining over 50% is a meaningful pass level for access into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related degree programmes – all of which are necessary to support the skill needs of the country. 

Nicky Roberts undertook an extensive study to identify key metrics which should be applied when assessing the matric results. You can access the full article here; however, it is interesting to consider her overall findings below, as they showcase the low uptake and results of 50% and above for learners enrolled in mathematics and physical science per province:

Figure 4: Table representing how the matric class of 2020 actually fared province-by-province

The NSC Passes at Certificate, Diploma and Bachelor’s Degree Level 

It’s important to consider the pass rate, but let’s look at what it takes to further one’s studies after school. To obtain a Higher Certificate pass, learners require a minimum of 40% in a home language, 40% in two additional subjects, and 30% in three other subjects. While if one looks at the chart below, diploma and bachelor’s degree passes require higher marks:

Figure 5: Chart showing the NSC minimum pass rates and certification.

From the total of 607 227 full-time and 117 800 part-time candidates who sat for the 2020 NSC exams, 36.4% achieved Bachelor’s Degree passes (compared to 36.9% in 2019); 26% achieved a Diploma pass, and 13.7% received a Higher Certificate pass, and 0.01% (61 candidates) an NSC pass. At Just Grace, 80% of our matric learners achieved a Diploma or Bachelor’s pass – something which we’re most proud of and hope to build on.

Not every child with these passes will get into tertiary education; they are merely certificates to enter the College or University queue. However, at Just Grace, we want to better learners’ chances by assisting them in completing university forms, compiling CVs, and giving them the best possible chance to leave the cycle of poverty. We are aware that not all students will obtain a Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree; that is why we teach other skills to make them attractive to potential employers or help them start their own venture. 

No child should be left behind. While there have been great strides in improving the way curricula and systems are structured, we still have a long way to go before we can leave behind the shackles of the Bantu education and equip all youth with the skills and knowledge to take on the world. 

Reference List: 



https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-01-08-2018-matric-results-some-necessary-myth-busting-using-empirical-evidence-part-one/ \











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