The Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced the matric results for public schools on the evening of Monday, 5 January 2015.
Two important numbers were disclosed in the course of the proceedings: the number of matriculants who wrote the exams, and the percentage who passed.
The first number — 688,660 matrics who wrote the exams — was wrong.
The above figure is actually the number of students who registered to write the matric exams. The number who ended up finally sitting for the exams was much lower.
This is an issue because the DBE calculated South Africa’s 2014 matric pass rate using the number of matrics who wrote, not the number who registered.
Any conclusions drawn from the widely reported 688,660 figure — including the number of matrics who passed — would therefore be inaccurate and inflated.
Media outlets all over South Africa, including MyBroadband, have been reporting that 688,660 matriculants sat for their final exams at the end of 2014.
Sadly, it is all too understandable how this incorrect figure has been perpetuated in article after article about the 2014 matric results.
It was the number provided by Deputy Minister of Basic Education Mohamed Enver Surty during his introduction at the results announcement on Monday night.
“Last year — that is in 2014, not very long ago — 688,600 candidates sat for the National Senior Certificate examination,” Surty said. “Among those, there were more than 550,000 full time candidates.”
Government’s own news service also said “the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination was written by 550,127 full-time and 138,533 part-time candidates”.
Real matric numbers
The DBE’s National Senior Certificate Examination Technical Report for 2014 reveals the discrepancy, stating that only 532,860 of the original 688,660 matrics who registered for finals actually wrote their exams.
Of those, 403,874 (or 75.8%) passed.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, confirmed that the DBE calculated the matric pass rate relative to the number of students who actually wrote the exams.
This means that the DBE’s error on Monday night led to significant inaccuracies in the media reports that followed its initial announcement.
For example, using the 688,660 figure to calculate the number of matriculants who passed (at a rate of 75.8%) equals 522,004.
However, the actual number of matrics who passed is 403,874 — 118,130 lower than the answer many would have come upon before the technical report was released on Tuesday.
This raises a number of questions about how South Africa’s matric pass rate is calculated.
If one calculates the pass rate based on the number of matriculants who registered for final exams, for example, it drops to 58.7%.
Comparing the number of passes to grade 1, 8, and 10 enrolments also yields much lower percentages.
The table below summarises the discrepancies between the initial impression we were given of the 2014 matric results, and what they actually are.
|Class of 2014 stats||What we thought they were||What they really are|
|Pass rate (official)||75.8%||75.8%|
|Gr. 1 (Enrolled 2003)||1,252,071||1,252,071|
|Gr. 8 (Enrolled 2010)||965,394||965,394|
|Gr. 10 (Enrolled 2012)||1,065,329||1,065,329|
|Gr. 12 (Registered 2014)||–||688,660|
|Pass rate (vs matric registrants)||–||58.65%|
|Pass rate (vs Gr. 10 enrolments)||49.00%||37.91%|
|Pass rate (vs Gr. 8 enrolments)||54.07%||41.84%|
|Pass rate (vs Gr. 1 enrolments)||41.69%||32.26%|