The Department of Basic Education recently announced the matric results for the class of 2015.
Two numbers were disclosed through the course of the announcement: the number of students who wrote, and the percentage who passed the exams.
Much like it was last year, there were conflicting reports on the number of students who sat for the exams – with the department painting a false picture of how many matrics registered.
The confusion began with a report which cited education regulator Umalusi as saying that 799,502 candidates wrote the exams in 2015, of which 668,122 were full-time.
During the results announcement, the department announced a different number – saying that 667,925 matrics wrote the exams.
According to the statistics in the department’s technical report, both these numbers are wrong.
Instead of using the number of matrics who registered, the department once again used the number students who enroled at the start of the year, creating the impression that far more matrics wrote the exams.
The real numbers
Here are the real stats for the matric class of 2015:
- Full-time enrolments: 677,925
- Full-time NSC registrations: 644,536
- Full-time matric passes: 455,825
- Pass rate: 70.7% (full-time)
- Dropout rate: 3.5% (full-time)
- Qualified for Bachelor degree studies: 166,263 (25.8%)
- Qualified for Diploma studies: 183,720 (28.5%)
What the matric pass rate hides
The matric pass rate is not a great measure of the health of South Africa’s education system.
In fact, the department has admitted to this:
Comparing pass rates in different years is in fact not like comparing apples to apples. Examinations like our matric are simply not designed to compare the performance of the schooling system across years.
Looking at just the pass rate, you will miss the thousands of students who dropped out during the year before they could sit the exams.
Equal Education said that to gauge SA’s education system, it is best to compare grade 2 enrolments to the number of matrics who registered for the exams.
It is also useful to compare how many students from the grade 8 class of 2011 and grade 10 class of 2013 made it to matric in 2015. The graph below shows the dropout rates from these grades.
Another issue is that passing grades in South Africa are low.
To pass matric, candidates must take at least 7 subjects, achieve 40% in three of them, and 30% in another three. The last one they can fail.
According to the department, one of the subjects a student must get 40% for is an official language, taken at the Home Language level.
An Africa Check report explained that the other two subjects matrics have to get 40% in must be 1 of 3 other compulsory subjects: a first additional language, mathematics or mathematics literacy, and life orientation.
To get a measure of how many matrics achieved high-quality passes, we looked at the percentage who achieved the minimum requirements for entry into higher education institutions.
The graph below shows the proportion who met the minimum admission requirements for bachelor degrees and diplomas between 2010 and 2015.