The massive matric dropout problem in South Africa

More school students are enrolling for matric and dropping out before the exams than ever before, Department of Basic Education statistics reveal.

Of the 624,733 full-time public school students who entered matric at the start of 2018, only 512,735 actually wrote the exams. This is according to the NSC Examinations Technical Report for 2018.

The number of matrics who drop out before sitting their exams has been increasing steadily since 2015.

In 2015, there were 23,389 matrics who dropped out before sitting their exams – a dropout rate of 3.5%. By 2018 this number had increased to 131,067 – a dropout rate of over 20%.

Policy of progression

One possible reason for the phenomenon is the introduction of a new policy on progression in 2013. Under this policy, students are not allowed to be held back more than once between Grade 10 and Grade 12.

In other words, it may not take a student longer than four years to complete grades 10 through matric. They may fail any grade once and be held back, but not twice.

Of the 128,634 students who were progressed to matric in 2018, only 33,413 wrote exams. Of those who wrote, only 60.2% passed their exams.

Factoring these numbers in, the number of non-progressed learners who dropped out of matric before sitting their exams was 35,846. This is still significantly higher than the overall dropout figures before 2016.

The department says that the rationale behind the policy on progression is to minimise the high dropout rate and maximise school retention.

The policy has had little or no effect on dropouts, however.

Inflating the pass rate

The government has also implemented several strategies to artificially inflate South Africa’s matric pass rate over the years.

This is done through adjusting scores upwards after the exams have been marked, or through making matric exams easier.

The pass mark for certain subjects has also been lowered, higher grade subjects have been removed, and the “designated subject list” for entry into degree studies has been abolished.

Another effective tool to increase the pass rate is to ensure that matrics who are unlikely to pass the exams do not register for them.


The graphs below show the number of dropouts and dropout rates from 2010 to 2018.

The Grade 12 dropout rate is calculated by subtracting the number of matrics who wrote exams from the number of enrolments.

Matric dropout figures: 2010–2018

Matric 2010-2018 dropout numbers Gr12 only

Matric dropout rates: 2010–2018

Matric 2010-2018 dropout rates Gr12 only

Now read: The real matric pass rate – 2010 to 2018

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The massive matric dropout problem in South Africa