South Africa’s matric pass rate — official vs “real” from 1995 to 2021

Basic education minister Angie Motshega announced this week that 76.4% of matrics who wrote their final exams in 2021 had passed.

However, experts have said the education department’s emphasis on increasing the matric pass rate has come at the cost of declining standards.

Civil action groups have also warned that the official pass rate is beguiling as it disregards the high school learners who dropped out along the way — even those who registered for their matric exams but didn’t end up sitting the finals.

“Dropout should be a key performance indicator, serving as an accountability measure for the sector,” the Zero Dropout Campaign has stated.

The group also noted that young men had constituted a declining proportion of those writing matric over the last decade.

“For instance, in 2018, for every 100 young women writing matric, there were only 80 young men. Boys are dropping out at a higher rate.”

Advocacy group Equal Education has stated that the annual matric pass rate announcement is misleading fanfare that provides a poor indication of the overall health of South Africa’s education statement.

To better illustrate South Africa’s dropout problem, Equal Education prefers to use grade 2 and grade 10 throughput rates.

This provides a measure of how many grade 2 and grade 10 learners make it to matric and pass their exams.

We have also included the grade 12 throughput rate in the chart below. This considers how many matrics dropped out between registering for their exams and actually sitting for their finals.

While many of these will return in the next year to try and pass their matric exams, this statistic is not reported by the Department of Basic Education.

Interestingly, the grade 2 and grade 10 cohort pass rates are much higher than usual.

One possible explanation is that substantially more matrics sat for their exams this year.

Basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli explained that there was a change in the assessment regime in grades 10 and 11 for this year’s matrics, intended to maximise teaching and learning time.

Among the changes was that exams were replaced with controlled tests.

“These learners would therefore have written their first fully-fledged examination in their Grade 12 year, which was part of the preparatory examination,” Mweli said.

Matric pass rate from 1995 to 2021

Equal Education has warned that reading skills between grade R and grade 3 in South Africa are in crisis.

The Zero Dropout Campaign stated that early-grade reading had taken a severe knock during the Covid–19 pandemic.

“We need an accelerated learning programme attuned to learners’ needs,” the group said.

In addition to a reading skills deficit, experts previously told MyBroadband that South African maths standards had dropped substantially, despite the positive trend in the matric pass rate.

The Department of Basic Education’s policy of allowing students to obtain 30% and 40% marks in several subjects and still pass has also come under fire.

Official Matric Pass Rate
Class of %
1995 53.4
1996 54.4
1997 47.4
1998 49.3
1999 48.9
2000 57.9
2001 61.7
2002 68.9
2003 73.3
2004 70.7
2005 68.3
2006 66.5
2007 65.2
2008 62.5
2009 60.6
2010 67.8
2011 70.3
2012 73.9
2013 78.3
2014 75.8
2015 70.7
2016 72.5
2017 75.1
2018 78.2
2019 81.3
2020 76.2
2021 76.4

Now read: Thank you fibre broadband — private schools get 98.39% matric pass rate

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South Africa’s matric pass rate — official vs “real” from 1995 to 2021