South Africa’s real matric pass rate — 53%

The “real” matric pass rate of the class of 2021 is 53% — substantially worse than the official figure given by basic education minister Angie Motshekga.

On Thursday evening, Motshekga announced that the pass rate of 2021’s matrics was 76.4%, up marginally from 76.2% for 2020’s candidates.

While the results were slightly better than in 2020, they were still down from the pre-pandemic 81.3% for 2019’s matrics.

Motshekga described the circumstances under which 2021’s Grade 12s had written their exams as “hostile” in light of the disruptive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Basil Manuel, managing director of the education union Naptosa, previously said he would be surprised if there were any significant improvements considering that the pandemic had severely impacted this cohort of matrics over two years.

While Motshekga was beaming over the results under challenging circumstances, some might feel the pass rate she announced was not a true reflection of the reality.

Advocacy groups like Equal Education and opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) believe that the throughput rate of learners from earlier grades to matriculating provides a more accurate perspective on the state of school-level education.

Equal Education has used grade 2 enrolments as the denominator for the true matric pass rate, while the DA has used the respective grade 10 intake to measure the actual pass rate.

Using grade 10 enrolments is a good baseline, as school students can exit the basic education system after grade 9.

It is, therefore, reasonable to assume those who enrol for grade 10 have ambitions to finish matric.

The table below shows the real matric pass rate based on learner throughput from the Grade 2, Grade 8, and Grade 10 enrollments of 2021’s matrics.

South Africa’s real matric pass rate
Cohort Enrolled Percentage that passed Grade 12 final exams
Grade 2 cohort (2011) 965,340 55.7%
Grade 8 cohort (2017) 944,306 56.9%
Grade 10 cohort (2019) 1,006,709 53.4%

When considering 1,006,709 learners were enrolled in Grade 10 in 2019, and only 537,687 of these learners passed their matric exams, the actual pass rate would be 53.4%.

That means almost half of the learners who started in Grade 10 did not pass their matric exams in 2021, suggesting many had failed or dropped out.

When comparing the matric pass rate to the Grade 2 enrollment figure of the class of 2021, which is the approach that Equal Education prefers, the results are similar.

Most of the class of 2021 were in Grade 2 in 2011, when 965,340 learners were enrolled. That means that only 55.7% of these learners had completed matric.

Many more matrics sat for exams in 2021

Curiously, these figures are much higher than usual.

The grade 10 cohort pass rate has been around 40% since at least 2010. It jumped by nearly ten percentage points this year.

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.

Now read: IEB 2019 matrics achieve 98.8% pass rate

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South Africa’s real matric pass rate — 53%