South Africa’s real matric pass rate shocker

South Africa’s “real” 2023 matric pass rate is 51.3%, significantly lower than the number the Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga revealed the 2023 matric pass rate for public schools at the Mosaïek Church in Randburg on Thursday, 18 January 2024.

The minister said 897,775 matrics registered for exams, including 715,719 full-time and 182,056 part-time candidates.

Of the full-time registered candidates, only 691,690 wrote the exams. 572,983 — or 82.9% — of these candidates passed the exams.

This was the highest “official” pass rate yet, beating the previous record of 81.3% for the Class of 2019. It was also 2.8% higher than the pass rate of the Class of 2022.

However, the pass rate does not reflect how many of the learners dropped out of school before matric — or even between enrolling at the start of the year and sitting the exams in November.

Advocacy groups such as Equal Education and Zero Dropout use other metrics to calculate what they consider to be the country’s “real” matric pass rates.

Equal Education determines its rate by looking at the number of learners from the last matric grouping that passed as a proportion of Grade 2 enrollments.

Grade 2 is used instead of Grade 1 because there is generally a disproportionately high number of learners held back after their first year of school.

Other groups and organisations regard Grade 10 enrolments as a good baseline because school students can exit the basic education system after Grade 9.

They argue that it is reasonable to assume those who enrol for Grade 10 have ambitions to finish their 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 2023’s matrics.

South Africa’s real matric pass rate
Cohort Enrolled Percentage that passed Grade 12 final exams
Grade 2 cohort (2013) 1,116,427 51.3%
Grade 8 cohort (2019) 1,057,640 54.2%
Grade 10 cohort (2021) 1,081,618 53.0%

Considering that 1,081,618 learners were enrolled in Grade 10 in 2020, one “true” pass rate that factors dropout rates into the equation would be 53.0%.

That is a slight improvement over the grade 10 cohort rate of 52.5% recorded in 2022.

With Equal Education’s calculation that uses the Grade 2 enrollment figure, the number decreases to 51.3% — significantly lower than the 54% calculated using this method in 2022.

Another way to measure the pass rate is to use the Grade 8 cohort from 2019, in which case the pass rate becomes 54.2%. In 2022, that rate was 58%.

In previous assessments, we also looked at the number of Grade 12 learners enrolled at the beginning of the relevant year’s matric results.

This was not currently possible, as the DBE has yet to publish its 2023 School Realities report, which provides the enrollment figures.

Motshekga praised the students’ fortitude in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, which impacted their Grade 9 and Grade 10 years.

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South Africa’s real matric pass rate shocker