Many of the 2012 matriculants were justifiably celebrating their achievements after the results of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams were released earlier this week. Some of them had to write their exams under less than ideal conditions, and their successes in particular deserve recognition.
However, now that the first flush of celebration has passed, it is time to take a hard look, not only at the actual value of the NSC, but also at the alarmingly high number of children who are dropping out of the school system before completing Grade 12.
According to the City Press of Sunday, 6 January 2013, census 2011 data revealed that 322 644 children between seven and fifteen were not in fact in school. An astounding 106 830 of these children are from KwaZulu-Natal. This is due in part to socio-economic reasons, but academic failure is also to blame. There appears to be little support for learners who fail to move on to higher grades, and many become so demoralised that they eventually drop out of school completely.
In light of this, we need to consider the 133 323 learners who did not pass the NSC this year, and ensure that they receive the support they need to stay in school and do better next year.
It is worth noting that, of the 1 130 659 learners who registered for Grade 1 in 2001, 619 507 have since dropped out of the school system. Based on these figures, the real pass rate for 2012 is not 73.9%, but a much more sobering 37.5%.
Only 26.2% of learners scored high enough to gain access to bachelor-level studies at university. However, they will still need to undergo benchmarking tests set by the universities, and some will have to attend bridging courses before being allowed to commence their studies. Given the high drop-out rate of first-year university students in particular, it is likely that only a very small percentage of this already low number will graduate.
Of these, it is unlikely that there will be nearly enough of them to meet the labour market's need for qualified science, engineering and maths graduates. This points to a problem in the teaching of maths and science that originates much earlier on in the schooling system.
The results of international benchmark tests, as well as the local Annual National Assessments, reveal that South Africa's learners fare among the poorest in the world when it comes to numeracy and literacy. The majority of learners in Grades 3, 6 and 9 cannot read with understanding and cannot be considered numerate. The fact that they still manage to pass successive grades, and achieve passes in matric, raises serious questions about the quality of these passes.
While we must welcome the steady increase in the matric pass rate since 2009, we also need to acknowledge the fact that there has not been a correspondingly robust increase in the number of matriculants writing the NSC each year during this period, nor can we say with confidence that the quality of the matric pass is beyond reproach.
I will therefore be submitting a number of pertinent questions, including the following, to Minister Angie Motshekga once Parliament is in session again this year:
What provision has been made for matriculants who failed to pass the NSC exam since 2009; how many of them attempted to write the NSC a second time; and how many managed to pass after successive attempts?
What provision is being made for the education of the 619 507 learners who have dropped out of the school system since registering for Grade 1 in 2001; and what measures have been put in place to ensure that the retention rate improves?
What provision is being made for teachers to receive training that will improve the teaching of maths and science from Grade 3 onwards, and to ensure that more learners achieve pass rates in these subjects that will allow them to qualify for bachelor-level studies ?
It is critical that we provide all our young people the opportunity to pursue a productive future - with the capacity to learn skills within a job or career, or to become an entrepreneur, or to pursue further studies. If the National Senior Certificate cannot give them access to any of these options, it is for all practical purposes, useless.
Annette Lovemore, DA Spokesperson on Basic Education