Engineering News Article

Techtrack Column
Engineering News

January 20-26 2006
Vol 26 No 1

Last year's matric results not disappointing at all

Each Christmas a big event is the announcement of the matric results. This past year the Minister; Naledi Pandor, expressed her disappointment at the fact that the pass rate was down from last year. The 2004 pass rate had been 70,7% compared to the lower 2005 pass rate of 68,3%. In 2003 the highest ever pass rate of 73,3% had been achieved. So the Minister said she was disappointed. But I don't see it that way, and I think that the Minister should have a careful look at the figures and think again.

Why do I say this? Well the actual number of people who passed matric in 2004 was 330 717 and the number who passed in 2005 was 347 184 which is an increase of 16 467 or, in percentage terms, an increase of 4,98% in the number who passed compared to the previous year.

So, to round the percentage off, there is an increase of 5% in the number of matrics who qualified in this past exam. That is good. That is something for the Minister to be pleased about.

But the newspapers all trumpeted; "higher failure rate." The reason for this is that many more learners sat for the exam in 2005 compared to 2004, in fact the increase was 40 378 learners, or an increase of 8,6%.

Okay so I am going to now bend the stats rules a bit and point out that if the number sitting the exam had not increased from the 2004 figure then the 2005 pass rate would have been 74,2%, on the 2004 exam entrants figure, which would have been a new record. Okay, okay I know you can't do this, but what is it telling us?

Well in previous years I have said that it is dead easy to push the matric pass rate to well over 90%. It is simple, all you do is fail half the grade 11's in one year then in the following year the matric pass rate should be well over 90%.

What this tells one is that many of the learners sitting the matric exam are totally ill-prepared. In fact they probably should never have passed grade 11, or for that matter grade 10. I am not saying that it is the fault of the learner, the person could be very bright, but may just have had poor teaching and poor learning conditions. However the undeniable point is that it is totally unfair to make a person sit for matric exams when from the outset one can tell that they have no chance of passing. I have already said that the number sitting for the matric exam increased by 8,6% this past year. That is a large figure, no first world country has a nearly 9% increase in one year in the number of people sitting for school finals. This is a sticky snag. Clearly the best strategy would be to try to ease up on the number of learners sitting matric, and rather to consolidate on the quality of teaching. It is very difficult to improve the teaching quality in a poor quality school if the number of learners entering the school is increasing by nearly 10% a year. Obviously though this 'stabilisation' proposal of mine is countered by the politically correct slogan of 'education for all.' So politically any policy is difficult.

However as I have said before, one also has to pose the question; "What is education?" Also as I have explained before, education is not just a case of aiming for matric. As far as I am concerned, education is the ability to earn an income each month. In other words it includes many avenues of learning that are not school-based. A century or so ago when sons learnt from their fathers how to farm, and daughters learnt from their mothers how to cook, and make soap and butter, that was education too. They were being taught how to survive in the world of that time.

Today there is a dire need for good diesel mechanics, skilled bricklayers, chefs and much more. In many of these crafts a matric could be useful, but it is not necessary. In fact many folks with an inclination in one of these directions would be better off leaving school at grade 10, or earlier, to go and study to become, say, a good diesel mechanic. So society should adjust its attitude so that we do not develop a mindset that says that anyone who has not got matric is somehow a failure in life. Matric is only useful for certain career directions, it is not essential for everything.

So, as far as I am concerned, last year's matric results showed a 5% increase in the number who qualified, but we have to place the qualification into context in the general picture of what education for the good of nation really means.

Dr Kemm's column Techtrack appears each week in Engineering News. Engineering News can be accessed at

Previous Articles:
Thumbs up for Gautrain - November 25-December 1 2005 Vol 25 No 46
Thumbs up for Gautrain - November 25-December 1 2005 Vol 25 No 46
SA should take a hard, strategic look at auto sector - December 16 2005-January 19 2006 Vol 25 No 49
Grasp of science will help technology-based businesses - December 9-15 2005 Vol 25 No 48
DDT use will help in war against malaria - December 2-8 2005 Vol 25 No 47

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