“Achieving so much with so little”
Minister of basic education is upbeat about the performance of the country’s education system and reckons it will meet the National Development Plan’s targets
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga believes the education system is on course to achieve the National Development Plan (NDP) goal of producing enough quality graduates to meet the country’s need for a skilled labour force that will contribute towards a sustainable, growing economy.
Increases in maths and science passes
Motshekga says her optimism arises from the 2016 matric results, which have shown various improvements in critical areas including the increase in the number of candidates who wrote matric, the increase in the number learners who have achieved over 60% passes in maths and science, and the increase in the number of distinctions in key subjects such as maths, science, business economics, economics and accounting. This comes amid criticisms that the concentration on improved matric results displayed by her department hides the fact that the country is not producing sufficient graduates to contribute to the country’s economic development as envisaged by the NDP.
Motshekga says the key to ensuring that the country produces the required graduates lies in ensuring that learners do not drop out of the school system. The progression policy — which allows learners who have failed grade 11 twice, or who are above age, to be condoned — will go a long way in ensuring the retention of learners within the schooling system. She also disputed claims that the progression policy was producing low-quality candidates who would not develop into the skilled workers the country requires.
“In 2016 we had over 100 000 progressed learners writing matric examinations …of these, 3 335 achieved a bachelor degree pass; another 12 636 achieved a diploma pass, and 13 000 a higher education certificate pass. There were also 2 361 distinctions attained by the progressed learners,” Motshekga told the Teacher during an interview.
Motshekga also pointed out that the fact that largest number of candidates (more than 800 000) “in the history of basic education in this country” wrote matric examinations in 2016 was an indication that learner retention was improving. The learner retention rate had improved from 37% in 1995 to 58% in 2016, Motshekga revealed. The NDP’s target is that the rate of learner retention in the schooling system must be 90% by 2030. Motshekga believes what has been achieved so far is an indication that the target will be met.
High number of candidates
Motshekga also believes that what made the 2016 matric results outstanding is the fact that the class of 2016 managed to maintain the 70% pass threshold, despite having the largest number of candidates in the history of basic education.
“Having such a high number of candidates comes with its challenges, including demanding more support from the teachers and the system for the learners. Given the challenges we continue facing due to legacy issues [makes] this is a massive achievement.”
She said it was also important to note that 28 000 matric candidates in 2016 scored more than 60% in physical science — “the highest number of candidates to achieve this since the National Senior Certificate was introduced in 2008”.
Narrowing the rural-urban divide
Motshekga said an analysis of the 2016 matric results also showed that the achievement of bachelor degree passes was becoming equally spread, with rural and township schools increasingly achieving these passes. “We can glean from the 2016 matric results the progress made in providing equal and quality education to all South Africans. This is indicative of our commitment to an inclusive education system contributing immensely to an inclusive economy serving an inclusive society.”
The minister lauded Gauteng, Free State, Western Cape, Northwest and Mpumalanga for continuing to achieve above 80% matric pass rates. She also commended the teachers, members of Vuwani community and the Limpopo department of education for supporting the learners who wrote matric under difficult conditions, after schools in the area were burnt down during an anti-government protest. The learners were applauded for being among the top achievers, obtaining several distinctions despite the challenges.
Motshekga had strong words for provinces that continue to achieve under the 70% threshold, including Limpopo, Eastern Cape (63.3%), Limpopo (68.2%) and KwaZulu-Natal. She blamed the provinces’ dismal performance on “lack of leadership, politics, and ineffective financial management”.
She said it was not easy for the national government to intervene in situations such as the one in the Eastern Cape, where there was “a lack of culture of accountability”, because “the law says every sphere of government is independent”.
“Our responsibility is to set policy and standards on how education should be delivered, but the responsibility of implementing those policies lies with the provinces. The situation becomes more complicated where there are contending political interests that impact on service delivery. In the end, the learners are the victims.”
She acknowledged that there were challenges in terms of lack of infrastructure in those provinces, but argued that effective leaders could overcome such challenges. It was through quality leadership that some schools — even those in under-performing provinces — achieved “so much with so little”.