By Kagiso Pooe
17 January 2012
Kagiso Pooe says the examinations are failing to prepare pupils for life or higher education
The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, glee- fully announced a 70,2% pass rate for the class of 2011. However, as economist Aaron Levenstein said: "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." Upon closer inspection, the class of 2011's marks should leave us concerned at the bleak future prospects for our children post-matric. It's a poor return on investment for South Africa, which spends over 17% of its gross domestic product on education only to get 70,2% and 24,3% (university endorsements) back. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification (matric) is failing to produce the right quality of students which is dis- advantaging universities and employers.
Ordinarily, receiving 70% in any activity qualifies as a success but this 70,2% pass rate is simply not good enough. To begin with 496 090 pupils wrote the NSC or matric exams and of the 70,2% the 348 117 NSC candidates who passed 24,3% qualified for a bachelor's degree pass. This translates to 83 548 pupils being eligible for admission at an institution of higher learning. This is an increase of 0,8% from 2010's 23,5%. This means that 264 569 pupils who passed failed to achieve university endorsement and 147 973 pupils failed the NSC exams for 2011 altogether.
If the veneer of 70,2% is stripped away, we see that the combined 412 542 failed and passed pupils who didn't receive university endorsement, now have to face two problems. Firstly, the economic environment in South Africa is extremely youth unfriendly as the discussion report "Confronting youth unemployment: policy options for South Africa" by National Treasury established. Firms are hesitant to hire pupils coming out of Grade 12 due to their lack of technical skills.
Secondly, Grade 12s have to contend with an ever-changing working environment, one now characterised by entrepreneur- ship and the ability to gain profit from the knowledge economy. The problems emanating from the NSC system are not limited to pupils without university ex- emptions. Those who enter tertiary institutions face the paradox of quality problem. Unfortunately, the cream of the class of 2011 (those who enter university) are going to find out that what they were taught at school will not stand up to the rigours of higher education. Professor Theuns Eloff, Higher Education South Africa chairperson, addressing MPs about the university dropout cited "financial need [and] poor preparedness of some [pupils] for higher education courses, noting only a small percentage of matriculants had passes in mathematics and science". This is the paradox of quality: pupils selected as university material by passing matric are unable to function at a higher level in tertiary education institutions.
This paradox does not end with students who drop out. Companies complain that the university graduates they receive are not of the highest quality. Reports like the one carried out by Hanlie Griesel and Ben Parker, "Graduate Attributes", lament that students coming out of universities are unable to cope with the demands of industry. They begrudge the fact they have to spend additional resources to re- skill their new recruits.
A mental shift is needed to aid this nation's future matriculants to be all they can be. Here are five actions that we could implement to make that happen.
Firstly, parents need to be compelled to get involved in their children's schooling. The current setup sees teachers being forced to pick up the slack caused by absent parents.
Secondly, policy plans like the Department of Education's "Macro Indicator trends in schooling 2011" and "M&E report on the impact of Educational system on South African population" and Schooling 2025 need to be introduced to parents and community leaders as they could aid schools to overcome poor governance, low levels in maths, language, literacy and science. Thirdly, the department needs to revisit the technical high schools of the old education sys- tem where pupils matriculated with immediately applicable technical skills, such as boiler making, plumbing and welding.
Fourthly, the status of teaching and teachers needs to be improved. Pay should follow needs, beginning with specially de- signed pay packets for teachers that reward them for furthering their education, extramural activity participation, etc. Finally, our consumerist culture needs to change. South Africans see no value in investing in books and reading, one of the major reasons for our public schooling systems failure.
Kagiso Pooe is an analyst from the Ingabadi Group, a political advisory and research company. This article first appeared in The Witness.
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