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NKOSIKHONA DUMA: Motshekga must get real about the matric results

OPINION

Like many South Africans, I set aside time on Tuesday evening to watch Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s 2019 matric results announcement.

The event was beautifully choreographed and scripted. The country’s top performing learners for 2019 had been flown in from all over the country and taken up their rightful positions on stage.

As it has become custom, those who had triumphed over the harshest realities of our unequal society had given media interviews and detailed how they had spent sleepless nights studying and achieved exemplary results.

Appearing before senior government leaders and education sector stakeholders, the minister wore a glittering black suit with tints of gold.

Upon taking to the podium, Motshekga confidently began her speech by saying: “The Council of Education Ministers has approved the Sector priorities to lay a solid foundation for quality education as well as contribute in providing permanent solutions to the architecture of the education and training system of our country once and for all.”

The minister was herein obviously regurgitating words South Africans had heard before, but which had arguably contradicted application on the ground.

As she reached the pinnacle of her speech, Motshekga boldly announced: “The 2019 NSC overall pass rate, with the progressed learners included, stands at a new record of 81.3% – a 3.1% improvement from the 78.2% achieved in 2018.”

This was followed by a lot a self-praise and that of the education department, with the minister saying: “This is a humbling, heart-warming and also an encouraging achievement. To maintain, or even go higher than this pass mark will be definitely be a tall order.”

It was rather strange that the minister said maintaining this pass rate was a tall order, given that it has been achieved at the expense of quality education.

In fact, if important measures are not taken soon, our education system will become further endangered.

As it stands in South Africa, the Department of Basic Education obligates learners in grades 10 to 12 to take seven subjects. To pass, learners need to get 40% in three subjects and 30% in three subjects. Furthermore, Grade 12 learners can be condoned if they require 2% in one subject to pass at 30% or 40%.

Despite these already low standards, the department has also been unable to curb high drop-out rates.

The department’s own data shows that in 2017 over one million learners were enrolled in grade 10.

However, according to Motshekga’s speech on Tuesday: “The total number of candidates who registered for the November 2019 NSC examinations was 788,717, comprising 616,754 full-time candidates; and 170,963 part-time candidates. Of these candidates, 504,303 full-time candidates, and 106,385 part-time candidates actually wrote all seven subjects of the 2019 NSC examinations.”

In total, 409,906 passed matric in the country last year.

It should be cause for concern that in just two years over 50% of pupils expected in matric in 2019 fell through the system.

It is worrisome that Motshekga did not place any emphasis on this in her speech or announce a programme of action to deal with this threat.

Another worrying factor is that even though the minister touted the application of “sector priorities” by the “council of education ministers” in a bid for the country to achieve quality education and actively participate in the fourth industrial revolution, the fact is that enrollment into subjects that can help the country achieve this is on the decline.

Accounting, business studies, economics, English first additional language, mathematics, life and physical sciences all had thousands fewer pupils take them in 2019 compared to 2015 figures.

Motshekga needs to account for why pupils have been demotivated to take these critical subjects. Have numbers been chased in a desperate bid to announce an over 80% pass rate?

It is widely accepted that the education system does not work for every child. Perhaps that may be reason behind the high drop-out rates.

But it's threatening the country’s future that hundreds of thousands of under-educated young people continue to drop out of secondary school annually and add to the already scary unemployment statistics.

Motshekga needs to paint the full picture and highlight these challenges so that there is greater consciousness in society about this great challenge.

There needs to be a plan to assist these young people. To formulate the plan is not only Motshekga’s role. Therefore, she shouldn’t be found among those who conceal this reality just so she can present herself as doing a great job.

Ultimately, society needs to understand that these young people exist – a plan to accommodate them needs to be clear and already in motion.

The way the technical and vocational education sector is responding to these young people needs to be looked at.

We will be doomed if we turn a blind eye to this reality.

Nkosikhona Duma is the KwaZulu-Natal correspondent for Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @NkoRaphael

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