Matric Results: Is the Improvement Worth Celebrating?

By Tshegofatso Makola

With the Matric Results for the Class of 2022 having been announced over the past week, many organisations and individuals have congratulated this class, even hailing them as the best that will ever come. With the class achieving a pass rate of 80,1%, and almost 300 000 qualifying to study at higher education institutions, the true question remains: Are these results truly worth celebrating?

It was not so long ago when I stayed up until midnight waiting for my results like other matriculants. Filled with anxiety, like many of the Matric Class of 2022, I became an insomniac in the days leading up to the Big Day.

I, like the Class of 2022, was forced to complete high school amid a raging pandemic, massive panic, and a plague of socio-economic issues and unrest. 

Like many of my peers, I made it through my matric year and was fortunate enough to be admitted into a higher education institution. 

Some weren’t so lucky. With all the socio-economic aspects that took place during the years of the Covid-19 pandemic, some students were bound to be more affected than others. 

The pandemic truly allowed one to reflect on the state of inequality our country was facing daily, but moreover, shone a light on the impact of these inequalities on different aspects of our lives and even our education. 

Criticism of the Education System

The past few weeks leading up to the announcement of Matric Results have seen widespread criticism from all kinds of individuals and organisations who all seem to claim to know everything about education and have dubbed themselves experts in the field. 

Some have even criticised the education system and its ability or lack thereof to adequately support all its students and prepare them for higher education.

Such individuals include the infamous leader of Build One South Africa, Mmusi Maimane, who like many other people in this country claims to be an educational expert. 

Maimane, in an article argued, “The matric pass-mark debate is one that often gets muddied by the Department of Basic Education as they attempt to put up the most positive version of how they performed at the moment when they should be held the most accountable” 

Whilst there may be truth to this, there are reasons why things are the way they are. Allow me to demonstrate this.

Socio-economic issues and inequalities that have their origins in our pre-democratic government have left some regions of the country still struggling in various aspects of their respective societies, through a lack of resources, infrastructure, and overall investment opportunities in these areas. 

The bulk of the money goes to provinces like Gauteng, where many people flock to in search of work and better opportunities for themselves and even their children.

What this looks like is more resources given to schools within such regions and those that aren’t within the “big provinces” not receiving as much, subsequently leaving them “weaker” and less likely to perform well.

Mary Metcalfe, Professor of Practice School of Public Management, Governance and Public Policy, University of Johannesburg explains this quite well in her recent writing in the Sunday Times, where she discusses the impact of social inequality on education and its achievement outcomes.

According to Metcalfe, “Our educational inequalities reflect obstinate social inequality”. She further expressed that following the comparative ‘provincial performance’ allows one to recognise the long-lasting ‘low’ and ‘high performers’ and how this is reflected in what she describes as the “relationship between social inequality and educational outcomes”. 

An easier way to see this is lower the Bachelor pass earned by candidates in Quintile 1 schools in comparison to Quintile 5 schools. Schools in the Quintile 1 section are known as those that cater to poorer communities with little to no income and hence are no-fee-paying schools. This is contrary to schools in Quintile 5, which are what many would describe as “Model C schools”. These are fee-paying schools located in less poor communities, and often have access to an abundance of funding from various stakeholders.

Many would criticise the Department of Education for these statistics adding that the inequality gap within Education should be closed by now.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Whilst the Education System receives one of the biggest budgets from the National Treasury, the mandate to implement redress and equity, is often hampered by the continuous funding and resources provided to private schools and public schools in Quintile 5 by individuals and private organisations, thus increasing the gap once again. 

Integration into Higher Education 

Listening to the Director General of the Department of Basic Education present the technical report of the Results allowed one to truly get insight into the education system within the country, but moreover the steady improvements that are taking place over the years. 

We have a lot to celebrate, with almost 300 000 candidates achieving a Bachelor's pass and almost 200 000 achieving a diploma, and contrary to popular belief, less than 1% of candidates being endorsed. 

Whilst the Department of Basic Education ought to be commended on these achievements, one can’t help but worry about where all the candidates who aspire to study further in higher education institutions will go. 

We have spent the past few days celebrating our top achievers in each province and nationally, whilst neglecting the middlemen. Those who didn’t fail but did not bag a full house of distinctions either. It is no secret at all that we have a shortage of higher education institutions, and that matriculating with a bachelor's Pass does not grant you automatic admission. 

So what then happens to the large number of students who are not among the cream of the crop to get admitted into higher institutions of learning? 

Moreover, with the high rate of unemployment, what mechanisms are in place to ensure that they are not left out of building the country’s economy?

One can see a growing trend of institutions of learning in various countries offering the option of an online system of education. This not only caters to those who prefer not to be constrained to the orthodox clock of mainstream education, but it further alleviates the pressure on institutions to build additional facilities to accommodate the influx of students. 

Perhaps this ought to be an approach that we as a country consider visiting. The question one can pose, however, is whether we are ready for this change in our education system, but moreover, will this be accessible to all in a country plagued by inequality?

The simple answer to this is no. 

For as long as we are not able to give all communities access to adequate technology and facilities worthy enough to propel us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our hopes of online universities will be nothing but dreams very far from reality. 

We haven’t adequately prepared ourselves for the large number of students who are now able to access higher institutions of learning. 

We’ve tackled the narrative of our education being poor, by producing quality results, but perhaps it’s time we go further than that and strive to go beyond good results and strive to achieve more students being integrated into higher education institutions. 

For as long as we continue to exclude the majority and give access to only those who perform the best, we run the risk of eroding the work done by the DBE at achieving equity for those previously disadvantaged.

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