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8 January, 2014
Amidst all the statistical noise of the announcement of the 2013 matric results we salute the real stars – not the numbers, the policies, the officials or the politicians, but our children, our young people. Congratulations to all those who have finished the marathon. It is an exceptional feat to have finished despite the many shortcomings of our educational system and considering that many have fallen by the wayside. Well done.
Despite the congratulatory mood, however, there is the undeniable truth that the achievements of the 78.2% who passed are significantly devalued by an educational system that is geared towards quantity rather than quality. Days before the matric results were announced, most commentators were predicting an increase in the pass rate way above the 75% target that Minister Angie Motshekga had set for herself. The nagging question, then, is whether the steady increase in the pass rate since 2009 is evidence of a system that is slowly beginning to improve, or whether it is merely the result of a politically expedient elevation of quantity over quality? While not dismissing the improvements, one cannot deny that it seems that the latter explanation – quantity over quality – holds more truth.
If it is not quantity over quality then nobody would be questioning the minimum pass requirement of 30%. However, many educationists, among them Professor Jonathan Jansen, have been arguing that the bar has to be raised to 50% before we can begin to talk of a quality education. If quality education is more important than the statistics then the minister would heed the warning signs of the grade 9 annual national assessments (ANAs) results. What the ANAs revealed was that the majority of grade 9 learners are very poor at literacy and numeracy. So what happens to these learners? Are they, as many argue, being ‘culled’ to make sure that the matric results look better? If quality matters more than quantity then surely there should be much more work and focus in the earlier grades?
For us to be less sceptical about the matric results we need to know and see that government cares less about quantity and more about quality. To be reassured we need to see that the minister is in charge of education, and not the unions; that teachers know their subjects; that a grade 9 learner can read with comprehension; that no leaner is left behind; and that tertiary institutions are confident that the 12 years spent within the schooling system have prepared young people well enough to cope with the demands of tertiary education.