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Monday, November 29, 2021

ANALYSIS: How The Class of 2020 Defied COVID-19 Odds To Shine


THE unveiling of the National Senior Certi­ficate results this week, which showed that the class of 2020 attained 76, 2% pass rate down from last year’s record 81,3%, should be viewed as a signi­ficant development milestone for South Africa.

To administer an examination for 1 million candidates, including the May/June candidates and progressed learners with the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, is nothing short of remarkable.

The Independent Examination Board (IEB), which caters mostly for private schools had to cater for 12 000 candidates throughout Southern Africa with immense dedicated resources.

Announcing the results on Monday, Basic Education Minis-ter Angie Motshekga started off by restating South Africa’s goal in education as stated in the National Development Plan: “by 2030, South Africans should have access to education and training of the highest quality, leading to signi­ficantly improved learner outcomes,” the minister said “The performance of South African learners in international standardised tests, should be comparable to the performance of learners from countries at a similar level of development and with similar levels of access”.

Since the introduction of the National Senior Certi­ficate in 2008, this year’s pass rate is nowhere near the lowest as feared.

The nadir was reached in 2009, the second year of the NSC, when the rate was 60,6%.

From there, the pass rate rose- only to dip slightly in 2015 before going on an upward climb to last year’s record before being pegged back by COVID-19.

Motshekga offered evidence of South Africa’s improved performance in international bench-marks such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

“The latest release of the TIMSS 2019, explained that in the context of many forms of inequalities, the education system continues to improve on its achievements, and continues to bridge gaps on disciplinary knowledge and educational outcomes.”

The minister noted: “From 2003 to 2019, the Mathematics and Science achievements, increased by 104 points and 102 points, respectively.”

The Free State and Gauteng remained the country’s leading provinces on matric pass rates at above 80%, although both had experienced declines of 3,2% and 3,5% respectively.

A closer scrutiny of the performance from the Department’s School Report and School Subject Report in other key subjects and indicators shows, at best, a mixed bag of results.

An analysis of the 11 most popular subjects in the ­five year between 2016 and 2020 shows a combination of steady upward progress, stagnation and slight regression in others, even before taking coronavirus into account.

Accounting for example had a pass rate of 69.5% in 2016, followed by a slight dip to 66,1% before increasing over 70% in the last three years with this year’s 75,5%- a 3-percentage point fall from last year’s 78,4 %.

Business studies started at 73,4 % in 2016, before dipping to reach 64,9% in 2018 before climbing to 71% in 2019 and reaching a notable 77.9 % last year.

Maths and Science, two subjects that threatened to taint the 2020 exam and had to be settled through a court challenge, saw a fall in pass rates, supporting the quality assurance body Umalusi’s view that there were no widespread irregularities in the exam.

The Maths pass rate stood at 53.8%, down from 54.6% in 2019, while the pass rate for physical science stood at 65.8%, a decline from the 75.5% in 2019.

Over the fi­ve-year period, the maths pass rate was highest in 2018 at 58% while physical science was also the highest in that same year, at 74%.  

COVID-19 exposed the Fault lines that in South Africa and many developing countries, schools are more than just channels to deliver education they also play the role of childcare for younger learners, delivery of nutrition programmes and offering learners social interaction they would otherwise be deprived of.

This raises the question of how much and how quickly the country should invest in online learning resources to attach for virtual learning which would impose increased cost of child-care and feeding cost on parents.

Motshekga pointed out a range of interventions that were out in place to support the class of 2020. These include supplementary study materials, extra classes on Saturdays and holidays as well as radio broadcast, including the private sector driven National Education Collaborative Trust NECT).

The reality is that these interventions, like the COVID-19 Relief R350 grant, will need to be kept in pace for longer if not permanently.

Motshekga expressed relief that Umalusi approved the exam, following the department’s failure to enforce a rewrite of leaked Maths and Science papers.

“Having noted with concern the serious irregularities regarding the leakage of Mathematics Paper 2 and Physical Sciences Paper 2, [Umalusi] is satisfi­ed that there were no systemic irregularities reported, which might have compromised the overall credibility and integrity of the November 2020 NSC examinations, administered by the DBE,” the quality checking body has said.

Failure by Umalusi to recognise this year’s certifi­cates containing Maths and Science would have been disastrous for the department.

It now remains to be seen how universities will treat this year’s Maths and Science pass at admission stage. A key feature of the public education system is progressed learners, those who are promoted to Grade 12 even though they may not be fully ready.

The private education does not worry about these and, although some grab the opportunity and achieve a bachelor pass, over all progressed learners drag down the national average.

This year, there were 70 565 progressed learners enrolling for the exams. 65 499 of these candidates, wrote the requisite seven subjects during the 2020 NSC examinations, with 3016 obtaining bachelor passes.

“The signi­ficance of these achievements is that the 24 244 progressed learners, who passed were there would-be-high-school repeaters and dropouts, who have a golden opportunity to access either higher education institutions, TVET Colleges, and other skills development institutions.”

Motshekga said without progressed learners, this year’s pass rate would have been 81%.

The minister also highlighted the improved performance of “no fee’s school, which continue to receive an increased proportion of government resources.

She said in 2005, 60% of the Bachelor passes, came from the best performing 20% schools in the country. In 2015, “no fee” schools produced 51% of the Bachelor passes, which increased to 58% in 2020.

“Therefore, the signifi­cance of this, is that the gap between the Bachelor passes produced by “no fee” schools versus those produced by fee paying schools has signifi­cantly and progressively increased from 2% in 2015, to 13% in 2020 – a 3% improvement from 2019” Motshekga said.

Yet challenges remain with no fee schools and a [province like Mpumalanga illustrates these. While Mpumalanga fee paying schools are among the top three performers in the country, the province’s no fee schools rank seventh, illustrating gaps in quality.

South Africa now joins countries like India in having girls outnumber boys at various stages of the education system.

There were 72 000 more girls who enrolled for the exams than boys and 66 000 wrote. This trend is likely to feed through to degrees and higher quali­fications.

This is viewed as a positive development indicator, as women tend to be primary care givers and better education given women choice and mobility which allows to free them-selves of abusive relationships and thus reduce the scourge of gender-based violence.


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