Ramaphosa misrepresented SA’s educational trajectory

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at The University of Zululand and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at The University of Zululand and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 16, 2024



Since the start of 2024, South Africans have been forced to contend with continual load shedding, a lack of municipal services such as water, particularly in the eThekwini areas, and a new petrol and diesel price hike.

The inability of our municipality to address the inconsistent and non-supply of water to people has once again questioned the intent and capacity of our leading political parties, whom they employ and the reason for no immediate remedy to this challenge.

South Africans are frustrated and angry, but these emotions have encouraged many of us to become more critical, analytical and perhaps vocal about our needs as a nation.

On Monday, February 8, we eagerly awaited and anticipated the President’s State of the Nation (Sona) address, and many of us have been disappointed.

Expert critics, as well as citizens, have made a string of comments and sinister remarks. Still, a looming concern is the misrepresentation of information delivered in President Ramaphosa’s address.

Information can be easily misrepresented and inaccurate when one does not explain it within context and discuss it in detail. In this instance, President Ramaphosa also chose to be selective in his shared statistics and conveniently opted not to share other relevant statistics.

Mr President approached the status quo of education in South Africa as a tool to minimise inequality. Further, he discussed his intention to enable many more South Africans to have access to early childhood development to improve early-grade reading.

He emphasised that there has been progress since the initial implementation of this measure. He needs to elaborate or give further insight into how the progress was determined, and the vague comment was unsupported by timeous statistical data, details of a pilot initiative and dates when this measure began.

Then again, he clearly articulated that the matriculant pass rate in the year 2023 was the highest it has ever been since democratic South Africa.

Still, he failed to contextualise it and excluded important information in his delivery, leaving South Africans baffled about the realities of the educational trajectory post-democracy.

Online mass media platforms, such as The Conversation and BusinessTech, have reiterated their concerns about the number of matriculants who completed last year and the relevant contributing factors to a pass or a fail.

Statistics have indicated that in the year 2012, there were just over 1,2 million learners who started Grade 1, which means that exactly 11 years later, there should be the same number of learners who at least registered to write the NSC matriculation examination.

According to media reports (BusinessTech, The Conversation) there were only 740 566 learners that enrolled for Grade 12 and wrote the exam in 2023. We, therefore, have approximately 470 000 learners who left the schooling system. Some analysts believe the actual measure of success is a mere 50%.

The 82.9% pass rate is of a group of 740 566 young South Africans who wrote the matric exams. To determine the positive impact of the Department of Basic Education’s measures to address the gaps in education, we need to question how many young South Africans there are who did not complete Grade 12 and discover why.

Umamah Bakharia, on January 19, 2024, reported in The Mail and Guardian that the Free State province has achieved a high pass rate over the last five years, but simultaneously has a high dropout rate.

Almost 50% of learners in Grade 10 in 2021 did not complete Grade 12 in 2023. This statistic is seriously problematic, mainly if education is meant to be utilised as an avenue to remedy inequality and injustices of the past.

Ideally, the matriculant pass rate statistic should not be utilised as a measure of success or benchmark to indicate an upward trajectory in our education sector. South Africans should insist on a benchmark measure that is far more inclusive and detailed.

The purpose and value of the annual hype around the national matriculant pass mark statistics must be re-evaluated. Firstly, it only refers to the number of young adults who wrote and passed the exam.

South Africans are often not informed of the statistics of those who failed. It excludes essential information, such as how many learners began their schooling careers in 2012, 11 years ago, and how many successfully reached and passed the Grade 12 exams.

The percentage of learners who drop out has equal importance when assessing the development of widespread schooling initiatives. We need to determine why these learners drop out, what has become of their lives since and if they have been incorporated into the statistics of young unemployed youth.

Many of these dropouts do not even have the capacity to join the informal sector through micro-entrepreneurial initiatives or still have to develop a skill that they can capitalise on.

President Ramaphosa stated in his address that they intended to focus on early development education in the next five years. Still, his focus should also be diverted to high school teaching and learning. We need to know why there are so many dropouts annually and what the reasons are.

This will also guide the policies and procedures to remedy this scenario. More importantly, a transparent information dispensation approach is required for South Africans to fully understand the impact of the national educational policies and procedures in place and the present gaps that still need to be addressed.

The clarity can also possibly stimulate policy creation and the development of measures based on mergers between both the private and public sectors in education in South Africa.

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale).

She has a PhD and two M.A. degrees in the social sciences. She has been the recipient of awards and scholarships. Visit www.sunningdale.stellarmaths.co.za and www.sheetalbhoola.com to find out more.

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