Close analysis of the 2016 matric results reveals a very high ‘drop-out rate’, leading to speculation that some learners may have been ‘culled’ to inflate the matric pass rate.
According to the Department of Basic Education’s figures, 1 100 877 learners enrolled for Grade 10 in 2014, but only 610 178 enrolled for Grade 12 in 2016. This means that 44,6% of learners either dropped out of the system altogether or remain stuck in Grade 10 and 11.
The picture across all nine provinces is as follows, with the ‘drop-out rate’ being highest in the Northern Cape (54,4%), North West (52,7%) and the Free State (51,6%):
It is possible to see from these figures how a fixation on the pass rate can mask the actual performance of the education system. This is because the pass rate is expressed as a percentage of the learners who wrote, and doesn’t take into consideration the learners who didn’t make it to matric. But we need to remember that it is possible for a school, district or province to push up their pass rate simply by ensuring that fewer weaker learners write the matric exams.
Take the Free State, for example. In 2014, there were 55 293 learners enrolled in Grade 10 in the Free State. But, in 2016, only 26 786 of those learners actually wrote matric. If we look at the number of learners in the Free State who obtained a matric pass (23 629) and divide them by the number of learners who enrolled in Grade 10 in 2014, we can calculate a ‘real pass rate’ of 42,7%.
Now let us compare this with the Western Cape. In 2014, there were 75 791 learners enrolled in Grade 10. In 2016, 50 869 of those learners wrote matric and 43 716 passed. Using the same method as for the Free State above, we can calculate a ‘real pass rate’ for the Western Cape of 57,7%.
In other words, the Free State’s claim to be the best performing province (with a pass rate of 88,2% compared with the Western Cape’s 86,0%) is misleading. Any assessment of performance must take into account the number of learners retained in the system. It is clear that, in the Free State, relatively fewer learners make it to matric, which is why the pass rate was high this year.
I have written to Minister Angie Motshekga to request an investigation into the high ‘drop-out’ rate, and specifically whether it is the result of learners being ‘culled’ by schools under pressure from districts and provincial education departments.
The notion that learners may have been ‘culled’ in order to manipulate or ‘game’ the pass rate has been raised numerous times in the past. As leading education expert Dr Nick Taylor has pointed out previously:
“When the school’s reputation rests on a single number then principals must be tempted to tweak the figures, even if this results in prejudicing their own learners. There is evidence that the pass rate improvements in 2010 are at least partly attributable to gaming, or what the DBE calls ‘culling’, despite its protestations to the contrary.”
We are sure that Minister Motshekga is as concerned as we are about the low numbers of learners making it to Grade 12 from Grade 10, and we call on her to investigate what is behind the large drop-out rate without delay.
Gavin Davis MP
DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education
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