Celebrating the class of 2020

The impact of Covid-19 on the education sector will reverberate for years to come. A study from RESEP showed that learners lost between 25-57% of contact teaching due to the pandemic in 2020. Of course, the closure of schools during this period brought to the fore the levels of inequality within our schooling system as well. Well-resourced schools – private as well as quintiles 4 and 5 schools – were able to switch to online learning in one form or another, while the vast majority of schools – primarily those in quintiles 1 to 3 – simply shut down altogether. And the challenges of Covid-19 must be understood in the general issues within the system at the best of times.

For example, data from the National Education Infrastructure Management System Standard Report (August 2019) shows the inadequate levels of investment in school infrastructure:

  • 64% of schools do not have computer centres, with the Eastern Cape and Limpopo sitting at above 80%.
  • 80% of schools do not have laboratories.
  • 74% of school do not have libraries.

When it comes to teacher shortages, the 15 000 teaching graduates that enter the system each year is still well short of the minimum number of 25 000 that the system needs. In addition, data from the Department of Basic Education (2018) shows that 10 000 unqualified and under-qualified teachers are still in schools.  

It is in within this context that the class of 2020 should be celebrated for their achievements. Hundreds of thousands of South African learners completed their schooling despite the historic and systemic barriers in front of them.

Analysis of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results tends to be primarily critical of our basic education system, particularly the low pass threshold and the number of learners taking the exam in the first place. While it is important to highlight areas of improvement within basic education, and assess performance beyond the simple (and superficial) number of pass rate, we also must highlight the strides that have been made through the years. The 2020 NSC Examination Reports released by the DBE last month notes the following:

  • 78 schools achieved a 100% pass rate from 2016 to 2020: This also list includes three quintile 1-3 schools and one school for learners with special needs. Although these are small numbers, the spotlight really should shine on them.
  • Increase in academic performance by female learners: The number of female learners who wrote Mathematics (135 865) and Physical Science (100 432) in 2020 was higher compared to 2019 (127 976 for Mathematics and 93 376 for Physical Science) and 2018 (133 175 for Mathematics and 96 268 for Physical Science). This increase bodes well, as Mathematics and Physical Science are one of the gateway subjects for enrolment in STEM degrees. In addition, 65% of all distinctions that were achieved came from female learners and female learners (37.2%) had a higher Bachelor pass than male learners (35.5%) in 2020.
  • Improving academic performances of quintile 1-3 schools: No-fee paying schools are where more than 60% of our country’s learners go to class each day. The number of Bachelor passes in these schools increased from 55% (2019) to 58% (2020) The Bachelor pass for these schools was 49% in 2016 and there has been a gradual increase since then. This is a significant achievement, as large numbers of these learners do not have functional libraries, computer centres and laboratories in their schools.
  • Performances of learners with special needs: 2 058 learners with special needs wrote the NSC exams, and achieved a pass rate of 85%. In addition, 943 learners achieved a Bachelor pass and 582 achieved a Diploma pass, which will allow them to access higher education institutions.

The achievements of the class of 2020 should be celebrated. As they embark on the next step in their journey – be it entering higher education institutions (universities and TVET Colleges) or the world of work – they should hold their heads high, having shown courage and resilience in completing their final school year under difficult circumstances. 

The importance of social investors in the sector

While the NSC results of 2020 were better than many expected, there is clearly much work to be done. Social investors will continue to play a pivotal role in improving the quality of education in South Africa, as all stakeholders work towards “catching up” from the time lost last year (and indeed in 2021) due to Covid-19. Perhaps more so than ever before, now is the time for social investors to be testing, sharing and working with public and private sector partners to scale new models of teaching and learning that can deliver outsized impact in cost-effective ways. This may take the form of both systemic and programmatic initiatives, through grantmaking or impact investing, focus on such issues as increasing enrolment and quality passes of Mathematics and Physical Science; teacher training and development in gateway subjects and languages; school capacity-building programmes focusing on leadership and management of schools; and developing and enhancing literacy and numeracy skills of children in primary schools. These, of course, are just a few examples, as we need renewed energy in focus across the basic education system to ensure that the next class of learners (and the next, and the next) continue to improve and succeed.

About Tshikululu Social Investments

Established in 1998, Tshikululu is a social investment fund manager and advisor, working alongside investors and other development partners to maximise the power of social investment. We define social investment as any financial commitment – from grantmaking to impact investing – that seeks to drive and measure social impact. Our service offering is underpinned by a deep and hands-on understanding of the complexities of development and social investment.

As agents of social change, we partner with our clients throughout South Africa to realise their social investment goals. Over the past two decades we have operated in every province in the country, covering urban and rural areas, and collaborated with social investors in various sectors including mining, financial services, renewable energy, property development, banking, insurance, healthcare and logistics.