Matric results: time to take a sustainable approach

At the beginning of each year, the country’s attention is directed towards the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results. Much of the discussion is typically about the success and/or failure of Government to provide quality education for our children. However, Government is not the only stakeholder that has a critical role to play. Private social investors can – and should – also contribute to this national priority in constructive ways.  

The 2018 matric results showed year-on-year improvements, with a pass rate of 78.2%; an overall increase of 3.1%. The Bachelor Pass rate increased by 4.9% to 33.6%, while pass rates for mathematics and physical science increased by 6.1% (58%) and 9.1% (74.2), respectively. Of the 70 districts in the country, none achieved a pass rate of below 50%; in fact, 31 districts achieved a pass rate of 80% and above. Seven of the nine provinces improved their pass rate, with the Eastern Cape finally achieving a pass rate of above 70%.

While there has been an overall improvement in the NSC results, if we start looking closer, there are worrying signs that need to be addressed.

It is clear that more needs to be done to improve the quality of our education system. For instance, the number of students who wrote the NSC has decreased over the last two years. While 2016 recorded an enrolment rate of 674 652, only 629 155 pupils wrote in 2017 and even fewer – 624 733 – in 2018. Similarly, even though the pass rates for mathematics and physical science increased in 2018, the number of learners enrolled in these subjects has been decreasing as well.

As private social investors set out to improve education in the country, focusing on the NSC results alone will not be enough.

Although support at matric level is important, innovative and sustainable programmes must be implemented from the Early Childhood Development (ECD) phase right through to the end of basic education.

An example of the type of sustained approach required can be seen in the form of an innovative maths education programme Tshikululu has been implementing with one of its clients for the past 10 years. It aims to increase the number of learners who study mathematics from grades 8 – 12 (in 2018, grade 12 enrolment for maths literacy was higher than maths itself) and increase the number of quality mathematics passes (60% and above).

The programme aims to achieve its targets through a school-driven approach. Each school on the programme is different, so we work with them to identify the most appropriate strategy for their specific context. This could include employing additional teachers (full-time and part-time) so that class sizes can be reduced for example, or the provision of additional material such as textbooks and learners’ workbooks, as well as funding for mathematics camps. Our client is currently exploring moving “further back” into the system by establishing a primary school feeder programme as well.

Programmes such as these have the potential to increase learner participation in mathematics – which is so critically needed. From 2015 – 2017, participation across the client’s independent low fee-paying (ILF) schools increased from 65% in 2015 to 66% in 2016 and 68% in 2017. In public schools, participation increased by one percent year-on-year from 71% in 2015 to 73% in 2017.

By providing support across grades – and not just in grade 12 – we hope to drive more meaningful and sustainable impact for learners and schools. To date, we’ve seen impressive evidence of improved mathematics performance across a range of indicators, both through internal monitoring and external evaluation. We hope that this will act as a flagship example of what is possible and what can be achieved to unlock the real potential of our children and their futures.