A Matric is still worth celebrating


More learners passed their final Matric examinations in 2017 than the previous year; 100,000 attained the relevant qualifications to enter university. But critics have been quick to point out that the “real pass rate” is in stark contrast to the 75.1% the Department of Education has been hailing and the overall picture of education in South Africa remains dire. While the quality of education, the standards to which our learners and teachers are held, and the lack of clear direction from the Department of Education are all massively problematic for education in South Africa, there are still many stories of educational triumph despite a system that seems to suppress it. Claire Mathieson believes a Matric certificate is certainly still worth celebrating.

National picture

On the whole, more Matrics passed their final exams, but that’s not the end of this story. Improvements were seen from the so-called “rural provinces”: Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, which saw the biggest improvement of 6.5%, achieving pass rate of 72.9%. By contrast, the Norther Cape, North West and Western Cape all dropped; the Western Cape Education Department said it would interrogate the decline and will engage with the necessary role-players regarding a strategy to improve the Matric at the end of the year.

The Independent Examinations Board, or IEB, South Africa’s independent assessment agency, most prominently found in private schools across the country, saw a 98.9% pass rate among the 12,000-odd writing the exams. 88.59% of those who passed qualified to apply to start a university degree. Fairly usual statistics from a predominantly privatised system not short of investment.

Catholic education

Top achievers at St Martin de Porres High School in Soweto. The learners have all received bursaries to study engineering at various universities next year. From left to right: Nkamogeleng Mocheko 6 distinctions, Siyethemba Zondi 5 distinctions, Principal, Sydney Ndlovu, Ntokozo Mwelase 6 distinctions, Khaya Makhanya 6 distinctions.

The results coming from around the country show that Catholic education is still very much revered having outperformed the national averages in both the National Senior Certificate and the IEB exams with 84.1% and 99% pass rates respectively.

Combined, Catholic schools achieved an 86.8% pass rate in 2017. Notably, Catholic schools also achieved more bachelor passes: Catholic public schools achieved 43.1% compared with the national 28%, and IEB schools achieved 92.7%. Combine, more than half – 52.2% – of all Matrics enrolled in Matric 2017 at a Catholic school achieved a bachelors pass.

The Catholic Institute of Education (CIE) also hailed the number of distinctions achieved – some 5,037 across both IEB and public schools. While there are far fewer students attending Catholic schools than non-Catholic schools, the Institute said it was pleased that 10.1% of all grades achieved attained distinction. Notably, 456 learners in Catholic schools achieved 80-100% for Mathematics across all the results.

Ntokozo Mahawayi and Siyanbonga Sindane of St Matthews High School in Soweto. The school achieved 89 bachelor passes and 106 distinctions. Two students from St Matthews (not pictured) received 100% for Physical Science.


While the results show that three in every four candidates do in fact pass their final school examination, critics were quick to point out that the standard of education is too low and the overall pass mark would be far lower if the learners were appropriately judged. Critics slammed the Department for adjusting marks in many subjects, 2017 seeing 16 subjects have their marks adjusted upwards and four downwards.

The dropout rate is also worrying.  More than half the children who start in Grade 1 do not reach Grade 12 accounting for some 645,000 youth. Minister Angie Motshekga also failed to explain why there was a drop out rate of 15% just last year. And of those that do achieve bachelor passes and do enroll in tertiary education nearly a half will drop out. While some of these dropouts could be attributed to financial decisions or an change in mind, the likes of former University of Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen believe the learners are simply not properly equipped – a failing of the education system at large and the government that designs and implements it. “Any government that prides itself on the few that succeed and ignores the many that fall out of the school system has clearly lost its moral bearings‚” he wrote on Facebook.

It is perhaps all the more reason that excellence in Matric results should be celebrated. The students that achieve distinctions and the schools that help produce the results should be hailed for beating the odds – for the odds are most certainly not in their favour.

It’s going to be another challenging year for those in education. The #FeesMustFall movement will almost certainly return with vigor as universities and a Minister of Finance struggle to fulfill Jacob Zuma’s recent declaration of free education. Students that are ill-equipped to attend university will demand free education from institutions that can ill-afford to offer it.

And questions will again arise about the quality of Matric examinations and there will certainly be calls for an improved focus on basic education after the Progress in International Reading Literacy Studies 2016 study saw South Africa place last in Grade 4 reading skills out of 50 countries. The study revealed that a shocking 78% of South African Grade 4 learners were illiterate.

The picture of education is pretty bleak. But if you look past the adjustments, the failings and the dropouts, you find hope. You realise that there are a number of students that made it anyway – through poverty, poor planning and a system that is insufficient. These youths need to be celebrated and the dedicated teachers applauded. The system in which they found themselves and those in national leadership, however, need to be called out until significant changes are made. SA.

Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivsRepublish
* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


Did you enjoy this article?

27 recommended
0 notes
bookmark icon

Write a comment...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Font Resize


You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to Spotlight.Africa and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email


Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivsCreative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs
A Matric is still worth celebrating