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Questions raised over matric pass rate

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In a bid to assess the current state of secondary education, the Wits institute of Social and Economic Research played host to a panel discussion to address the issue on Tuesday. The discussion centered on whether the final matric year could be considered a true reflection of the country’s education system, and whether the level of education was a true entry point for higher education or entry into the work field.

Amongst the main topics was the current matric pass rate, and the extent at which learning were passing their final year. According to Wits senior researcher, Dr Stephanie Allias, the sought to determine whether the matric marks could be used as a clear indication of how well students were performing. Amongst the proposals leveled was the possible doing away of the pass rate; with students receiving a certificate regardless of their final mark.

“The pass rate attracts a lot of attention, both in terms of media and public debate, but also in terms of the policy interventions taken by the department (of Education). All the energy is on making sure more learners get across that particular hurdle, when in fact it is quite a low hurdle,” she said.

She suggested it would be more useful to afford all learners a certificate at the end of the schooling career, that would indicate their grades during the final exam without stating whether they passed of not. This method was currently being used to great effect in Kenya. She noted that upon applying for a university or seeking entrance into the work field, prospective employers would be paying more attention to the quality of the person’s grades, to determine whether they had the necessary skills for the job.

“Because the pass mark has such a hold on our national imagination, it becomes quite a distraction. This is one of the issues that were debated in the discussion last night. What would the effect be of removing it, and just giving learners a certificate,” she said.

Another trend that has been widely noted is how over-achieving high school students tend to struggle during their first year of tertiary education. Many tend to post lower marks, often being forced to redo many of their courses. But Allias stressed that it could not be proved as a fare reflection of the gap between the two sectors, especially since only a small percentage of students were actually getting into tertiary institutions.

“It does tell us something, and what it shows is that many of our learners are not well prepared for university because the first year failure rates are high. Also we know our students are taking long, even those who pass their degrees are taking much longer than what is desirable to get through their courses,” she explained.

However, it would not give a fair reflection of the other 80% of the country’s students, who failed to make the grade for university.

Another issue was the pressure faced by students to complete their secondary education, something that would have been unheard of a decade or two ago. Allias said this was partly down to a phenomenon described as ‘qualification inflation’, where the value of a qualification was depreciating.

“As more and more people get a qualification, employers start looking for higher and higher qualifications. This puts enormous pressure on young people to get through the matric system, because that is the major determinant of their chances after matric,” she noted. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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