Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. Given that education can be used to change the world, how is education in South Africa doing? Is it a well-sharpened weapon? And is it being used to improve South Africa, let alone the world? To answer these and other related questions, data was collected on the South African education system and some interesting insights emerged .
Currently, education in South Africa is run by two departments, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the department of Higher Education (DHE). DBE is essentially responsible for education up to Matric level. It deals with public schools, private schools, early childhood development centres, and special needs schools. On the contrary, DHE is responsible for schooling post Matric. This includes FET colleges; ABET centres and Higher Education institutions.
The main focus of this article is the performance of the South African basic education system since the introduction of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS). NCS was introduced in 2008 and it was terminated in 2013. One of the goals of NCS was to ensure that each student studies either Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy to ensure that all learners are prepared for life and work in an increasingly technological, numerical and data driven world.
Data was collected for the duration of the NCS curriculum. This data was obtained from the DBE and the DHE websites. The data analysis provided the insights to follow.
Figures 1 and 2 above show the trend in the Grade 12 pass rate in each of the nine provinces in South Africa from 2008 to 2013. Note that the pass rates have been separated into two graphs for ease of interpretation.
The pass rates over the period of study were low for Eastern Cape (EC), Limpopo (LP), Mpumalanga (MP) and Northern Cape (NC). This is because they have been lower than the South African average pass rate depicted by the black line in Figures 1 and 2. The other provinces performed better than the South African average over this period of study.
An interesting trend is that the pass rates for all the provinces are increasing. In particular, MP has increased each year more than any other province. A possible reason for the general increase across all provinces is that the teachers understood the content of the syllabus better as they taught it, and were thus able to convey the material to the students in a way that they could understand.
Another possibility could be that the standard of the exams has been dropping from 2008 to 2013, or the results may have also been affected by some marking/cheating scandals which may have not been fully identified.
In order to understand the quality of the passing in each province, it is important to analyse the percentage of Bachelor, Diploma and Higher Certificate passes in each province. A Bachelor pass means that the student will likely qualify for university entry, a Diploma pass means that the student will likely qualify for entry into a University of Technology and a Higher Certificate pass allows the student to attend an FET college. The detailed breakdown of the classification of a pass is shown in Figure 3 above.
Figure 3 shows that LP and EC produce more Diploma and Higher Certificate passes than Bachelor passes. This means that the number of students that pass well is low as a relative few will get into university. On the other hand, WP and GP produced the highest percentage of Bachelor passes, and few Higher Certificate passes. This means that a higher proportion of WC and GP students will qualify for University entrance.
A possible reason why the quality of the pass rates for EC, MP and LP are low could be the high cost of University fees, which demotivates learners as they may not be able to go to University due to lack of funds, even if they pass well. In addition, it could also be argued that, relative to the other provinces, there are more school going children who are also breadwinners in their respective homes; and thus not having sufficient time to focus on their studies.
Given that NCS is an altered form of Outcome Based Education (OBE), it requires that each province has access to financial and other resources in order to get the full benefits from an OBE-based curriculum( instead of a solely content based curriculum). EC and LP are poorer than GP and WC, and thus are less likely to perform well in an OBE-based curriculum without lots of funds being injected into education. In addition, the departments of education in LP and EC were put under administration during the period of study due to mismanagement of funds. Thus the mismanagement of funds may have also played a role in the poor performance of the two provinces.
Figures 4 and 5 above show the pass rate for each subject over the period 2008 to 2013 given pass marks of 30% and 40% respectively.
When focusing on the general pass rate trend per subject, it is evident that students do well in Mathematical Literacy, History and Business studies, while their performance in Mathematics and Physical Sciences is poor. In addition, there appears to be an improvement in the Matric pass rates for History and Physical Sciences, while the pass rates in the other subjects has been fairly constant of the study period.
The graphs above show that there are many students that get above 30% in each of the subjects. Of the students that got above 30%, few achieved a mark above 40%. In fact, the data also shows us that, of those that got above 30%, around 35% got less than 40%. This means that the quality of the passes is poor, as only a few students achieve a mark higher than 30%. This is in line with the results in Figure 3.
Data for other subjects such as Geography could not be obtained. Life Orientation was excluded from the above analysis as the pass rates were at least 99% for each year in the period of study, and because Life Orientation is not a written examination.
Figure 6 displays the breakdown of the number of students that passed each subject by gender over the period from 2008 to 2013.
The above graph tells us that over the study period, the performance of males and females has been more or less the same for Accounting, Business Studies, History and Life Sciences, while males outperform females in Mathematics, Mathematical literacy and Physical Sciences.
This suggests a possible reason as to why there are more males in the fields of Engineering, Actuarial Science and other Mathematics and Science related fields at University, and consequently, in the workplace.
A summary of the salient points extracted from the data presented in this article are as follows:
- South African Grade 12 students are not performing well in the subjects of Mathematics and Science
- Females are performing poorly relative to males in these subjects
- The poorer provinces, Limpopo and Eastern Cape, have not performed well under NCS
- A possible reason for this may be lack funding of education in these provinces
- Another reason may be the mismanagement of funds allocated to education.
However, a more thorough study into the performance of all provinces is required in order to identify the key contributors to the performance of the respective provinces.
We are currently in, and moving deeper into, a technology and computing based economy. The results of this data analysis suggest that the South African education system is not improving fast enough. If the quality of results for Mathematics and Science do not improve, South African students could find themselves not having the relevant skills to cope in a skill driven employment environment. This will hinder the ability of the students to fully contribute positively to society in the future, as South Africa aims to move from being a developing to being a developed economy.