Basic Education on misleading Sunday Times editorial column

Sunday Times editorial has misled its readers

It is disappointing when a newspaper with a following like the Sunday Times blatantly misleads its readers. The editorial column in this past Sunday’s (8 January) paper with the headline Matrics pass, but the school system fails, is a complete distortion of the truth, and is quite frankly ignorant.

In the official examination report of the Department of Basic Education, released earlier this month, more analysis has been included than in previous years, partly in order to assure the public of the credibility of the numbers, and to assist in interpreting the Grade 12 results. It appears that the Sunday Times did not consult this report, which is a great pity.

Editorials typically depict the position of a paper, making this column extremely disturbing coming from a newspaper that has partnered with the Department of Basic Education on some of the interventions that have led to the improvements in the education system we have seen recently. Is the Sunday Times conceding that their own interventions in education have failed?

The Sunday times also has employees who have a National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification, are they calling into question the credibility of their own employees’ qualifications, and therefore of the Sunday Times itself?

What about every South African Matriculant? Are they, questioning what the Sunday Times is telling them? Did they not work hard to deserve their pass? Did they not make a conscientious effort to attain that distinction, should they not go to University because the Sunday Times is essentially accusing the department of lying.

This past Sunday’s editorial shows no understanding of the interventions that were put in place to get to where we are. It displays no idea of the hard work of not only the DBE and various provincial education departments, but also NGOs, businesses and civil society who have partnered with the department for the betterment of South African education.

What is always interesting to note is how when the Gr 12 Results drop as they did in 2014 and 2015, our critics are quick to use those results to berate us and say we are not doing enough to improve the education system. However when we see improvements those same results are no longer credible – according to the Sunday Times at least. This determination is made on the fly, with absolutely no semblance of research or evidence.

It is concerning that a national newspaper would take the position of disputing the credibility of the results without contacting the department to get more insight. The allegations made in the editorial that the Grade 12 results have been cooked up since 1994 are serious. These are results that are quality assured by an independent body, Umalusi, which verifies if the results are accurate. Therefore the Sunday Times must also be questioning the credibility of highly qualified and extremely competent men and women in the appropriate fields on the Umalusi board.

One section of the column states that complaints have been received about the progressed learners, and then further down they themselves complain about the drop-out rates of learners from Gr 10. This is a clear indicator about the incoherence in thought of the author of this editorial. The progression policy was designed especially to address school drop outs, and the NSC results suggest that it is a successful policy decision.

The fact that in 2016 there were more Matriculants sitting for the NSC examinations than at any point in the history of South Africa is an indication that we are making progress in retaining learners until Grade 12, so this argument holds no water. Questioning the validity of the Free State being the top province in the 2016 NSC results come directly from a DA press release written by a bitter politician. Moreover, if the Sunday Times had consulted government’s official examination report it would have seen reliable figures, based on Statistics South Africa data, on what proportion of youths attain Grade 12 in Free State, and it may have become clear why the Sunday Times cannot do the calculation in the way they did it. Basically, one cannot draw meaningful ratios from a simple comparison of Grade 10 enrolments to later Grade 12 passes because of high levels of grade repetition in Grade 10 � in recent years around 20 per cent of Grade 10 learners in Free State were repeating that grade.

It is frustrating that the hard work of dedicated people in the education system can be pushed aside by an ignorant and incorrect editorial. What that editorial doesn’t give as an explanation for improvement in the results is that between the Minister and the Director-General, every province was visited and meetings were held with almost every single one of the 25 000 school principals in 2016. These meetings included district directors. They discussed school improvement strategies; they were taken through what the department expects of them either as primary or high schools, among others. Yet none of these reasons were even considered when brushing off the results as not credible.

The drop-out rate is clearly a concern that the department is paying close attention to, we lose about 30% learners between grade 10 and grade 12. This may be for any number of reasons. Not all actually leave the system completely. Some repeat grades, some find employment, some enrol at TVET colleges. Teenage pregnancy and youth criminality are also possible reasons. These are all factors we are working on as a department and have many successful interventions in place to curb school drop-outs.

It cannot be said however, that in 2016 when we have seen the Free State doing better than the Western Cape, and we have seen an increase in the overall pass-rate, that now we must start calculating the pass-rate from Grade 10 to include learners who did not even sit for the examinations. This is absurd and plain nonsensical. How does one expect a pass rate to include people who could still be in Grade 11, or could have gone to a TVET college? Should we include learners who have possibly died or gone to jail in the results? Does the Sunday Times not have people with the cognitive ability to decipher the statistics.

The reality is that the education system is performing better than it has before. All indicators both locally and internationally point to the fact that the education system is on an upwards trajectory in terms of quality. More learners are passing, more learners are reaching Grade 12, there are more distinctions and bachelor passes. This is an education system that is progressing and taking South Africa forward. Sunday Times you can do better and it is your credibility that is in question.

Source: Government of South Africa

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