Basic Education responds to Sunday Times column

The Department of Basic Education has expressed disappointment over the editorial column published by the Sunday Times on 8 January.

The department said the article, headlined Matrics pass, but the school system fails is misleading and a complete distortion of the truth.

The department said it appears that the Sunday Times did not consult the official examination report it released earlier this month, which included more analysis 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.

The national pass rate without progressed learners is 76.2%. However, including progressed learners, the pass rate is 72.5%, from a previous figure of 70%.

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 department said in a statement on Wednesday.

It said the editorial shows no understanding of the interventions that were put in place to get to where the department is.

What is always interesting to note is how when the Grade 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 department said it took seriously allegations made in the editorial that the Grade 12 results have been cooked up since 1994.

It said the results are quality assured by an independent body, Umalusi, which verifies the accuracy of the results.

Progression policy

One section of the column states that complaints have been received about progressed learners, and the dropout rates of learners from Grade 10.

The department said this is a clear indicator about the incoherence in thought of the author of this editorial.

It said the progression policy was designed especially to address school dropouts, 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 Democratic Alliance (DA) press release written by a 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.

The department said 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% of Grade 10 learners in Free State have been repeating that grade.

The department said it is frustrating that the hard work of dedicated people in the education system can be pushed aside by an ignorant and incorrect editorial.

Addressing school dropouts

It said the editorial fails to give an explanation for the improvement in the results, as the Minister and the Director-General of the department visited provinces to hold meetings with almost all 25 000 school principals in 2016. The meetings included district directors.

They discussed school improvement strategies, and 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 department said the dropout rate is clearly a concern that it is paying close attention to, as it loses about 30% of learners between Grade 10 and Grade 12.

This may be for any number of reasons. Not all actually leave the system completely, the department said.

It said some learners repeat grades, some find employment, and some enrol at Technical Vocational Education and Training (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 dropouts.

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... 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?

The department said the education system is performing better than it has before, and all indicators locally and internationally point to the fact that the education system is on an upwards trajectory in terms of quality.

It said more learners are passing, more learners are reaching Grade 12 and there are more distinctions and Bachelor passes.

Source: South African Government News Agency

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