School pupils fail to make the grade

March 2, 2007

The proportion of pupils leaving school in South Africa with the qualifications to enter university has fallen for the fourth year running.

This has forced the higher education sector, which has struggled to lower the 50 per cent student dropout rate, to deliver remedial education to the disadvantaged.

This year, 66 per cent of some 530,000 pupils who took the national state school-leaving exams (the matric) passed.

This a 7 point drop below the pass rate of 73 per cent in 2003, although the figure is still higher than the 58 per cent of 1994, the first year of post-apartheid democracy. But the absolute numbers of passes has grown year on year as more pupils take the matric.

The class of 2006, or Madiba's (Nelson Mandela's) Children, the first cohort to have been schooled fully in post-apartheid South Africa, performed poorly in state school-leaving exams late last year.

Further concern stems from the fact that 16 per cent, or 85,830 pupils, achieved a university exemption, the minimum requirement for university entry.

This is lower than the 17 per cent figure of 2005 and 18 per cent of 2004.

Last year produced about 1,000 fewer exemptions than 2005, and 3,000 fewer than 1994.

Pupils who took the Independent Examination Board (IEB) matric, which caters for some 150 private schools, performed better. The pass rate was 98 per cent, and 79 per cent of those eligible obtained a university exemption. But the number is tiny: some 7,000 pupils took the IEB exams and 4,729 got an exemption.

As a result, fewer than 91,000 of some 170,000 school students starting in higher education when South Africa's 23 universities opened this month did not have an exemption.

While a small proportion of university-qualified school-leavers will enter South Africa's private higher education sector - and public universities of technology do not require an exemption for diploma courses - tens of thousands of students lacking the requisite skills will again be admitted to degree programmes.

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