WHILE the Eastern Cape education department was in a celebratory mood this week following a 3.5% rise in the province’s 2012 matric pass rate, every other grade, from one to 11, showed a drop in the pass rate.
In Grade 4, the pass rate plummeted by an alarming 13.6%.
Concern has been expressed that only the matric pass rate has been boosted, with Equal Education NGO even going so far as to question the validity of the matric results.
Announcing the provincial results at a press conference in East London this week, MEC Mandla Makupula hinted that interested parties look to grades 1 to 11 for the root of poor matric performances.
"Grade 12 is the culmination; it is the exit. Please take interest in the lower grades,” he urged.
Referring to the 6% plummet in the overall pass rate in the grades preceding grade 12, Makupula said that although results for Grade 1 to 3 were "comparable” to national results – particularly among girls – marks begin to nosedive from Grade 4. "The trouble starts in Grade 4. That’s when you introduce English as a medium of instruction and that’s when the marks go down. Children do fairly well in Grades 1 to 3 because the language of instruction is the mother tongue.”
Just 58.9% of Grade 10 pupils passed last year, a drop of 5.1% from 2011.
Last year’s Grade 11 class fared little better with a disturbingly low 59% pass rate which dropped by 0.3%.
Also, just 67.2% of last year’s Grade 9 pupils passed – a drop of 5.4% – indicating that the three years leading up to matric are fraught with failures, allowing only the stronger candidates through to Grade 12.
Equal Education NGO deputy general secretary Doron Isaacs said the fact that only the Eastern Cape’s matric results had improved, while all the other grades had weakened, called the validity of the matric pass rate into question in "quite a serious way”. "It is very interesting and quite difficult to understand,” said Isaacs. "It seems eleven grades in a row are trending in one direction with only the one in the media spotlight going up. It calls the credibility of the matric results into question.”
Isaacs said it was possible weaker pupils in Grade 10 and 11 in some schools were being held back to send only the strongest through to grade 12, thereby contributing to the province’s improved matric pass rate.
"It is disturbing and shows what we suspect; that the politicisation of matric results is resulting in pressure . . . that individual schools who want to improve their matric results are holding students back in grades 11 and 12 because the only thing that matters is Grade 12 (pass mark). That is wrong, but it is the culture we are creating.”
A well-placed Eastern Cape education department insider confirmed this view, saying the department’s emphasis on matric results was "skewed”.
"They are succumbing to the pressure and focusing on the end product – Grade 12 – because people only judge them on the end product and so they are ignoring other grades.