South Africa has recorded its highest high school pass rate since achieving democracy 20 years ago, but concerns over the relatively low pass requirements and daunting job prospects for graduates have dampened the good news.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Monday announced a 78 percent pass rate for the 2013 matric class – a six percent improvement over last year. But the requirement for a 30 percent score on the final exam to obtain a high school diploma, known in South Africa as a National Senior Certificate, has been criticized by opposition political parties and business representative bodies in South Africa.
“Some may view the matric (NSC) results as a cause for celebration, but we believe they are a cause for concern,” Democratic Alliance spokeswoman Annette Lovemore said in a statement.
Lovemore said the pass rate was not a credible measure of the quality of education.
She, along with trade union Solidarity and civil rights body Afriforum, said the pass rate did not take into consideration the number of students who dropped out of the education system.
“We cannot celebrate quantity at the expense of quality,” said Inkatha Freedom Party Youth Brigade chairman Mkhuleko Hlengwa said, criticizing the 30 percent pass mark. “We are doing our future a major disservice by continuously resisting quality education. Our education system needs a serious overhaul.”
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said a diploma should be a fundamental signal to the labor market that a passing student can perform in at least a low-skilled position, but said it was not adequate.
The business community has reported a growing number of ill-equipped high school graduates, said Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Pietman Roos. The chamber also called on the education department to raise the pass requirement for the diploma and introduce national exams at earlier intervals in education.
“Periodical international comparisons have shown that the standard of public education in South Africa is extremely poor, so merely raising the pass requirements is not enough,” Roos said.
Black Business Council CEO Xolani Qubeka said many graduates would unfortunately be “joining a long queue of the unemployed youth because companies are not creating jobs, but cutting them.” He questioned the readiness of the private sector to join the government in the fight against unemployment, adding that the government’s new employment tax incentive for young people would not be able to achieve much on its own.
South Africa’s current unemployment rate is around 25 percent.
The deficiencies in South Africa’s educational system still “sentence many a pupil to a life of utter poverty, hopelessness and inequity,” said Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town.
Recent studies have shown that only 50 percent of people with a high school diploma find employment, according to the National Employers’ Association of South Africa. Others have put the figure as low as one in three.
“The current curriculum does not give priority to vocational training, resulting in a situation where the education system fail to supply workers who have basic skills such as reading and writing that employers need for a specific job,” said the association’s CEO Gerhard Papenfus.