South Africa released the results of its matriculation exam this week. This exam, taken by all students after completion of their final year in high school, is a national test that provides a barometer on the effectiveness of South Africa’s educational system. In addition, entrance to university in South Africa is contingent upon receiving a certain score on the exam; failure to achieve that cutoff means that college is not an option.
Did South Africa’s President Tell a Lie?
South African President Zuma made wide sweeping comments congratulating this year’s exam takers, and by implication, his administration, for a modest gain in the results. This has created a heated debate, as those in the know regarding South Africa’s educational system understand that the country’s public education system is on a downward trajectory. The overall picture is so bleak, lavishing praise over this marginal improvement is akin to celebrating victory for an insignificant battle when it is clear that the war has been lost.
The facts remain that despite its relatively developed economy, the World Economic Forum reported that in 2011, South Africa ranked 132 among 144 nations in primary school education and 143 in math and science. While the percentage of those who passed the matriculation exam this year increased from 70.2% to 73.9%, keep in mind that you only have to get about 35% of the questions right in order to pass the exam.
To put it another way, those who took the exam in 2012 entered first grade in 2001, and at that time they numbered about one million first graders throughout South Africa. By the time they took the matriculation exam last month, roughly half had dropped out of school. And of those who took the exam, only about 26% got a grade high enough to qualify to enter university. Therefore, of those million first graders who started out in 2001, about 875,000 are not qualified to go to university.
Are these statistics something that President Zuma should be celebrating?
How can a country with so much promise achieve its potential with such a poorly educated population?
What should South Africa, and other African countries do to improve their educational systems?
Tell us what you think.