The systemic trend of learner achievement of which this cohort has been a part of over the last 12 years was an upward trajectory. In 2009, the National Senior Certificate pass rate was 60% and 109 000 learners qualified for Bachelor admissions. In 2020, 76.2% of learners who wrote the National Senior Certificate examination passed and 210 820 of them achieved admission to Bachelor Studies. Over the last 10 years, the pass rate has remained consistently over 70% since reaching this benchmark in 2011. Internal analyses by the Department of Basic Education on the 2020 cohort indicated that the Grade 11 and Grade 10 results were higher than their counterparts of the 2019 cohort. The predictive analysis pointed to a continued upward trend in 2020. But we did not expect the system to be faced with a devastating pandemic that engrossed education systems, teaching and learning, parents and learners across the world into crisis. This unfortunately impacted on the performance of the Class of 2020.
A total of 578 468 full-time candidates sat for the 2020 NSC examinations. The overall pass rate for the 2020 cohort represents a decrease of 5.1 percentage points from 81.3% in 2019. Although there is decrease in the pass percentage, there has been a notable increase in the number of learners that attained the National Senior Certificate.
The decrease in performance is notably sharper in provinces that have a significant rural constituency and is less pronounced in provinces with more urban settings. This may be ascribed to the COVID-19 pandemic conditions having a greater impact on schooling in rural areas and their constrained ability to re-organise and regain lost learning time due to school closures, learner absenteeism, teacher well-being, and access to resources.
The achievement of the Class of 2020 should be acknowledged with due respect to the fallen heroes of education sector. In the past year, the sad loss of teachers and officials who succumbed to the pandemic has robbed learners, families, the education sector and society of a multitude of individual talents, skills, dedication, and commitment that served generations of South African children from early learning to adolescence. The contribution of these “soldiers of learning”, many of whom invested into the achievements of the Class of 2020 will be forever remembered. In light of this I thank parents, teachers, principals, teacher unions, communities, district and provincial officials, and social partners for supporting the Class of 2020.