I’ve been asked as Minister of Basic Education why I have decided to review the pass criteria for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) and why now, considering the NSC is only 6 years old.
But to answer these questions we need to look at the current situation and the misconceptions of our NSC that exist and continue to be perpetuated and used as a cheap politicking tool by the likes of Mamphela Ramphele, who despite her knowledge and understanding of the facts continues on a misinformation campaign.
To dispel this myth I can categorically say there is no such thing as a 30% pass mark for our National Senior Certificate, this is an extremely simplistic and for some formed on the bases of an opportunistic rumour about our education system. Currently learners need to attain 40% in their two language subjects as well as one other subject and a minimum of 30% in their other three subjects. Taking this into account as the minimum passing criteria I can confidently say that the majority of our learners pass at a higher level than this at any rate. From the total candidates that passed in 2012 only 0.1% passed with only a normal NSC (no Higher Education admission) – That is the MINIMUM REQUIREMENT to pass matric.
Criticism of the department in my opinion is the product of our own success, last year we saw the Grade 12 pass rate reach its highest levels in the 19 years since the dawn of democracy at 73.9%. This is a remarkable feat, considering this I can understand why people would then want to question the quality of the pass instead of praise the many interventions that brought us to this immense achievement. However the naysayers were dispelled by Umalusi, the independent oversight body that produced evidence to show that there had not been a compromise of quality as some would have you believe. Another indicator of the quality of our results is that 36% of learners passed with a Bachelor degree entrance qualification, this is more than ever before. Now to attain this, a learner must pass 4 designated subjects at 50% in each subject.
Ramphele sees education as a soft target because for many South Africans education is still very much an emotional issue. It speaks to the discrimination of our past and the aspirations of our future. I look at the reckless and untrue statements bandied about by Ramphele such as her recent utterances at a Wits platform where she said: “When you say to a child 30 percent is good enough for you to pass because I don’t want you to fail, what does that (mean)? We’re saying poor black children are not smart enough… We’re imprisoning the mind of the children and their parents. Isn’t that a betrayal of the promise of freedom?” With this she is tugging on the emotional fears of our people with blatant lies.
Let us, for a moment focus on our success stories. In 2012 we saw an African girl from a rural school in Limpopo achieving the top three highest NSC marks in the country. Out of the top 10 learners in the country that same year 7 of those were girl children. How far we have come in under 20 years to overturn the oppressive Bantu Education System... I am not saying we don’t have challenges, they are still many, but the progress has been immense. We are seeing more learners than ever gain access to a tertiary education and being able to further themselves and their prospects, whether this is at a traditional University or through an FET College, our children now have a future which they were previously denied.
This said we want to continue to move on a positive trajectory. Previously the focus was on increasing access to basic education as a constitutional right, but we currently have 98% of children attending the compulsory levels of education (another success of our government that goes unacknowledged). The focus now is to continue to improve the quality of our education system and ultimately our NSC. This is why I have set up an independent Ministerial task team to look into the pass requirement of 30% of the Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) subjects, to see if this is a realistic requirement to expect success in further studies post-school or the world of work. I have not been deaf to the calls by many that the pass requirements are too low, this task team is in response to these calls. However it needs to be a scientific process based on research and analysis not just based on perceptions and personal opinions. With that I am also asking the task team to look at whether the National Senior Certificate, which is a general academic qualification should not be broadened to include a general vocational pathway; to evaluate the currency of Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy respectively and whether the current dispensation whereby a learner must choose between the two subjects is the best option for the South African schooling system in terms of preparing learners for the work place, higher education studies and personal citizenry; to ascertain whether the current two levels of Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy are sufficient or whether another level of Mathematics should be introduced; and also to evaluate the “value add” of Life Orientation as a subject that is designed to inculcate morals, values, physical education and career guidance to learners and to determine whether Life Orientation should be an examinable subject. The committee will also look into the quality and standard of the School-Based-Assessment that constitutes 25% of the final promotion mark for the NSC.
I would encourage all South Africans to arm themselves with factual information and not the rumours being branded about by opportunistic politicians and make contributions through the public comment processes currently taking place.