DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 12: Renowned Human Rights Lawyer and former Public Protector of South Africa, Professor Thulisile Thuli Madonsela receives an Honorary Doctorate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on September 12, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. The Chancellor of UKZN, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will conferred the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Madonsela as part of a recognition for her contribution to the betterment of South African society. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

Thought Leadership : Matric results are out, but are these numbers telling us the entire story?

The 2022 matric pass rates have been released, but are these results a true indication of what our country’s learners are capable of? As schools reopen for the 2023 academic year, not all students are going to be seated at their desks. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shocking infrastructure challenges that many South African learners face. Anwar-Yasser Rassool, Founder of the FEST Foundation, discusses the connection between pass rates and poor infrastructure, and the toll that this takes on learners.

Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, has announced that the 2022 matric pass rate is 80.1% – a 3.7 percentage point increase over 2021. The province taking top marks is the Free State at 88,5%, followed by Gauteng (84,4%), KZN (83%), and the Western Cape (81,4%). While many lauded the achievements of a class that has faced almost insurmountable pandemic and loadshedding challenges, the sad reality is that many schools are showing a less than 20% pass rate – with some even reporting a 0% pass rate.

These are the schools where there is no running water for hand washing or for learners to drink. Schools that don’t have basic textbooks, blackboards, desks or chairs. Some of these schools don’t even have doors to the classrooms or windows leaving students with no other option but to go to school in buildings that are run down and crumbling, often worrying that they will collapse even further which can cause injuries or death. Learners are using sanitation facilities such as plain pit toilets that are not only highly unsanitary, but also incredible dangerous. It is predominantly schools that are found in remote or rural areas that have had to deal with these incomprehensible challenges for many years.

Aside from infrastructure challenges that create an unsafe and highly stressed learning environment, there are also challenges that are major obstacles standing in the way of students and their access to education. According to a National Education Infrastructure Management System (NIEMS) report published in 2021, 69% of ordinary public school do not have basic libraries and close to 80% do not have laboratories. Over 3 500 do not even have reliable electricity. With an average of 65 students per classroom, teachers are overwhelmed, overworked and schools can’t provide the most basic facilities.

So it would seem prudent to ask once again – is the matric pass rate truly a reflection of what our country’s students are capable of? The plain answer is no, it is not. By developing infrastructure such as introducing technology, building more classes, providing safer, more sustainable learning spaces within schools, and providing a capable force of invested and educated teachers many of the external factors affecting students’ ability to learn, focus and reach their potential in the classroom can be removed.

And what about the role of the private sector? Joint efforts between public and private sectors are immensely important an create a lot of positive change in schools, especially for matriculants. From collaborations and partnerships with high schools, scholarship programs and technical skills development, the private sector has the potential to create drastic change for matriculants and offer new pathways that are practical and useful for the development of a functional economy and country.

It is important to understand that learners in South Africa face many challenges and none of these challenges are isolated. Students must be provided with all the necessary tools they need to prosper, regardless of which school they attend, and having a safe learning environment that is fit for 21st century learning is the first step in getting to that point. We must all come together with urgency to find new solutions that can be introduced to schools that will not only help our learners reach their full potential but also create opportunities for our youth and their future, before we reach a point of no return workforce crisis.