Alarming questions around pass rate for class of 2023

AI Image for illustration purposes only. Created by Marcus Moloko

The matric pass rate for the class of 2023 is of concern and Dr Corrin Varady points out just how much of a negative impact, not addressing the real issue could have on learners.

Last week, the matric class of 2023 visited their old schools to collect their results, while some checked newspapers including online systems to see how they had performed.

The class of 2023 achieved a national pass mark of 82.9% as announced by the Department of Basic Education, Minister Angie Motshekga on Thursday.

The issue

While the official matric pass rate of 82.9% for 2023 was reported, listed as the highest pass rate in National Senior Certificate history, metrics, which include dropout rates point to a different pass rate percentage of 55.3%.

This is according to Dr Corrin Varady, CEO at IDEA who emphasised the importance of recognizing the many challenges faced by the current student cohort.

“The worsening academic results can be entirely attributed to socio-economic disparities but are further compounded by contemporary issues such as load shedding, pandemic learning losses, and insufficient student psychosocial support.”

Varady further points out that the existing universal education system results in three key education complications, namely teacher shortages, student and teacher literacy challenges, and a lack of personalised resources.

“Pushing students through school with inadequate results and without feedback creates a false sense of achievement which is realised when engaging with higher education or the labour market.”

Alternative resources

While alternative paths like Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) are available to students, Varady notes how the option to enrol in the second change matric programme kickstarted by the Department of Education offers opportunities for skills enhancement and subject improvement at a time where a pass result does not mean a certificate can help you get ahead.

While there’s massive potential in the program, there is a need for a more focused and outcome-driven approach, but merely retaking exams is not enough according to Varady.

There’s a need to address the root causes of academic barriers for meaningful improvement by creating a successful second-chance matric programme that identifies and tackles specific problems through baseline and diagnostic assessment while providing tailored and effective remediation.

Educators remain challenged in delivering a curriculum inside a school year, and there is little time or capacity for them to assess, reflect, revise and personalize the feedback for each student in a class.

That’s the difference between a pass and achievement according to Varady.

No more quick fixes

Instead of quick fixes, the Programme should provide comprehensive support, dealing with specific learning challenges faced by students and empowering them to overcome these with the necessary assistance for their academic and personal growth.

To improve access to the Second Chance Matric Programme, he suggests government implement a virtual moderated version aligned with national curricula.

“This would be a game-changer by providing a dynamic educational portal, breaking down language barriers through personalised learning experiences, and incorporating videos, animations as well as digital science labs to impart skills necessary for success in final exams.”

“This model, offering both online and offline modes, will ensure that all students, regardless of their financial situation, have the opportunity for a second chance at academic achievement.”

“Reducing the digital divide is partly about increasing access to infrastructure but it is more about increasing the personal value of the use of that infrastructure for lower-income or at-risk communities, he adds.

He maintains that there is a need to establish robust support systems, including social services, learner facilitation programmes, and academic assistance, to provide guidance for these learners.

“These roles don’t all need to be undertaken by qualified teachers and we could be tapping into fantastic university graduate students who are young and want to give back, while creating jobs that support our students and therein our country.”

Stressing the importance of offering specialised training for educators to address the unique challenges faced by second-chance learners, Varady explained that effective teacher training is pivotal for creating an inclusive learning environment that meets the diverse needs of students.

“Identifying students at risk early on and providing additional assistance is crucial. As such, early grade literacy and numeracy are foundational, and strategies like the Screening, Identification, Assessment, and Support (SIAS) policy can help detect pupils with learning difficulties sooner than later.”

“Our education system must evolve to better accommodate and support students in need of a second chance.

While this is a work in progress, learners should not give up, he says.  Avenues for improvement exist beyond initial results, and programmes like the Second Chance Matric Programme can help you and your future.

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