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Cablegate: South Africa's School Leaving Exam Results

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSA #0126/01 0211506
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211506Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0957
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 7511
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 1578
RUEHJO/AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG 9867
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PRETORIA 000126

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON SOCI SF
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICA'S SCHOOL LEAVING EXAM RESULTS
DISAPPOINT AGAIN

REF: PRETORIA 000070

PRETORIA 00000126 001.2 OF 003


THIS MESSAGE IS UNCLASSIFIED BUT SENSITIVE. IT IS NOT
INTENDED FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. For the sixth year in a row, South Africa's
national pass rates for its public school-leaving exams, the
matric, have declined to just over 60 percent, down from 62.5
percent in 2008. (NOTE: The matric is a term commonly used to
refer to the final year of high school and the qualification
received on graduating from high school. It also refers to
the minimum university entrance requirements. END NOTE) More
disturbing are statistics that show that only 35 percent of
the cohort who began their schooling in 1998 and should have
graduated this year took the exam, meaning approximately 65
percent of them did not receive a high school diploma. No one
in the SAG is sugar-coating the results; most of the blame
has been put on ill-prepared or undedicated teachers.
Education Minister Angie Motshekga insists her ministry is
working on halting the decline, but flaws within South
Africa's education system are systemic and worsening. END
SUMMARY.

--------
OVERVIEW
--------

2. (SBU) For the sixth year in a row, pass rates for South
Africa's public school-leaving exam, called the matric, have
declined. In 2009, just over 60 percent of students who sat
for the exam passed, compared to just over 70 percent in
2004. In real terms, this means 217,331 of the 551,940 who
sat for the exam this year failed. The number of pupils who
received a 30 percent mark or higher for physical science
plunged to 38.6 percent in 2009 from 54.9 in 2008, while the
figure for mathematics stayed at 46 percent, the Education
Ministry said. However, it should be noted that constant
changes to the curricula and to the matric to improve the
quality of education make it difficult to compare results
from year to year. (NOTE: The 2009 matric results by race are
not yet available, but in 2008, 57 percent of black
matriculants passed, compared to 99 percent of white
matriculants. While the Department of Education does not
include results by race in any official reports, press
articles report that results are once again characterized by
a striking dearth of black pupils among the country's top
achievers, as the majority of those who achieved multiple
distinctions (high scores in more than one subject) were
white. END NOTE)

3. (SBU) On the good news front, the sheer number of students
going through the education system and completing high school
has been steadily increasing since the apartheid years. Over
18,000 more students took the exam in 2009 than in 2008, and
almost 20 percent of these 551,940 students received high
enough marks to automatically qualify for entry into
university, a slight improvement over the 18 percent who
qualified last year. Two of South Africa's nine provinces
improved scores: KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, by 3.5
percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. Despite an overall
decline in the pass rate, some 417 schools achieved a 100
percent pass rate, including 23 quintile one schools, meaning
they are under-resourced schools in the highest poverty
ranking. Also, the number of schools with a lower than 20
percent pass rate declined.

-----------------------------------
THE HIDDEN NUMBERS GIVE PERSPECTIVE
-----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Of the 1,550,790 students who entered grade one in
Q4. (SBU) Of the 1,550,790 students who entered grade one in
1998, just over 551,490 took the matric this year, with the
remaining having dropped out somewhere along the way. This
means of the cohort that should have graduated from high
school this year, only 35 percent took the exam, and only 21
percent received a high school diploma. "It's not six in ten
that are passing matric, but six in ten who are not getting
an education at all," according to the Centre for Education
Policy Development (CEPD). These drop-out figures are
consistent with CEPD's data from 1995 and 1997 cohorts as
well. If current trends continue, CEPD believes dropouts from
this generation will make up the majority of all middle-aged
adults in the country in 30 years, the amount of time they
believe it will take South Africa to right its education
system.

PRETORIA 00000126 002.2 OF 003

5. (SBU) Moreover, not all of the 109,697 matriculants who
received scores high enough to qualify for university
admission will be accepted to university. The deputy
vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Adam
Habib, warns that universities are full and that the
government has not adequately funded the expansion of higher
education to permit everyone qualifying for university to
attend.

-----------------------------------
WHO'S TO BLAME? APPARENTLY EVERYONE
-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) After revealing the disappointing results, Education
Minister Angie Motshekga said, "saying we are unhappy is too
mild - we've had sleepless nights and agonized," and that
"bad teachers" should shoulder much of the blame. President
Jacob Zuma, who has no formal education, added that "the
government is serious about non-negotiables...teachers must
be on time, in class and teaching for seven hours each day."
Chief Executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of
South African Schools, Paul Coditz, said, "too many teachers
lack commitment and have become despondent because they
aren't appreciated by the community or government and no
longer consider teaching a noble profession." USAID officials
note that pupil and teacher absenteeism, plus ill discipline
and late registration of pupils every year are also factors.
Press reports also note that many parents are uneducated and
unable to help their children with homework, or feel too
intimidated to challenge poorly performing teachers.

7. (SBU) Predictably, the South African Democratic Teachers'
Union refuted Motshekga's claims, laying more blame on the
government. They argue that teachers have not been trained to
teach ever-changing curricula. USAID officials second this,
noting that there are problems with in-service teacher
training programs to improve teachers' skills, the inadequate
coverage of the current curriculum, and a lack of
accountability across the entire system. According to USAID,
there is also a lack of qualified teachers, especially in
math and science, delays in delivery of teaching materials to
schools, and poor maintenance and cleanliness of schools.

--------------------------------------------- -------
GOVERNMENT WILL PROPOSE SOLUTIONS; TOO LATE FOR MANY
--------------------------------------------- -------

8. (SBU) Motshekga told the public her ministry will aim to
improve the quality of teaching, especially in science, and
reduce some of the administrative burden on teachers. She has
instructed her department to compile a plan by March to
reverse the decline in grades. Since schools will already
have been open since January, it is not clear how effective
the plan will be in the short term. Motshekga also noted that
a teacher development branch of the education department had
recently been established to help improve teaching skills,
but any teachers found guilty of dereliction of duty would be
fired. Some provinces also seem to be taking some initiative,
with lessons being offered to pupils on Saturdays and
holidays to help teachers complete the curriculum.

9. (SBU) Motshekga's plans come too late for new university
entrants as plummeting confidence in the test, along with the
government's tardiness in releasing the results, are forcing
universities to introduce their own assessments for entry. An
unnamed senior academic and university administrator told the
Qunnamed senior academic and university administrator told the
press that in three to four years, South Africa will have to
develop a new system, as universities no longer have
confidence in the matric exams. Many institutions are getting
first year students to take "benchmark tests" to show their
weaknesses and strengths, but passing these tests has become
an unspoken criterion for admission.

-------
COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) South Africa's education system should be seen in
historical perspective; the ANC inherited a school system
with deep flaws that during the apartheid era purposefully
provided black South Africans an inferior education. In
addition to curricula and management problems, schools are
negatively affected by societal problems such as weak
infrastructure, poverty, lack of qualified personnel, and the

PRETORIA 00000126 003.2 OF 003


scourge of HIV/AIDS. The Ministry of Education can only
address educational deficiencies, including improving the
curricula and the matric, and create equal access to
education for everyone.

11. (SBU) To expect all of the obstacles to be overcome after
only 15 years of democracy would be unrealistic. The SAG has
raised education spending almost four-fold since the end of
apartheid in 1994 and the ANC continues to call education a
priority. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has set aside
almost $20 million dollars, or 17 percent of the budget, for
education over the next year. Unfortunately, until more of
the deeper systemic problems are resolved, the low pass
rates, especially in math and science, combined with high
drop-out rates, will undoubtedly contribute to South Africa's
critical skills shortage, feed its 24 percent unemployment
rate, and thwart efforts to boost its economy.
GIPS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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