Western Cape 2019 National Senior Certificate Awards
Speech delivered by Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer
Welcome to our annual celebration of the achievements of our learners in the National Senior Certificate Examinations, kindly hosted again by our Premier, but this time it is our new Premier, who for some reason has appointed me again to this extremely challenging, but also a very rewarding, position.
This is always one of our favourite events of the year, and I congratulate not just the achievers seated here, but all the learners across the province who passed their matric exams and are excited to begin the next chapter of their lives. And no matter what the official rankings say – we are Number 1! More about that later.
The world all these young people are entering now is a difficult one to navigate at present. It is never easy, but at the moment our country is in some deep water, leaving our future darker than Stage 6 load-shedding, unless some drastic action is taken, and very soon. Our newly-qualified matriculants will need to navigate the rising tide of fear and division that so many South Africans have become trapped by. They also have to face the unacceptable fact that we have the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. And yet it is very often our young people who are the most positive and desperately want to a make a real difference in our country.
It is in times like these that we desperately need true leaders – people who will take the right decisions for the right reasons, even if it makes them unpopular. People who set their eyes on the end goal and chart a strategy to get there, inspiring others along the way. You know what they say about leadership – it is like a piece of string – you will not succeed by pushing it, but only by pulling from the front. And we have far too few people in our country – and the world in fact - who are providing the leadership we need. Matriculants, there is a huge vacuum out there that needs filling. Please fill it.
It was wonderful to take a ‘time out’ from our country’s harsh realities to celebrate our national success at the Rugby World Cup toward the end of last year – success made possible by the wonderful example of our South African captain, Siya Kolisi, and coach Rassie Erasmus. They showed us clearly how standing together as a team, despite our differences, planning a strategy and executing it to perfection can enable us to be the best in the world.
If only we had such focus in our national government.
Unfortunately, because we don’t, we find ourselves in increasingly difficult times in our provincial government, and education in particular. Our learner numbers are increasing year on year, while our budget has not kept up and is going to be shrinking more dramatically. This puts great pressure on our province to maintain the high standards that we set ourselves. It also puts immense pressure on our infrastructure and our teachers. With our economic situation as it currently is, I am not optimistic that we will see a positive difference for some time.
So, we can curl up in a ball, or we can be diamonds. As Henry Kissinger said, “a diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure”!
And we have a LOT of diamonds in the making in the WCED.
I must take this opportunity to appreciate the work of every learner, teacher, principal and WCED official in this Department. Despite our difficulties, we continue to set the example of leadership and excellence that brings so many new learners to the province each year.
Which brings me to the results of the matric class of 2019.
I’m sure we were all a bit disappointed to see that our province moved from 3rd to 4th place in the national table. No team is happy to see their ranking drop down the league table. But we must keep our eyes on the real prize: ensuring that we get better every single year as regards quality and giving our youth the best possible opportunities to make a meaningful difference in their lives and our country.
Despite some politicians not understanding the meaning of the word “regress”, our pass rate has increased from 81.5% last year to 82.3%.
Obviously I am pleased about that, but what I am not pleased about is that the key issues of retention, bachelors passes and the performance in key subjects is not included in the calculation of the league table. It is simply the percentage pass rate. DBE has used such a measure over the last few years unofficially, but they do not seem to have found a formula in which the Western Cape does not come out on top, which is politically rather unpalatable for them I guess.
But when we look closely at the statistics, and analyse how the results are achieved, I want to say that I am proud of what we have done in the Western Cape.
Our bachelor pass rate for the 2019 NSC is 46.3% - this is the highest ever and an increase from 42.3% last year. This means that more of our learners will be able to access tertiary education, and is an important indicator of the quality of education learners receive. No regression here.
Heartiest congratulations must go to Metro North Education District for achieving the highest district percentage pass rate in the province – 86.3%. Overberg was very narrowly beaten at 86% - a fantastic 3,6% increase from last year! Well done to David Millar and Helene Van Zyl and your teams.
Our schools have also achieved great results this year.
- 69 schools (15.4%) achieved a 100% pass rate – of these, 27 have had a 100% pass rate for at least the past five years;
- Nearly 2/3 of Western Cape schools have a pass rate of over 80%;
The progress being made in our Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools deserves special mention, where both the pass rate and the bachelor pass rate increased.
- In Quintile 1 schools, the pass rate increased by 1.5% and the bachelors pass rate by 4.4%.
- Quintile 2 schools pass rate increased by 5.8% and bachelors pass rate increased by 5.8%
- Quintile 3 schools pass rate increased by 1.9% and bachelors pass rate increased by 2.8%
This improvement shows that passion and dedication can overcome the resource difficulties many of these schools face, and that the Western Cape’s efforts to close the inequality gap are bearing fruit. The pass rate of Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools together has increased by 17% since 2009, when this government took over.
An individual school that I particularly want to mention is St Andrew’s Secondary school in Elsies River. This school has faced enormous challenges, with crime and gangsterism being rife, and achieved only a 39% pass rate in 2017. I have visited the school myself, at the request of a learner, who was desperate to receive a quality education. Whilst I addressed the assembly, gang shootings were taking place a block away.
The school principal left the school, and our own “Mr Fix It”, Mr Charles Du Preez, stepped in as curator principal in 2018. The Metro North’s multi-functional team, especially on curriculum, worked with Mr du Preez, and this team. They, together with District Director David Millar and Circuit Manager Mr Randall Southgate, are to be commended for their sterling effort. Mr Southgate’s dedication was unwavering in supporting the school, despite fighting a life-threatening illness himself.
I am very happy to report that the school received a 71.7% pass rate this year – the highest in six years! I wish the current acting principal, Ms Christine de Vries, all the best as the school continues to improve, and we will be keeping a very close eye on you (no pressure!).
I said earlier that we are number one, and I want to go into some more detail on that, which relates to retention. I am pleased that more people are starting to look at this more carefully. I was also pleased to see Prof Jonathan Jansen say that if people honestly think a province can go up by a steady 5% per year, they are not paying attention.
I am going to do a more detailed piece of work on these statistics shortly, but here are a few points to think about.
We always say that the Western Cape has the highest retention rate in South Africa from Grade 10 to 12, which we do. And that ALSO increased since last year.
But what does this actually mean?
We have also said that the Multiple Exam Opportunity (or MEO) has resulted in many learners opting or being forced to write their exams over 2 sessions. This means that whoever does that is not included in the final calculation of the end of year matric pass rate. So if there are weaker learners in the system, they simply leave the system or are coerced into writing the MEO.
I am going to give you an example in numbers, not just percentages, from the 2019 NSC.
According to the School Realities Report, in 2017 there were 1 075 925 learners in Grade 10 in the national system. At the beginning of their Grade 12 year 2 years later, 459 171 had “disappeared”.
The highest percentage of the cohort lost was in the Northern Cape, at 52.7%. The lowest was in the Western Cape, at 31.8%. The second highest was the Free State, at 49.9%.
Then we look at those who actually registered to write the NSC.
Then there is a second round of “losses”. There were the 616 754 learners who enrolled to write at the beginning of their matric year. The number of those who actually wrote was 504 303, 112 451 fewer than had registered. Of those 112 451, 2989 were from the Western Cape, with the lowest percentage of 5.6% of our cohort.
The highest percentage of those registering and not writing was in Limpopo, with 24,6%, followed by Mpumalanga at 23.4%, KwaZulu Natal at 20.7% and Northern and Eastern Cape with 20.3%. That is a fifth to a quarter of matrics who started their matric year who did not write the final exam.
So, when we look at the percentages overall, of those lost from the beginning of Grade 10, who actually wrote the 2019 NSC, just looking at those in the three places above us, the picture is as follows.
Free State “lost” 34 447 learners, or 57.4%. Gauteng “lost” 99 371 learners, or 50.4%. North West “lost” 36 855 learners, or 57.9%. And we “lost” 27 898, or 35.6%.
No loss is something we are proud of. But 35% against 50% and above is quite some difference.
When we take that into account, one can see why we are number 4 on a table that purely measures percentage pass rates.
Now, onto more pleasant matters.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Paarl Gimnasium High School as the results were released. I had decided to visit that school last year already, so you can imagine my delight when I heard that the top matric candidate in the country – Madelein Dippenar – also attended that school. Madelein is a wonderful young lady who has handled the intense media attention like a real pro.
Of course, not just the top Quintile 5 learner for 2019, but all top three Quintile 5 learners in the country hail from the Western Cape. I was beaming with pride to join the national Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, on stage last week to congratulate Madelein, Gary Allen from Rondebosch High School, and Anuoluwa Makinde from Milnerton High School.
And the national awards didn’t stop there. Timothy Murphy, from Rondebosch Boys’ High, was ranked as the top candidate nationally in Mathematics, followed closely by Ivan Badenhorst, from Outeniqua High School, in second position nationally.
Congratulations to our national achievers, you have really done us proud!
In addition to awarding our top achievers on the provincial level, in which I am very pleased to say our government schools have acquitted themselves very well, we will also again make Special Ministerial Awards which recognise learners who have achieved their matric pass under very challenging circumstances. The Special Ministerial Awards are very close to my heart, and all district directors had the opportunity to send nominations to us in order to select our very worthy recipients. I have chosen three candidates from those submitted.
It is important for me also to acknowledge, and thank most sincerely, the SG, Brian Schreuder, and the whole exam team, including Dr Peter Beets, Mr Bertram Loriston, Ms Tina Singh and Mr Blackie Swart, for their tireless work ensuring the exams ran smoothly, despite some of them having to deal with personal tragedies themselves. Your efforts are appreciated.
Thank you too, to our sponsors. Your support is greatly appreciated.
So, I want to end off by acknowledging the hard work that goes into helping our young people every day, and again congratulate all our achievers.
We will keep striving to be number one on the league table, but we are number one in quality.
And I want to encourage each one of us, as we face some difficult times ahead, to envisage ourselves at the end of it all as the beautiful diamond that did amazingly well under pressure.