I came across the February edition of a publication entitled “Public Sector Manager” at Lanseria International Airport while waiting for a flight back to Cape Town. On the front cover was the portrait of Mrs Angie Motshekga, National Minister of Basic Education. Realising that there must be an education focus in this edition (and fascinated by the headline of ‘High Standards’), I took some time to browse the magazine.
One of the articles was entitled, “Gauteng Department of Education leads the pack”. The thrust of the article was that the GDE was the top performing education department in the 2014 Matric examinations. As I read through the very blatant self-congratulatory tone (after all, the magazine is published by the state’s Department of Communications), I was struck by the fact that nowhere was there mention of the high dropout rate on the way to Grade 12 in Gauteng (see this article for insights into the 2014 Matric pass rates).
I was also troubled by this sentence:
As the Minister makes the announcement Gauteng MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi jumps up screaming and punches the air as if he has just won a million rand.
It seems that Matric pass rates have become competition fodder for politicians. This is simply unacceptable. If the provincial MECs were truly concerned about the state of many of our schools and the education system, they would realise that matric results do not give the full picture of the health of the education system. MEC Lesufi was surely pleased with the announcement as I am sure he and his team have worked at various strategies to improve the matric pass rate. His reaction is however out of proportion given the huge obstacles still faced by the schools, pupils and teachers in his province.
Focusing purely on results is counter-intuitive as it creates an environment in which teachers and school principals feel pressured to hold pupils back in the lower grades who may not perform as well in Grade 12. It focuses on outcomes rather than the process of learning and it fails to take into consideration other factors in the school improvement process.
It is my hope that our politicians, including our Minister of Basic Education, stop using Matric results (and our pupils) as a means to give each other a pat on the back and start focusing on the real issues at hand (such as the quality of the Matric pass and the lack of true skills-based curriculum in the FET phase).