Navigating South Africa's 2023 Matric Results: A Quick Analysis and a Call to Address Dropout Rates

Written by:
Kelly Fisher
Published on:
January 24, 2024

The announcement of the Class of 2023's matric results in South Africa not only signifies a statistical achievement but also offers valuable insights into the state of the nation's education system. Matric results represent the final examinations for high school students in South Africa, and as we delve into the numbers, it becomes imperative to analyse what the results signify for the future of education.

It is also important to keep in mind that the majority of this matric class went into hard lockdown in Grade 9, managing with a rotational timetable and reduced classes and teaching for the following two years. It was only in Grade 11 and matric that things felt fully back to normal.

First, let’s examine the results as they were presented to us by the DBE.

The 82.9% pass rate achieved by the Class of 2023 is undoubtedly impressive when compared with previous years and is cause for celebration. However, it is crucial to move beyond mere percentages and examine the quality of these passes while also taking a look at the dropout rate since Grade 1 enrolment in 2012.

This year saw an uptick in passes for subjects that lead to STEM careers. Mathematics had a 64% pass rate, physical science had a 76% pass rate, and technical mathematics had 89%. There is an idea that examinations have become easier over time and, therefore, it’s easier to pass than ever before. However, studies have shown that when it comes to mathematics in particular, “the figures suggest that there has been a general shift towards more demanding examinations, meaning it has become increasingly difficult for learners to obtain specific marks”. These figures have been examined in depth by News24 and other outlets over the past few years.

In addition to this, it is important to note that the Class of 2023 achieved a record number of bachelor passes this year (40.9%), allowing them to potentially study at university. Perhaps better than looking at that is to look a bit deeper and see how many of these bachelor passes were at no-fee schools and previously poor-performing schools. IOL reports that schools that were previously considered to be poor-performing reached a bachelor pass rate of 65%, while quintiles 1 - 3 schools saw 174,676 bachelor passes.

But what are the numbers when looking at dropout rates?

These numbers are great to see, but we cannot celebrate this without noting that over a million children enrolled in Grade 1 in 2012, and only 740,566 progressed to Grade 12 in 2023. This number shows that the state of education in South Africa is worrisome and that more needs to be done to address the dropout rates before learners reach their final school year. Keeping children in school and learning is what will ultimately help combat unemployment, encourage innovation, and grow the South African economy.

As highlighted by Proteus Advisory, the actual pass rate when taking the dropout rate into account is less than 50% of those that enrolled in Grade 1 in 2012. When it comes to maths and science, the percentages reported mean that only 14 out of every 100 children that enrolled in Grade 1 in 2012 exceeded 30% on their maths and science matric papers.

While the pass rate may look impressive overall, we can’t fully celebrate without acknowledging these shortfalls and looking for solutions to combat the high dropout rates that South Africa currently faces. Solutions can't just come from one place as the reason for these drop outs vary from social issues to family struggles to financial situations to not being able to keep up with what's being taught in the classroom. It's clear that a dedicated approach from the DBE, government in general, the private sector and others in the education and innovation space is required if South Africa is to slow down this drop out rate and if we wish to reach our audacious goals of the National Development Plan 2030.