Raise the Pass Mark for our Students

Surely the most stupid and irresponsible five-word anthem in pop music came from Pink Floyd (even if there was a tinge of parody about it) in that song from The Wall: “We don’t need no education.” Because we does. We really does. If we can’t get education right, we are in trouble. And there is justifiable alarm that after 20 years of ANC government, millions of young South Africans are passing through the education system without being armed with the necessary knowledge and skills to cope with the world of work. One of the most respected South Africans is UFS Professor Jonathan Jansen who made a very simple point in a Sunday Times article. That a 30% or 40% pass rate is wrong, and that the lowering of standards in this way does our youth no favours. He called for a 50% pass rate, and we asked some of our experts for their reactions to this

Business leader Brand Pretorius:
I support Prof Jansen’s call for a 50% pass rate fully. Should we want to become world competitive as a nation, then it is imperative that our secondary schools should deliver learners who have the requisite ability and knowledge, to tertiary institutions and the workplace. Currently we compare very poorly to international benchmarks.

BUSA’s Professor Raymond Parsons:
Whatever the latest figures on the national matrix pass rate, the fact remains that the SA economy has a serious structural problem in school education which a snapshot picture cannot disguise. The quality of education for black learners is simply far too poor. The economy continues to face a huge skills deficit, with many socio-economic consequences, which recent programmes like the National Development Plan (NDP) have put high on their list of priorities of things to be fixed if SA is to have any hope of a reaching a much higher job-rich growth path in the years ahead. Indeed, the NDP ranks the educational challenge as second only to the unemployment one in SA. The solution is multi-faceted, and goes beyond raising the pass rate in government schools to 50% as suggested by Professor Jansen, as useful as such a proposal might be. We might look to the recent experience in Mexico, where reforms to boost economic growth have included performance tests for teachers and
institutions to get better outputs from schools and other learning centres. While nothing much must be expected in SA on this side of the 2014 elections, once they are over, and implementation of the NDP is supposed to begin in earnest, the whole question of appropriate sanctions and incentives to get a better government schools system needs urgent attention – if necessary with the help of the private sector.

Frans Cronje from the SAIRR:
Well of course he is right. South Africa is an increasingly high skilled economy and we can see that in the shifting structure of our GDP. The current education system might have met the requirements of the 1950 economy where the majority of South Africa’s people were told to aspire to the most menial of jobs and usually to manual labour on a farm or down a mine. But that is completely inappropriate for our current economy and reflects what I must sadly call a ‘Bantu education mentality’ within the cabinet and the department of basic education. It is also completely at odds with the view that the State is seeking to empower people through policies of the government. You can make empowerment laws but you contradict their provisions when you run a sub-standard education system. In fact, for quite a number of years we have been advising groups who consult us on South Africa to ignore the matric pass rate as an indicator of quality in the education system. Rather we devise measures such as the number of good maths passes to help companies and foreign governments, and even at times the South African government, understand what the skills base of the South African economy really looks like. In practice we estimate that one South African child in ten is educated to a reasonable standard of literacy and numeracy.

Chris Hart from Investment Solutions:
A properly functioning modern economy has certain basic minimum requirements such as electricity, transport network and telecommunications. This means that a modern economy also needs the related skills to and ability to build, maintain and function within this economy. This is where education systems are critical to prepare children to enter the economy. Modern economies are increasingly technology-dependent. Primary economic entry requirements consequently need communication, science and math skills and the ability to resolve problems. It is in these areas that the South African education system is failing. The World Economic Forum competitiveness rankings place South Africa virtually at the bottom of the list when it comes to maths and science education in particular. A 30% pass mark is also not helpful. After 12 years of education, school leavers are not regarded as properly prepared to enter the work place. This is a global problem as education systems have become disconnected from economies – with irrelevant teaching. Tertiary education also is reflecting these traits. Youth unemployment is a rising problem around the globe. But all these problems are accentuated in South Africa with huge numbers of people being regarded as unemployable. South Africa is a case in point where the country would be doing so much better if the education system could just achieve mediocrity – an indictment on a system that is underachieving despite the resources thrown at it. Yet there are pockets of excellence. Led by private schools with so-called model C schools, these schools would probably rank within the first quartile of the World Economic Forum’s education ranking. The former model C schools are better described as community-supported schools, and this should be expanded. The top-down imposed system is where some of the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies are introduced into the education system. This is common across even the developed world where centrally controlled education systems are battling to produce competitive outcomes despite massive resources devoted to education. Education diversity also must be nurtured. The equality concept may well be the most regressive idea imposed on the education system. Essentially this imposes a one-size-fits-all curriculum and learning requirements on all participants. Yet each child is a unique human being, with their own unique interests and abilities. The huge drop-out rate is testimony to the irrelevance of the education system to all its learners. Greater choice needs to be nurtured and supported so that alternatives become a natural choice.

Mario Pretorius from Telemasters:
Prof Jansen’s call is laudable, but still completely inadequate. It misses two important points, which the good Prof will call for next. First is that dropping standards nullifies any raise in the pass hurdle. Standards should be independently and objectively set for long, long periods, say 20 years and kept there. Secondly is that a 50% pass still means that half of the subject is unknown. We live in a 100% pass rate world. Imagine if the 50-percenter starts his work career, doing 50% correct, arriving on time half the time, doing one half of what is expected, hitting half the cars on on the road on his way home – which he finds half the time – half-shaven and half-dressed after half a day’s work. So 50% is not enough, maybe 80% is getting closer to real life. Some courses demand this ratio of retrievable knowledge, and still the doctor will mistake 20% of the patient’s woes. The correct call should be – what do we want instead of pass marks of short term memory testings on subjects that are not life-relevant or user-urgent? Does any matriculant know how to open a bank account? Interview for a job? Know what an employer expects? Negotiate the lease for an apartment? Is it not time to shift to real, relevant skills and ask the likes of the good Prof WHAT he expects his matriculants to know instead of showing a 12 year cumulative endurance test outcome?

Duane Newman from Cova Advisory:
The education system is of great concern to me as a businessman as the people coming out of school with a matric can barely write or do maths – which are key to many entry level jobs. I don’t think upping the pass mark will make a difference as the politicians just wont accept a reduction in the overall matric pass percentage. It is clear that the scholars who wont pass matric are getting weeded out of the system between grade 10 and grade 12 anyway, so the increase in the matric results is an illusion. Dynamo, would be proud. We need to set global measurable benchmarks and get SA off the bottom of the world science and maths rankings. We must set these targets rather than kid ourselves that the quality of our matric is getting better as the overall matric pass rate is improving. All we are currently doing to winning the race to the bottom. The solution lies in getting government and wider community to have role models to show that a good education is the key to success. Currently, our president and many other successful tenderpreneurs are poorly educated which tells the youth that a good education is not important to success. In addition, the teachers need to have a calling to be educators, rather than just a job which then allows strikes which undermines the education system. There is a still a lot of work that needs to be done to improve SA’s education system. I hope the government actually wants it to improve rather than what a conspiracy theorist friend of mine said “it is in ruling party’s interest to keep the masses of people uneducated as they are then easier to manipulate to keep themselves in power”.

Chris Gilmour from Absa Investments:
Frankly I am astonished that 30% can be considered as a “pass” for anything. In simple terms, if one achieves 30% of the correct answers to a test/exam, by deduction 70% were incorrect. I am not sure what is being achieved by the education authorities in doing this, as employers and further education institutions alike will just tend to ignore results below 50% anyway. I fully endorse Professor Jansen’s views.

The biggest exam cheats are those who lower the bar, raising expectations while lowering the employability of young people. No government should allow this deception to continue. A fifty percent pass rate is surely the bare minimum – it means you have got half of the answers wrong! So well done to Professor Jansen. 10 out of 10, Sir.

Tweets of the day:
Lord Skip Licker VC (@Skip_Licker): Becoming a vegetarian is a huge missed steak.
Jonathan Jansen (@JJ_UFS): Journalists calling at 5am; née man
Funny Tweets (@iQuoteComedy): Teacher: “Imagine you’re in a world with dinosaurs and a dinosaur was going to eat you. What would you do?” Boy: “Easy, stop imagining.”
Jonathan Sloan (@MrBigFists): I always knew that I could never be a lawyer because of my inability to pass a bar.

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