It is not just our matrics being tested but the nation itself
The Times Editorial: Tens of thousands of pupils began writing their matric exams yesterday and, despite minor setbacks and extreme weather in two provinces, things got off to a smooth start.
Most of the class of 2012 - more than 600000 pupils are registered to write their final exams this year - were born in 1994, the year South Africa threw off the shackles of apartheid. Their performance will be an important litmus test of our young democracy.
In many ways, it has been a terrible year for education, with the Limpopo textbook crisis, disruptions to schooling in parts of Northern Cape due to a protracted service-delivery protest and tens of thousands of teaching posts left vacant in Eastern Cape.
Fortunately, matrics were not affected by the education department's lamentable failure to see to it that textbooks were delivered to Limpopo schools. Pupils in grades 1, 2, 3 and 10 have had to bear the brunt of that debacle.
Nor was there wide-scale disruption to classes because of a national teachers' strike. And pupils no longer have to cope with the hopeless Outcomes-Based Education system.
The matric pass rate has been improving in recent years, rising from 62.6% in 2008 to 70.2% last year. But important questions have been asked about the quality of matriculants being produced by state schools.
Another major concern is the relatively low number of pupils who have registered to write maths and science exams.
Though slightly more pupils have enrolled to write maths this year (230194 as opposed to 229371 last year) the 2012 figure is still significantly lower than that recorded in 2008 (317270).
There has been a similar disturbing decline in the number of pupils taking physical science.
In coming years, officials are going to have to find innovative ways of reversing this trend, which is driven partly by schools chasing higher pass rates. The future of our struggling economy might depend on it.