Biggest provinces flop
The three largest provinces with the highest number of pupils: KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Limpopo had the biggest drop in matric pass rates.
These provinces have 53.6% of all students and the worst results.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga blamed the provinces' poor performances for the overall matric pass-rate drop - down from 75.9% to 70.7%.
"That's where things went wrong. That is where we need to go back to," she said last night. "I knew trouble was coming from KwaZulu-Natal."
"The top five provinces did well, but the biggest provinces did abysmally," she said. The three provinces contributed to a 9% drop in the national average.
The top-performing province was Western Cape, which had a pass rate of 84.7%, up from 82.4% last year. Gauteng had an 84.2% pass rate, Free State 81.6%, North West 81.5%, Mpumalanga 78.6%, Northern Cape 69.4%. The worst-performing were Eastern Cape with 56.8%, KwaZulu-Natal 60.7% and Limpopo with 65.9%. Without progressed pupils the figures would have been different, she said.
Eastern Cape would have had 62%, Limpopo 71.7% and KwaZulu-Natal 60.7%.
"One of the key areas in 2015 was to encourage provinces to progress or condone learners who had repeated Grade 11 more than once, who are over-aged and give them extra support to sit for Grade 12 examinations," she said.
The drop in the number of pupils who passed in KwaZulu-Natal was 9%. Eastern Cape dropped by 8.6% and Limpopo by 7%.
Of the eight districts with fewer than half matriculants passing, seven were in Eastern Cape and the rest in KwaZulu-Natal.
Of the 14 districts that had only 50%-59% pupils passing, eight were in Eastern Cape and four in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.
Dean of education at the University of Johannesburg Sarah Gravett said it was a concern that provinces with the majority of pupils had the worst results.
"Socioeconomic circumstances play a role. It's more difficult to teach in those provinces. There are definitely challenges to work with poor infrastructure and underprivileged children."
But she said the poor leadership in provinces was also to blame.
"In these provinces there is [leadership]" instability. The same provinces have been implicated in the selling of posts by unions. Group copying happened in some of those provinces," she said.
Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer noted that hers was the only province that improved its pass rate.
"Given the many challenges our education system faces, improving the quality of education is only possible through sustained interventions in our schools and the hard work of the matrics, their teachers and district officials. It is a multi-year approach," she said.
Stellenbosch University socioeconomic researcher Nic Spaull said: "The gap between the performance of affluent and poor children is and has always been one of the biggest gaps in the world. We have arguably the most unequal education system on earth. It is an ongoing tragedy that 20 years on from apartheid we can still see the impact of the former homelands and the huge privileges given to white South Africans for five decades."