Blade Nzimande worried about SA's declining maths pass rate

16 January 2020 - 17:16 By Nonkululeko Njilo
Higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande at a media briefing on Thursday, January 16 2020.
Higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande at a media briefing on Thursday, January 16 2020.
Image: Sunday Times/Sebabatso Mosamo

Higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande is worried that fewer matrics passed mathematics in 2019 with 40% or above than the class of 2018.

Speaking at a briefing in Pretoria, he said these students would not qualify for mainstream universities, specifically if they intended to pursue careers in science and engineering.

“The worrying thing is that in 2019, the number who passed with 40% or above was lower than the number in 2018,” he said.

“In most bachelor programmes, a student will not be accepted with lower than 40% in mathematics, unless they have exceptional results in other subjects. In the sciences, students won’t be accepted with lower than 50% in mathematics.”

His department is gearing up to deal with a big influx of students at tertiary institutions.

Nzimande warned against “over-enrolling” students. The number of candidates achieving admission to bachelor's degree programmes increased from 172,043 in 2018 to 186,058 last year.

Nzimande said universities remained the first choice for many, despite capacity issues.  

“When we analyse application statistics according to institutions of choice, there are still more students who prefer universities to TVET colleges, with the former at 453,157 and the latter being 90,111,” he said.

 “Universities have been requested not to over-enrol in 2020 to ensure the appropriate infrastructure and human resources for the numbers of students in the system, the quality of teaching and learning and the sustainability of the university system,” he said.

He urged students to explore other institutions such as TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges if they failed to secure placement at university.

Nzimande was asked about allegations that a third of students who graduated from TVET colleges struggled to find jobs after obtaining their qualifications.

In response, he said he would invest more effort into ensuring that TVET students got work experience, emphasising that “he would give it his all”.

Nzimande also touched on student funding.

A total of 543,268 applications were submitted to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) by November 2019 – a record number.

These applications were not only from matrics but included grade 10 and 11 pupils who are enrolled at TVET colleges and those continuing with the scheme from last year.

Of all of these applications, 359,037 had been approved. The bulk (281 639) were current Sassa beneficiaries.

NSFAS administrator Dr Randall Carolissen said at least R31bn was set aside to help students in the 2020 academic year.

As the new school year begins, we take a deeper look at the matric pass rate and its importance. The matric pass rate for 2019 exceeded 80% for the first time since 1994, but some academics argue that this figure does not reflect the true health of the education system, due to the high dropout rate. Others suggest that the country's focus on the matric pass rate is problematic in itself.


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