Dr Ashley Westaway, Manager of GADRA Education, analyses the 2013 Matric Results of Grahamstown.
Dr Ashley Westaway, Manager of GADRA Education, analyses the 2013 Matric Results of Grahamstown.
Grahamstown endured more than its fair share of problems and setbacks during 2013. Years of municipal neglect, aging city infrastructure, a demobilised citizenry, and a weakening public education system together wrought a variety of serious consequences in the city.
Some of these were: frequent and protracted water cuts, the closure of Benjamin Mahlasela High School, and an ongoing reduction in the number of teaching posts in public schools. The last-mentioned triggered serious disruption to schooling at Mary Waters. The water problems were so serious that they almost forced the closure of Rhodes University on a number of occasions. So the people of Grahamstown waited for the release of the 2013 Matric results with a sense of dread and fear.
This sense was heightened by the fact that Grahamstown achieved very poor Matric results in 2012. To remind ourselves, Grahamstown produced considerably fewer ordinary passes as well as good quality (University or Bachelor) passes in 2012 than it had in 2011.
In addition, socio-economic inequalities in the system widened during that period, with the proportion of passes emanating from township schools (vis-à-vis former Model C schools) declining significantly.
So, we waited with bated breath for the release of the results, fearing an ongoing decline and an even less equal situation.
The results are difficult to summarise in a sentence. They were certainly not excellent, nor even good. However, neither can they simply be described as bad or disappointing. Rather, to use an expression of my high school history teacher (many moons ago), they are rather ‘curate’s eggish’.
That is, they are a complicated mix of good and bad, pleasing and perplexing, redeeming and frustrating. Because Grahamstown has been bombarded by bad news in recent months, I’ll start this description and analysis with the good.
The good aspects of the results are best reflected through a narrow consideration of the number of passes. In 2012, the City’s public schools produced a total of 356 successful Matricultants, whereas this number increased to 415 in 2013. This constitutes a year-on-year improvement of over 16%.
At the top end of the spectrum, the improvements are even more compelling and pleasing. The City managed to produce 21% more Bachelor passes in 2013 than it had in 2012; here the number increased from 154 to 187.
In my view, equality in the education system is as important as quality. In 2012, the City’s township schools contributed only 56% of ordinary passes and 24% of Bachelor passes. In 2013, these percentages increased to 62% and 32% respectively. The latter is particularly important.
Essentially what it means is that whereas township schools contributed only one out of every four candidates eligible to go to university in 2012, in 2013 these schools together produced one out of every three of the top candidates.
Of course, the system remains systemically and structurally unequal, with students at township schools being significantly disadvantaged.
They have fewer teachers and less qualified teachers, they have inadequate learning resources and limited access to extra-mural activities, they have very little exposure to English (and yet have to write their final examinations in this language), and so on.
So the fact that 60 of the City’s learners at township schools (more than ever before) have achieved Bachelor-level passes is a tribute to them, their parents, their teachers and their principals.
Special mention in this regard goes to Mary Waters and Ntsika. Under the leadership of Faith Coetzee and Madeleine Schoeman respectively, these schools have grappled with major challenges to produce much improved results.
The bad aspect of the results is clearly evident when one considers performance not in relation to hard numbers, but in terms of percentages.
The cold reality here is that whereas 70,5% and 68,9% of Grahamstown candidates who wrote Matric in 2011 and 2012 passed, only 61,3% of full-time candidates who wrote in 2013 passed.
To understand the woefulness of this performance, it is useful to compare the performance of our City, supposedly a centre of educational excellence, with that of the rest of the country. In 2011, Grahamstown’s pass rate of 70,5% was in line with the national average.
Given that the Eastern Cape lagged significantly behind the rest of the country then (as it does now), the 2011 performance was credible. In 2012, the national average climbed to 73,9%, yet Grahamstown moved in the other direction, down to 68,9%.
This was exactly 5% below the national average for 2012. Yet in 2013, something far more dramatic and troubling has happened. In a year when the national average has skyrocketed to 78,2%, Grahamstown has slumped all the way down to 61,3%.
That is, in a mere two years, Grahamstown has deteriorated from parity with the national pass rate to languishing a full 15% beneath the national rate. This constitutes a serious threat to the City’s claim to being a centre of educational excellence.
To add texture to the analysis, it must be noted that the Eastern Cape is now firmly cemented as the worst-performing education province in the country.
When Minister Motshekga announced the results on 6 January, she asserted that the seven worst performing districts are in the Eastern Cape. However, as my partner Lise Westaway pointed out to me when she mulled over the detailed results, in fact the twelve worst districts in the country are all situated in the Eastern Cape. And it pains me to disclose to the readers of Grocotts Mail that the tenth worst performing district in the Province in the 2013 Matric examinations was Grahamstown.
Yes, the tenth worst performing district in the whole of South Africa in the 2013 matric examinations was Grahamstown. And before anyone claims that the City of Grahamstown was pulled down by surrounding areas that fall within
the Education District of Grahamstown (such as Riebeeck East, Bathurst, Alexandria, and so on), I am obliged to quickly nip that assertion in the bud. The overall pass rate in the Grahamstown District was 62,5% whereas the rate in the City was only 61,3%. In other words, Grahamstown City dragged down Grahamstown District.
We live in a tragic province. One of its saddest tales is how the District of Fort Beaufort morphed from being the top area in the country for black education circa 1940 to being the worst area in the country for black education circa 2010.
It is even sadder, for the citizens of this City in 2013, to realise that Grahamstown is in the midst of a similar decline, from ‘centre of educational excellence’ to ‘just another dysfunctional Eastern Cape city’.
What does the above analysis tell one about underlying trends and issues in the public schooling sector in Grahamstown? Most fundamentally, whereas there is relative stability in the former Model C sector, there is ongoing turmoil and instability in township schools.
Here the numbers are very clear. For the last three years, Victoria Girls, Graeme and PJ Olivier have together produced about 160 ordinary passes (161 in 2011, 157 in 2012 and 157 in 2013) and 125 bachelor passes (129 in 2011, 117 in 2012 and 127 in 2013). These schools represent the pinnacle of public schooling in Grahamstown and must be defended as such.
All three of them are superbly managed, have an excellent teaching corps and offer good quality and varied educational and extra-curricular choices to their learners.
The situation in the City’s township schools is very different, largely because of a deadly combination of a lack of money and a lack of power, in the face of bureaucratic hegemony. Whereas the former Model C schools charge school fees, the township schools do not.
No-fee schooling is touted as a major post-1994 success and accomplishment, yet it leaves the managers of these schools in a precarious and vulnerable state, unable to deal with the idiosyncrasies and arbitrary decisions of distant bureaucrats.
For example, if the Department of Basic Education had to reduce the number of teaching posts at Victoria Girls from 2013 to 2014, then Warren Schmidt would engage his management and School Governing Body (SGB) to consider establishing new ‘SGB posts’ (ie posts paid for through school fees).
However, this luxury is not open to Mthuthuzeli Koliti at Nombulelo, for example. I use this example intentionally. If one compares the situation at Nombulelo in 2012 with 2013, there are some startling shifts.
In 2012, 116 candidates sat for their final school examinations; this number was higher than at any other public school in Grahamstown. In that year, the school achieved a pass rate of nearly 65%. In 2013, 215 wrote their finals at Nombulelo – more than double the number of candidates than any other school in the City.
Disastrously, under 40% of these learners passed.
As can be expected, the Nombulelo predicament had a massive bearing on the overall performance in Grahamstown. If one entirely removes Nombulelo from the City statistics, its pass rate increases by over 10%, up to 71,6%.
Ironically, in November 2013 Rhodes University opened the Joza Youth Hub, just a stone’s throw away from Nombulelo. It is ironic because NGOs, Rhodes University and civil society seem to be more active in the area of education than ever before.
If the contents of this news feature does not shake the education community (including government) into effective action then nothing will. The key word here is ‘effective’. There is no more time left for ineffectual interventions; it is five minutes to midnight. Parents, our children’s futures are at stake. Citizens, our city’s very future is at stake.