This year, when the Class of 2013 Matric results were announced, I was more riled up than usual at the spin-doctoring. This could be because I now have a child of my own, and want a better world for him, or perhaps, I'm just fed up like the rest of us.

As we go into a new school year today, I propose we need an Effective-Matric-Graduate index instead, and I outline a possible solution below.

Why it's nonsense.

Every year around this time, the general public grouse and harrumph about the pointlessness of the matric pass rate percentage as a viable metric. At the same time, our Basic Educamacayshun department crow about the supposedly amazing job they're doing in transforming our mess of an education system. At least one side is wrong, and here are the reasons it's probably the government.

The cohort problem

The cohort of children that started Grade 1 in 2001 is a significantly larger number than the cohort receiving their matric certificates, and indeed, even larger (by about ±20%) than the number of matrics that actually attempted that grade in 2013. i.e. a high drop-out rate, which is a decidedly bad thing, could actually skew pass-rate-percentages upward.

The low-bar problem

30%. That's all it takes to pass matric. I think we can all agree this is depressingly low standard. I'm not sure I'd hire someone that only knew 30% of the job they're applying for. If it's not OK for the corporate world, why are we sending our children out into the world so unprepared?

The low-low-bar problem

Lower grade and literacy-equivalent grades. The blanket pass rate percentage we're fed every year doesn't give us the detail of how many learners passed with Higher Grade vs. Lower Grade vs. Literacy Grade scores. They're all lumped together. Sneaky teachers that are incentivised on bumping a pass-rate percentage up could (or do, according to some anecdotal evidence) convince kids to go the easy route, and shoot for a lower grade pass, thereby increasing their chances of passing, and bringing a school's pass rate up.

Let's do this instead

If we can agree that the above three problems are all crucial, then let's build a more useful metric for understanding how well our children are doing as they pass through the education system.

I propose a metric that takes the number of children that started 1st Grade 12 years ago as the total number. We then take the number of children that passed Matric with exemption as the number to calculate the percentage against. Example:

grade1_cohort  = 500,000
matric_cohort  = 100,000 // irrelevant value, don’t be distracted
matrics_passed = 78,000  // also irrelevant, but we’re getting warmer
passed_with_exemption = 15,000

effective_pass_rate = passed_with_exemption as a % of grade1_cohort

=> 3.0% of children that started Grade 1 in 2001 passed Matric in a manner that made them eligible for further education, and more desirable for employment.

Simple. Elegant.

Why this method is a better metric.

  • It incentivises all involved along the learner's entire school career to get involved, from Primary School right the way through. Everyone is equally motivated to minimise dropouts.
  • It forces all involved to strive for a higher quality pass mark, both in terms of the standard of education, and the actual end grade received.

Ultimately, whatever the real number for this method is, it doesn't really matter, as long the Basic Education department can demonstrate that it increases every year.