CLASS OF 2018: Long walk in the dark no barrier to matric excellence
As the matric results are released, SA’s top pupils are showing they can achieve no matter the odds
Sinolwethu Mfedu’s story is remarkable. She is an orphan, raised by an unemployed aunt, who walked 30 minutes to her Eastern Cape school each day.
But this didn’t prevent her from being recognised as one of top matric achievers in the country.
She told Times Select: “I am the first person in my family to finish school.”
Mfedu was flown to Gauteng with her aunt and teacher to attend the matric results announcement. She was named as one of the country’s top achievers.
The class of 2018, with just over 630,396 matrics writing, had the highest ever pass mark with 78.2%, equal to that of 2013. The increased 78.2 % pass mark was a 3.1 percentage point increase from 2017, when 75.1% percent of pupils passed.
It was the eighth time in a row, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said, that the overall pass rate was above 70%.
But the inequalities between better performing girls versus boys and better performing urban provinces versus rural areas were stark.
The 10 top performing districts came from the Free State and Gauteng only. The worst performing province in the country was in the Eastern Cape, and the province with the lowest pass mark was Limpopo. The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, told a technical briefing earlier in the day that the number of pupils who started school in 2007 numbered just shy of 1,2 million.
According to figures released, only 54,9% of those who started Grade 1 (643,802 pupils) made it to matric – and then 630,396 wrote matric.
In 2018, a total of 400,761 pupils passed.
Education minister Angie Motshekga was also delighted to show an improvement in high-quality passes with the highest number of university passes since 1994. A bachelors pass requires the pupils to pass four subjects with a minimum of 50%, to pass their second language at 30% and home language at 40%.
In 2017, 153,619 pupils achieved bachelors passes. In 2018 those who earned university entrance numbered 172,043.
But beneath the higher pass mark and improved number of university passes, inequalities were stark.
Girls did far better than boys, with 60,000 more enrolling. Also, more girls got university passes than boys. Just over 95,128 females got entrance to university, while only 76,202 boys did. As usual the rural provinces had the lowest marks. Limpopo, one of the poorest provinces, had the lowest pass mark of 69.4% – the only province to get below 70%. However it was an improvement of 3.8 percentage points from 2017. The Northern Cape achieved 73.3%, a decline of 2.3 percentage points – although Motshekga said the protests and disruptions in the Northern Cape made it a “very difficult year”. But details in Motshekga's speech showed that middle-class schools produced most of the A passes: For every six distinctions produced in a “no fee” school in the North West and the Free State, a fee-paying school produced 10 distinctions;
In Gauteng, for every three distinctions produced by a “no fee” school, a fee-paying school produced 10 distinctions;
In the Western Cape, for every distinction produced by a “no fee” school, a fee-paying school produced 10 distinctions. Mfedu was one of those who contributed to the number who passed, but more precisely to the number who excelled.
She attended Malelane Senior Secondary School in Bizana, near the Eastern Cape border with KwaZulu-Natal. It is a school that, according to her teacher, has up to 80 pupils in a class because it is viewed as a good school.
Mfedu explained some of the challenges she faced.
“We do not have resources. We use what we find. There was no library. There is a science lab but [it has] no equipment.”
To achieve what she did, Mfedu remained at school after the afternoon’s final bell because the classroom provided a quieter environment than at home. But this meant a 30-minute walk home in the dark.
“I would walk at night,” she said.
Mfedu has been accepted into the University of Cape Town to study towards a business science degree.
She was raised by her unemployed aunt, Nosisa Mfedu, who could not stop beaming at the top achievers’ breakfast on Thursday morning. Mfedu’s parents died when she was only four and her aunt, who has one biological child, took in her two older brothers and younger brother. The family does not have running water at home.
Nosisa told Times Select she fetches 25 litres of water from the river using a bucket, and raises goats and chickens.
She said she helped her niece achieve through love.
“I love her. I loved her … to make her feel like she didn’t lose her parents.”
Nosisa was flown to Gauteng with her niece. It was her first time flying in a plane and her first time staying at a hotel.
“It was nice, so nice.”
Mfedu’s economics teacher, Vuyolwethu Vusani, also accompanied her.
Asked why she brought her teacher, the pupil said: “She is like a parent to me. She paid for me to apply for university.”
Vusani said she had been very involved in Sinolwethu’s life and occasionally took her to her house to study.
The teacher said that through hard work, the school achieved a high matric pass, despite its lack of resources.
“The teachers are dedicated. There has been good management at the school since 2012. Since then, the school is performing well. Educators are dedicated in their work. We are trying by all means to support learners.”