South Africa's Exam Results Reflect Progress, Continuing Challenges

    21 January, 2015

    This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

    Every year, South African 12th grade students take a test to decide their next steps following the completion of high school. Many students were unhappy with the results of their 2014 exam. The scores were released January 5. Universities use the scores to make admissions decisions.

    Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that the Class of 2014 pass rate was 75.8 percent. That represents a drop of almost two and one half points from the pass rate in 2013.

    The meaning of the numbers quickly became a subject of political debate.

    South Africa's Exam Results Reflect Progress, Continuing Challenges
    Students use computers to study at Elswood Secondary School in Cape Town, in November, 2013.

    President Jacob Zuma sees the results as a sign of progress. A presidential statement said, "South Africa is especially proud of the Class of 2014 as they represent a special category of learners who sat through their exams as the country celebrated 20 years of freedom and democracy."

    However, the opposition disagreed. The Pan Africanist Congress party said it thinks the results show serious problems in South Africa's education system.

    The P.A.C. also criticized President Zuma's ruling African National Congress. The Pan Africanists said they do not think enough jobs are available for young adults who have just completed high school.

    Nombulelo Nyathela is a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Equal Education. She said the test issue is more complex than the way either political side sees it.

    Ms. Nyathela said the numbers are only part of the story of education in South Africa. There is also a problem with students who leave school before grade 12.

    It has been 20 years since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule and enforced racial separation in South Africa. The government is trying to give all its citizens an equal education. The country established a new education program in 2012.

    Students who took the 2014 test were the first to study under the program. It began when they were in grade 10.

    Angie Motshekga said students who do not pass the exam would have a chance to take it again. She said some students may need extra help after only two years of the new learning program.

    Nombulelo Nyathela said that South Africa should spend more money on improving education. She said she thinks a lack of resources is the root of the systemic problems in basic education.

    I'm Caty Weaver.