07 January 2013

matric results are out!

so, over the past few weeks, the results of the south african school leaving exams were made public. first were those of the private schools, where 98.15% of those students who sat the exams passed them, 83% of whom received bachelor's passes, meaning they could go on to university. given the cost of south african private schools, i would really hate to be part of that 1.85%....

on thursday, the government schools' results came out. 73.9% pass, and 26.9% of those received bachelor's passes -- including my kid. [yay!] we'll talk about the last two years of kiddo's schooling went, but first i want to talk about the marking system for the south african exams.


to get a matric pass, you need to get a 40% mark in a first and an additional language, and 30% or above in four other subjects.

to get a bachelor's pass, you need to get a 50% in two languages, and a combination of grades in the other subjects, all of which must be above 30%, to keep you above 50% overall.

a diploma pass and a "higher certificate" pass are between the two, with diploma being the better of the two. i could go into the details, but i'm sure someone leaving a comment will be more than happy to work out the details of what constitutes a diploma pass and a certificate pass.

anyhow, to an american reading this, one would think that these are ridiculously low scores for passing. i mean, after all, anything below 60% [or 70%, depending on where you are in the states] is failing, right? and, of course, one of the problems with the way that this is presented is that most south africans -- or rather, many of the loudmouths with internet access -- seem to think in the american line of thought, because, annoyingly, south africans are generally in love with most things american. *eyeroll* this really fucking annoys me to no end. [protip: hey, south africans! when other africans call you "the americans of africa" -- it's generally not a compliment. just so you know.]

but really? that line of thought is fine, but it's not valid.

if they really want to think on an american scale, then what they need to do is think on the grade point average scale instead, where 4.0 is an A+ and 0.0 is the lowest possible failure, in which case a 50% pass is a 2.0, which is the minimum GPA of what will get you into a four-year american university, but unless your parents are major donors, or you can pay full price, or you have some strong skill [sporting or something more esoteric], you're realistically not going to get a place, just as most people who get the bare minimum for a bachelor pass in south africa aren't realistically going to get a university place here.

i've found that trying to explain this to south africans is like banging my head against a wall, which is one of the reasons i'm even writing this post to begin with.

so, in american-speak, a bachelor's pass is a 2.0 minimum GPA, and a general matric pass, ie just to get the piece of paper saying that you've passed the matric exams is a 1.32, with the other two degrees of pass being somewhere between that.

to further complicate this -- and this happened to one of kiddo's friends -- you can have an aggregate grade that is high enough for a bachelor pass, but only get a diploma pass due to the marks you need for the languages. i've actually told the friend in question he should get a remarking done of his english exam; one more point and he gets a good bachelor's pass. his overall average was higher than kiddo's.

this happened to one of kiddo's friends from the class of 2011 as well, but he spent his gap year working in his potential field of study, and the university of cape town offered him a place for 2013. this is also fairly likely to happen to the son of a friend of mine, whose overall average is in the 70s, but his average in afrikaans is in the 40s.

does that all make sense?

another major difference between the american system of grading and the general british/commonwealth system of grading is that, generally speaking, the american system of grading starts you off at 100%, and deducts points as you go, while in the british/commonwealth version, you start at 0 and work your way up. it's actually a more difficult grading scale.

that is, if you're in the states and you get a homework assignment full of red check marks, you've probably failed, as they mark what is wrong. however, elsewhere in anglophonia, if you get a homework assignment back full of red check marks, you've probably done really well, because the check marks indicate that you have what the teacher was looking for.

it took quite some time for me to get used to that, having done high school and my first degree in the united states, but postgraduate work in both the united kingdom and south africa. i'd also worked in academia in britain immediately after finishing my first degree [thanks, bunac!], so working out the percentage equivalents to grades to make an accurate comparison was easier for me, but seemed strange at first.

something that's very interesting is that i can't seem to find the provincial breakdown of the pass results for any province *except* the western cape. and the western cape's results are pretty nice, in the grand scheme of things. you can look at the breakdown of the passes in the western cape here. of the 36,992 people who passed the exams with at least the minimum 1.32 average [on the american scale], only 20 are ineligible for further study, whether certificate course, diploma course, or university course.

of course, if the numbers are that positively skewed in the western cape, it goes a long way to explain why only the northern cape out of the other eight provinces have it broken down to any degree of granularity -- in many ways superseding the level of detail found in the western cape's page. that said, some of the other provinces' education department homepages don't seem to have been updated in years. wow.

i'm surprised that gauteng didn't have a breakdown. so many of the vaalies that i know want to gloat about the overall pass rate being higher than in the western cape, but how good are the passes? as whitney so famously said, i wanna see the receipts. donald grant has every fucking right to feel smug, to be honest....

....and so does, to a degree, helen zille. i'll put it like this -- i'm allowed to be too left-brained for the general south african public. she really isn't. she is a twitter queen, and one of the tweets that got the south african general public's panties in a bunch was about having to build schools for educational refugees from the eastern cape. since you only get 140 characters on twitter, trying to explain anything at length there is an exercise in futility, which is why i'm happy for this outstanding interview with akanyang merementsi [who i also follow on twitter] in which she clarifies her [correct] usage of the word "refugee" .... honestly, i haven't seen so many people get butthurt over the word "refugee" since -- people were forced to flee new orleans and southeastern lousiana after katrina. [wow, another american comparison.]

i bring up helen zille because if you go back to the breakdown of the western cape's results this year, you will see that there were 12% more students who took the matric exams in 2012 than 2011, and the pass rate went down by 0.1 percentage points. basically she's been proven correct. it would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that underprepared students came from the eastern cape in grades 10 and 11 and the schools here in the western cape couldn't undo the damage fast enough. there are mathematical ways in which i could spell this out, but maths are not a collective strong point of the south african public, so there's no point. *sigh*

 i don't believe that zille should have apologised for that "refugee" tweet; but she did, eventually. the culture of professional victimhood as espoused by the ruling party plus the paucity of critical thought as evidenced by the fact that only 12% of those who started school in 2001 gained university passes this year -- so many dropouts means that it's extremely difficult to have rational intellectual discourse in this country. if most of my friends [regardless of race] weren't from zimbabwe, i don't know how i would be able intellectually function in this place on a face-to-face level, to be honest.

all that said, the general state of public education in south africa is pretty appalling -- and, by and large, it's the most egregious in the provinces that can't be bothered to do any meaningful updates to their education departments' websites. [ahem]

i don't see how either angie motshekga [the basic education minister] or most of these MECs continue to have jobs. seriously. oh, right, i know. the bar is set low. mediocrity is acceptable. can you feel me rolling my eyes? i am. seriously. wtf?

i'm quite sure that people in other parts of africa were looking at the quality of the matric passes and planning on when they would move here with their freshly minted degrees to set up shop -- or, at the very least, their freshly minted A-levels, which are weighted much, much higher in the admissions scale than the matric exam, even though there's been some grade inflation going on there, too.


on a personal note, as i alluded to at the beginning of this post, kiddo got a bachelor's pass. because of the combination of family drama when he was very small and a lousy birthday, he was 19 writing matric exams. more to the point, he turned 18 in 11th grade, at which point he wanted to spend more time being cool rather than hitting his books, which was a real recipe for disaster.

X [his biological father] and i had him in a very good school, and he was doing well enough for the school [a sore point for me was the low expectations certain teachers and officials seemed to have for some of the nonwhite students, even though this was more than counteracted by other teachers and officials], but not as well as either his useful teachers or i thought he could do. so kid and i fought and screamed and gnashed teeth over various things over the past two years, most of which were related to his grades, which i felt weren't good enough for someone living in a house with me.

it got so bad that he moved out -- twice. that said, one of the nice things about it, to which i alluded in the last blog post, is that he and X have a relationship again.

so we were all happy when he received a bachelor's pass. having seen his report cards this year, i knew it would be close, due to his poor showing in one of his classes over the last couple of years [the very subject which provided his lowest exam result]. when i read him his grades over the phone, he said, "i'll take it, but how is this a bachelor's pass?" he'd read something that jonathan jansen had written about someone with far worse grades than he that was trying to get admission into the university of the free state.

throwing out the horrible grade, kiddo's aggregate was a shaky B [again, working on the american 0-4 scale]; inclusive of it, it is a solid C. but the very fact that he even questioned the validity of his bachelor's pass shows that prof jansen's books [and the fact that i brought them into my house] rubbed off on him. so i felt good. i'd even forgiven him of the argument we had the very day he left the house to go to the eastern cape to his grandparents -- calling him up with his matric results was the first contact with him in almost three weeks.

i refuse to stand in lines for clearing, so he must contact any university he wishes to attend when he's got the money lined up to pay for his first year -- i told him that if he gets below a certain percentage, he must work to pay for the first year, and i will pay for subsequent years provided he maintains grades. so i suppose he is going to spend the next few weeks emailing various universities in an attempt to negotiate a place for 2014 entry as well as pounding the pavement to find internships/starting work in the field he wants.

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