How did 2020’s Matrics perform in STEM subjects?

When it comes to education in South Africa, few subjects are as talked about as those related to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. For the recently-released 2020 Matric exam results the scrutiny focuses further on the two subjects of Mathematics and Physical Science.

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Doctor Reginah Mhaule, yesterday announced these results in a keynote which can be read here, but more detailed information is available in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) 2020 Examination Report (PDF).

The report, in one section, looks at the past five years of so-called “gateway subjects”. These includes STEM subjects like the aforementioned Mathematics and Physical Science, as well as other important ones such as Accounting and Mathematical Literacy.

Below are the 11 gateway subjects over the last half decade together with the pass rates for each year (30 percent level and above).

The biggest decrease here, compared to 2019, is in Physical Sciences. This subject fell 9.7 percent – an almost 10 percent drop. Mathematics also fell but to a much lesser extent of just 0.8 percent.

These two subjects having lower pass rates rates are rather interesting to consider as the paper two exams for both subjects leaked ahead of students sitting to write them. Umalusi, the council overseeing academic integrity in South Africa, determined these leaks to be isolated and not the work of “systemic irregularities“. If what is being reported by the Department of Education (DBE) is true in the table above, it seems Umalusi’s sentiment is correct. We’d have to imagine that if the leaked exams had a higher penetration pass rates wouldn’t have fallen so much.

Of course the real reason for these reduced pass rates is the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns which have affected the daily lives of South Africans for more than a year now. The sudden changes to schooling and the move to learning from home negatively impacted the 2020 Matric class.

On the brighter side of things some of the gateway subjects did see improvements. Mathematical Literacy, History and Business Studies all saw mild increases.

The government, to try and temper some of these decreases, has also tried to provide some good news. Below are the “notable achievements” that the class of 2020 obtained.

• “74 165 more learners wrote the 2020 NSC examination compared to 2019
• 440 702 candidates attained a NSC, an increase of 30 796 from 2019
• 24 762 more candidates attained admission to Bachelor Studies compared to 2019
• A total of 323 343 (65.87%) of Social grant learners attained an NSC
• 943 learners with special needs attained admission to Bachelor studies and 582 attained achieved admission to diploma Studies.
• Learners with special educational needs attained a total of 653 distinctions.
• 216 075 of the 387 717 “no-fee” learners have access to a Higher Education study, with 115 444 having attained admission to Bachelor Studies and 100 631 having attained admission to Diploma studies.
• 3 026 of the progressed learners that wrote all seven subjects obtained the NSC.
• 65.0% of the distinctions were attained by girl learners, including distinctions in critical subjects such as Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, Mathematics, and Physical Science.”

[Image – Department of Basic Education]


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