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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

University ‘not the only choice’ – expert cautions against societal expectations

With universities facing an influx of first-year students, not everyone will be easily absorbed.

Against a background of the Covid outbreak and its disruption on schooling, education experts on Friday lauded the 76.4% 2021 matric pass rate as representing good results, but cautioned against a dominant societal expectation that all pupils who passed would be absorbed by universities.

Independent education expert Mary Metcalfe and associate professor of mathematics at the University of Johannesburg’s department of early childhood education Nicky Roberts said they expected a much lower pass rate,
given the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Metcalfe said she was excited by the 0.2% increase in the pass rate. When compared to 2020 results, it was unexpected because “the class of 2021 lost so much time in their Grade 11 – requiring a huge amount of learning to
make up for lost time”.

“We have a society which is too quick to exclude pupils who struggle with learning,” she said.

“The fact that nearly 40% of the progressed pupils were able to succeed suggests that we need to do more to include pupils who are struggling at high school.”

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With universities facing an influx of first-year students, not everyone will be easily absorbed.

“There will be a larger number of matriculants than usual who have met the minimum standards to apply to a university by getting good enough grades to qualify for a bachelors admission, putting more pressure on universities,” said Metcalfe.

“Universities have quotas set by the department of higher education for how many students they can take for each course.

“That is linked to the funding. If they go over the quotas, they have to foot the bill of the costs.

“Universities will be selecting those students they think have the best chance of succeeding on the basis of their marks.”

She said the expectation by society that all successful pupils had to go to university, “does need to be challenged in many societies, not only in South Africa”.

“In countries like Germany there is an earlier steering within the system to direct young people to university as one option but technical and vocational as other options. We have to strengthen the initiative,” she said.

Metcalfe called on government to invest resources and money in early childhood education.

“We should not just be considering the quality of our education system at the endpoint without recognising that these kids have had 18 years of stimulation from their parents in building up to matric,” she said.

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“There is a far greater need for us to invest in publicly acceptable early childhood education and support for parents looking after young children.

“After finishing matric, a student faces an opportunity of going into further study, employment or joblessness,” she said.

“This is why I argue that having a pass mark is pointless.

“We should be giving everybody a certificate and put their marks on that certificate and they go off to the world to pursue further study, work or joblessness.

“There are lots of opportunities for further study, going into FET college or learnership like the old apprenticeship run through the Sector Education and Training Authority. You don’t need to have matric to do those.”


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