Should the financial sector be worried about lowered matric pass rates?

South African Institute of Professional Accountants
8 May 2014
Should the financial sector be worried about lowered matric pass rates?
Last year’s improved matric pass rate of 78.2% looks good on paper. But, according to the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), it is hiding the truth that South Africa’s education system is not producing nearly enough individuals who will be able to study further and help plug the serious skills gap that is estimated at around 830 000 vacancies.
“The focus on overall matric pass rates hides key indicators such as the number of pupils who qualify for tertiary education, the general quality of passes and the number of pupils who pass Mathematics and Science,” says Dr Thomas Höppli, Economic Research Analyst at SAIPA. “These are vital as the knowledge and skills developed by these subjects are indispensable to our growing economy, from the financial sector to engineering and more.”
In his research paper for SAIPA (Matric Results 2013: A Reason for Celebration or for Concern for the Financial Sector?) Höppli notes that in 2013, less than a third – some 172 000 learners – of those who wrote matric qualified for Bachelor’s Studies at tertiary institutions. (A learner must pass four subjects at 50% and the remaining subjects at a minimum of 30%.)
A call to raise the pass threshold; introduce school branches for non-university students
“From the financial sector perspective, the relevant pass mark is 50% – a mark advocated by others as a general threshold to pass matric, particularly given its importance in the academic context,” he says, advising an increase in the pass threshold. “High schools should equip learners with the skills needed to enter tertiary education, while other secondary school branches should be considered for learners who will most likely not aspire to a university degree, but still need a solid education that prepares them for their professional lives,” he says. “Streamlining the education system in this way could increase the quality of education as it makes it easier to gear the learners towards their future careers, whether in an academic environment, a trade, in business or as an entrepreneur.”
Mathematics and Science
In 2013, just 5% of the learners who entered Grade 1 in 2002 managed to pass Mathematics at matric level with a score of at least 50%. With regard to Physical Science, the percentage is 3.7%.
The number of candidates writing Mathematical Literacy increased by 21.3% from 2008-2013. During the same time, the number of those writing Mathematics decreased by around 19.5%.
The increasing tendency for learners to choose easier subjects – like Mathematical Literacy – may be due to personal choice or pressure from schools that wish to improve their pass rates.  “The effect of this choice is that it tends to increase the chances of passing matric and thus explains at least in part the rising pass rates,” Höppli says. “But, in view of the scarcity of skills in the economy, this trend is hardly favourable and could jeopardise the future development of SA.  Although overall pass rates have increased, the development of the key skills needed in the financial sector and in other fields is lagging far behind.”
“For the financial sector, Mathematical Literacy is not nearly an equivalent nor a sufficient alternative to Mathematics,” he says, citing Basil Manuel, president of National and Professional Teachers of SA who has questioned whether the current school system will be able to meet the country's future need for engineers, accountants, and entrepreneurs.
SAIPA/ABASA National Accounting Olympiad
“It is clear that our society needs to do all it can to see more students persevering with subjects like Maths, Science and Accountancy,” he says. For this reason, SAIPA is continuing to promote the SAIPA|ABASA National Accounting Olympiad, which takes place annually.
The Olympiad aims to make Accounting as a subject more accessible, especially to rural learners, and to expose the option of becoming a Professional Accountant (SA) as a career to aspiring young accountants in Grade 12.* 
“Learners who perform well in Accounting are more likely to pursue it as a career option, so part of our aim is to ensure that they are as well prepared as they can possibly be for their exams,” he says, referring to the study guides that are given to learners to help them in their schoolwork and prepare for their exams.
“Serious shortages of skills exist in different sectors of the economy,” concludes Höppli, “And the fact is that the increasing matric pass rates have not translated into much larger numbers and relative shares of learners who will be able to contribute to closing the skills gap that keeps companies from expanding and the economy from growing.”
* Entries for the SAIPA/ABASA National Accounting Olympiad close on 8 May 2014. The entry fee is R50 per learner for the first five entrants. The Olympiad consists of two rounds: the first taking place on 21 May 2014 and the final on 14 August 2014. Visit