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The Articulation Of The Secondary Education System To Tertiary Institutions In South Africa; A Deliberate Mismatch

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South African education system during the apartheid government was a racially separated system. Act 47 of 1953 gave power to the apartheid government to construct racially separated educational facilities. The education system was designed to strengthen the apartheid laws and black people had their schools of inferior quality while white people have good educational facilities and a good education system. Universities were also designed to racially separate people, there were universities for black people and universities for white people. The apartheid government system was cruel and declared a crime against humanity by the World Health Organization and the separation of the education system based on race was uncalled for. Nevertheless, the pass mark either for the whites or black’s education system was the same. The system had higher grades, standard grades, and lower grades which gave learners options to choose from, and based on those options, the quality of a learner was produced. Most matriculants with standard and lower grade symbols were not accepted in many universities but legible for employment opportunities. The current education structure of allowing learners to at least have 50% in four subjects, at least 40% in Home Language, At least 30% in the Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) At least 30% for one other subject is failing the secondary education system in South Africa. This article, therefore, presents an argument and report that the current basic education system and the grading standard produce poor quality of learners who mostly do not qualify to study at a university level. Furthermore, the bachelor pass, diploma pass and certificate pass at a matric level create false hope for learners. The government reduced the pass mark to obtain the higher pass rate and use that as a campaigning strategy to obtain more votes at the expense of young people. The findings of this study include the report on the arrogance of the key role players in decision making on the basic education system. This study applied desktop research methodology and the findings are based on existing literature, empirical and theoretical studies.
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Solid State Technology
Volume: 63 Issue: 6
Publication Year: 2020
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The Articulation Of The Secondary Education
System To Tertiary Institutions In South
Africa; A Deliberate Mismatch.
Zamokuhle Mbandlwa
21240964@dut4life.ac.za
ZamokuhleM@dut.ac.za
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7528-3565
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I. INTRODUCTION
The transition from the high school classroom to university lecture theatre might not seem a
big change but universities expect different things from their students than high schools do.
The teaching modality is not the same and the attention given to learners is different from the
attention given to students at a university level. At a university, most of the work is expected
from a student while in high school or secondary school, most of the work is done by teachers
(Yang, Chang, Chien, Chien and Tseng, 2013: 210). Learners that are committed to high
school obtain good results and find it easy to adapt to the university system. Those who were
not able to obtain good marks at a high school will find it difficult to adapt to the university
Abstract South African education system during the apartheid government was a racially
separated system. Act 47 of 1953 gave power to the apartheid government to construct
racially separated educational facilities. The education system was designed to strengthen
the apartheid laws and black people had their schools of inferior quality while white
people have good educational facilities and a good education system. Universities were
also designed to racially separate people, there were universities for black people and
universities for white people. The apartheid government system was cruel and declared a
crime against humanity by the World Health Organization and the separation of the
education system based on race was uncalled for. Nevertheless, the pass mark either for
the whites or black’s education system was the same. The system had higher grades,
standard grades, and lower grades which gave learners options to choose from, and based
on those options, the quality of a learner was produced. Most matriculants with standard
and lower grade symbols were not accepted in many universities but legible for
employment opportunities. The current education structure of allowing learners to at
least have 50% in four subjects, at least 40% in Home Language, At least 30% in the
Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) At least 30% for one other subject is failing
the secondary education system in South Africa. This article, therefore, presents an
argument and report that the current basic education system and the grading standard
produce poor quality of learners who mostly do not qualify to study at a university level.
Furthermore, the bachelor pass, diploma pass and certificate pass at a matric level create
false hope for learners. The government reduced the pass mark to obtain the higher pass
rate and use that as a campaigning strategy to obtain more votes at the expense of young
people. The findings of this study include the report on the arrogance of the key role
players in decision making on the basic education system. This study applied desktop
research methodology and the findings are based on existing literature, empirical and
theoretical studies.
Keywords
Standard grade, Higher grade, Lower-grade, Bachelor pass, Diploma pass, Certificate
pass, Pass mark
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system. The success and failure at a university level depend on the commitment of the
students themselves. Failure to do the work at a university level bears no punishment unlike
in high school where detentions are imposed for those who are not doing their work and be
given a second chance. The workload at a university is much more than the workload at a
high school and those who were not able to cope with the workload in high school will find it
difficult to cope at a university level (School leavers, 2019: 03). The idea of finishing high
school and starting a university education is a scary moment for many students. University
forces students to leave their childhood friends, teachers, and surroundings for a new
environment.
The high school and a university, as it has been alluded earlier, have different teaching styles
and consequences. The tertiary institutions have lectures, tutorials, laboratories, practical
workshops, fieldwork and mostly have a 50 percent pass mark policy. A student that obtains
less than 50 percent in the final mark does not make it but is given a supplementary exam. A
duly performed system known as (DP) is introduced and failure to meet this requirement
excludes the student from writing the final examination. The readiness of all these changes
and new methods of teaching and learning depends on high school performance and
commitment. The tertiary institutions use the semester system while the high school is using
the four terms system (Gilakjani, 2012: 57).
Taking into consideration all the factors that contribute to the differences between secondary
and tertiary education systems, it is, therefore, essential to state that the failures of the
secondary system lead to the failure of the tertiary system. The 30 percent pass mark at high
school is failing the basic education system in South Africa. Tertiary institutions do not
compromise the application points and do not have mercy to learners that have scored lower
points. The disconnection between secondary education and tertiary education institutions
compromises the future of many youngsters who might have the potential to become
graduates. This paper, therefore, presents a descending view on the pass mark of secondary
education in South Africa. The 30 percent pass mark is not serving any purpose because most
of these learners do not qualify for university education. It is noted that the government's
objective is to increase the pass rate of learners who will not be able to access tertiary
education and unemployable (Baxter, Thompson, Litaker, Frye and Guinn, 2002: 387).
II. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Higher education institutions depend on high schools on the number of students that will be
part of the tertiary education system. When high schools do not produce good learners with
good marks it means that the tertiary institutions will not be able to have students. There are
around 200 million students in higher institutions in the world which have increased from 89
million in 1998. The increase in the number of students which is almost doubled in Latin
America and the Caribbean in the past decade shows success in secondary school teaching.
The increase in the number of learners that qualify to be in the tertiary education system
indicates an increase in the pass rate of learners in high schools (The World Bank, 2020).
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Education level and education systems vary between countries around the world. Developed
countries, developing countries, underdeveloped countries have different education systems
even though there is no solid evidence that the economic status of the country plays a role in
the education system but it has an impact. The type of education offered by schools in any
country is determined by the type of leadership that takes decisions on the type of education
system that is offered in any country (Knight, 2002: 276). The developed countries have a
high literacy rate but that does not equate to good quality education. Everyone in the country
can be able to read and write and have undergone an education system but that does not mean
everyone received a good quality education. A survey conducted by World Population
Review (2020: 02) revealed that 10 top countries offer a good quality of education. the list of
countries that offer a good quality of education is in the following sequence, from 1 to 10, the
United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Australia, Switzerland,
Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands. This education ranking is based on primary school and
completion of secondary or high school learning. These countries do not compromise the pass
mark of learners in school to obtain a higher pass rate. The report is based on three factors,
well developed- public education system, top-quality education, and meeting the
requirements to study at a university (Bullen, Morgan and Qayyum, 2011: 05).
Based on this world ranking criteria, the United Kingdom is on top of the list with the best
public education system. Second, on the list is the United States which has about 70% of
learners who perform well and meet the requirements to study at a university level.
Countries that have a good education system also have the best high schools in the world,
which gives an advantage to learners when preparing for university. The United States is
number two in the global ranking of the best education system globally but it consistently
scores lower than many other countries in benchmarks such as maths and science. The United
States education ranking is influenced by the best schools they have. United Kingdom
ranking status is influenced by the best schools they have, Eton College, along with
Westminster School, both are the best schools in the world. The pass mark in all the best
schools in the list of the top ten countries is not compromised. This is an indication that the
pass mark is influenced by the education system that is offered by the country (Horn, Hendel
and Fry, 2007: 331).
The best education system will not compromise the quality of learners and the pass mark
allocated for subjects. When government schools underperform, the government resort to
dropping the pass mark and reduce the quality of the education system. Mostly, the leadership
of countries that have a poor education system hides behind the economic situation. This is
evidence in countries that have a poor education system and blame the economy for the
inadequate education system. If not the economic system, they resort to internal conflict and
political violence as the cause of the poor education system. The following 11 countries have
the worse education system in the world, Burma, Central African Republic, Dominican
Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Georgia, Liberia, Libya, Monaco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zambia
(Papanicolas, Woskie and Jha, 2018: 1025).
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III. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Desktop research is a term used when the collection of secondary data is used as the research
methodology. Desktop research requires a researcher to define the objectives of the research
and the plan. Methods of desktop research include sales figures, newspapers, websites,
government publications, commercial publications, and conference reports (Oberhauser,
Dreyer, Mamessier, Convard, Bandow and Hillebrand, 2015: 461). Desktop research allows a
researcher to look at what is happening and give an overall view of the research problem. The
desktop research gives researchers a chance to have an objective view because the data is not
only collected in a set of participants or respondents. For this study, the desktop research
methodology was applied, conclusions made are informed by the newspaper reports,
conference papers, website reports, and government publications.
IV. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Higher education in South Africa has one-third of students that qualify to gain entry into the
higher education system. This is attributed to the weak schooling in the high school system in
South Africa. There is a gap between the high school system and the tertiary education
system in South Africa. The high school education system does not produce what is expected
by the tertiary education institutions. The Council on Higher Education has intervened in
changing the education system from one education phase to the next education phase (Rau,
Gao and Wu, 2008: 18). Higher education institutions have numerous challenges but the
council has been able to address most of the challenges that are facing tertiary education.
unfortunately, the Council on Higher Education can not intervene with basic education. No
matter how best the universities and colleges can be, if the basic education does not produce
good students, it will still be a problem to have good quality students.
This paper is presenting two main arguments, the first one is basic education producing
learners who don’t qualify to access tertiary education, secondly, the bad quality of learners
who qualify to access tertiary education. teachers themselves do not force learners to study as
a mandatory thing to do but education is viewed as optional and learners are given various
options. The option of learners to quit high school education and enroll at a TVET college
mostly leads to dropouts in high school education. secondly, the brightest learners in high
schools who passed matric with flying colours often experience low marks at the university
level (Sweeten, 2006: 463).
The combination of subjects in high school is also a contributing factor in the failure of the
basic education system. Learners choose the subject based on how easy they are to study,
mostly, they choose subjects based on certain stereotypes and pressure from friends and
families. There is no adequate guidance on the subjects that learners can choose but even if
the guidance is proper, the choice of subjects depends on the teachers available. Schools that
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do not have teachers of the scarce skills subjects will not produce students with scarce skills
subjects (Cherkasov, Bratanovskii, Koroleva and Zimovets, 2019: 628). Schools that do not
have good teachers in maths and science will not produce learners who are good at maths and
science.
The poor quality of learners from high schools in the South African basic education system
gives a burden to tertiary institutions lecturers to pay more attention to the students. Lecturers
spend more time assisting students with academic literacy more than lecturing the content.
The weaknesses of the high school system affect the universities and the corporate world.
Some universities have already started a program of academic literacy. The program is
designed to assist first-year students on how to write academic assignments and tests
(Хакимов, 2020: 09).
Figure 1: comparison of the grading between South Africa and the USA
Source: World Education News and Reviews, 2017
The above figure 1, presents a comparison between the education system in the USA and
South Africa. It also presented statistics of those that are enrolled in universities and those
that do not qualify. There are contradicting opinions on why South Africa has a poor basic
education system when compared to other countries such as the USA (Caplan, 2018: 02). The
popular view of the reason is attributed to the history of the country. Most people blame the
apartheid government if they look for a reason why education is poor. The basic education
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system is still struggling to recover from the Bantu education system that was instilled by the
apartheid government in 1953. The apartheid government might have a huge impact on the
current education system but it could not be primarily being blamed for the failures of
democratic leaders in government. Democratic government leaders have the power to change
the system and to strengthen the basic education system in the country. If the government was
able to change the economic system to favour the historically disadvantaged individuals, why
it is failing to have a good basic education system. The lack of political will to change the
education system in South Africa is the cause of the poor education system in the country
(Mursidi, Salain, Kumbara and Sukardja, 2019: 417).
The government is investing a lot of money in basic education but the system is still bad and
does not assist the learners and universities at all. More than 19.7 percent of the total budget
of the country is allocated to basic education in South Africa. The invested money does not
assist the country to have an education system that is of a high quality that meets the
international standard. The teachers that teach learners in schools also studied the inferior
quality of education. the progress made in the basic education system of the country is still
insufficient. The type of basic education offered in the country is still failing learners as well
as the country. It is not a mistake that South Africa is ranked number 75 out of 76 countries in
an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development, 2017: 02).
South Africa was declared as the country that has the worst education system. The
intervention made by the government to improve the basic education system in South Africa
is still uniformly viewed as insufficient. The Trends in International Mathematics and
Science Study (2017: 02) surveyed 580, 000 learners in 57 countries South Africa was at the
bottom of the list of schools rankings. When South African learners were compared to other
learners in some African countries, the results were shocking. Precisely 27 percent of South
African learners who have attended school for six years cannot read, to learners of Tanzania
with four percent who can read properly and 19 percent in Zimbabwe.
The trajectory of education in South Africa is very disturbing and project a bad future for the
country. In 37 percent of children starting school in a year go on to pass the matric exam and
only four percent earn a degree. The education system in South Africa is still oppressive,
black pupils are experiencing challenges. The infrastructure in most blacks’ schools is
contributing to the poor performance of black learners (Bunar, 2017: 13). This suggests that
black learners are double oppressed because the education itself is inferior and the
infrastructure is not supportive of black learners. The studies show that in 200 black learners
who start school only one can expect to do well enough to pursue a study in engineering
programs at a university while ten white kids can expect to study engineering programs.
South Africa is dominated by mostly rural areas and the black population. The development
of the rural community was not a priority of the apartheid government. Rural communities
are still left behind, 41 percent of grade six learners in rural schools were reportedly illiterate
compared to their 13 percent counterparts in urban areas. Rural schools lack basic needs such
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as running water, electricity, books, and sanitation. The focus of the government to change
the basic education system is to ensure that all learners pass (Filippov, Ten and Fradkov,
2017: 12168). The pass rate is not always a true reflection of what learners go through.
Learners are living under unpleasant conditions and they are taught poor content of education
compared to their counterparts in other countries. The government must focus on addressing
the inequalities of the past in the education sector but at the same time focusing on the quality
of education offered.
South African government is quick to praise the learners that completed the matric with
flying colours but the fundamental question should be the quality of education offered.
Neighboring countries do not have a stable economy when compared to South Africa but
their education system is far better than the one in South Africa. For example, in Zimbabwe,
the education system in high schools is better than the one offered in South Africa. An
engineering first-year student at a University in South Africa is exposed to laboratories,
content, and activities that are performed in grade 11 class of Zimbabwe high schools. The
skills acquired in Zimbabwe high schools are equivalent to skills that are offered in some
South African universities (Torii, 2018: 10).
The main focus of the South African government is to assist learners that did not perform
well in their matric year or at senior levels in high school. Assisting learners that did not
perform well is not a solution to the battling secondary education system. Waiting for
learners to fail and assist them is seen as a system to set learners for failure so that people will
see the government as a helping government. The poor education system in the country is
substituted by programs in the Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) colleges
(Aimicheva, Kopeyev, Ordabayeva, Tokzhigitova and Akimova, 2020: 12). Learners that are
not paying attention to their studies at high school levels look for options for going to TVET
colleges. This system is failing the youth of South Africa, learners who performed poorly in
high schools are accepted in colleges to study different academic programs. Whether the
students acquire the qualifications or not, the quality of those TVET colleges is also not good
for the corporate world.
The quality of basic education in South Africa is not too bad in multi-racial schools that are
formerly known as model c schools. This is mainly because of the system used in private
schools, the independent examination board uses a different system and approach compared
to the Umalusi examination board for the government. This has been proven by the number
of students that are pursuing their tertiary education in the United States and other countries
abroad. South African students preferred universities in the US more than universities in
other countries. In 2014 approximately 57 percent of students were enrolled in the US at the
undergraduate level. Only twenty-nine percent of students were doing their postgraduate
degrees (Oei, Melhuish, Uebel, Azzam, Breen, Burns, Hilder, Bajuk, Abdel-Latif and Ward,
2017: 05).
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Figure 2: Top 10 Destination Countries for Outbound Students from South Africa.
Source: World Education Services, 2017
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The above figure 2 represents the list of countries and the percentage of South African
students that have enrolled in tertiary institutions. The United States and the United Kingdom
remain the favorite for most South Africans. The United Kingdom and the United States have
been listed as the countries that have the best high school education system. The best high
school education system results in good quality of university students (Wang, Li, Abbey and
Rozelle, 2018: 09). The system in both the United Kingdom and the United States in tertiary
education institutions is the best compared to many countries. South African students are
attracted by the good record of tertiary institutions in the UK and the US.
South African Education: structure and administration
South African education system is divided into three levels, elementary, secondary, and
tertiary. Before 2009 the National Department of Education was responsible for all levels of
education. The idea of dividing the Department into two was to ensure that enough attention
is paid to tertiary and high school education. the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is
responsible for elementary and secondary education while the Department of Higher
Education and Training is responsible for tertiary education or any post-schooling education.
Administration of elementary and secondary schools
South Africa has 26, 000 schools 425,000 teachers who are all under the Department of Basic
Education. Department of Basic Education has a district and provincial DBE office in all
provinces 86 district offices administer the schools and influences the implementation of
different policies. The department has specific policies and a mandate to ensure that high
schools are in good condition and learners receive a good quality of education. The
department also strives to improve the quality of teaching and learning, properly undertake
regular assessments, and create a conducive childhood development. Offices in the provincial
offices of the DBE rely on the information received from the district offices. District offices
are closer to schools and understand the process of teaching and learning better than people
working in provincial and national offices (Vitale, Bonarini, Matteucci and Bascetta, 2016:
75). In 2009 when the Department was divided into two, the budget was also divided into
two. A budget for the Department of Basic Education and a budget for the Department of
Higher Education was allocated.
The Department of Basic Education has more budget but the department had failed to
improve the system and to create appropriate criteria for learners.
Figure 3: grading scale used at the elementary and secondary levels in South African schools.
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Source: World Education Services, 2017
The above figure 3, presents the number of achievement levels from 1 to 7 which are used to
measure the performance of learners. Level 1 represents a symbol F and a grade which is
from 0 to 29 percent, on the other hand, level 7 represents an outstanding achievement which
is a symbol A+. This study is presenting a view that this system and criteria are failing the
education system of the country. A learner that achieved level 3 is regarded as a learner that
achieved moderate results whilst marks are less than 50 percent. The marks allocation
structure shows that level three is equal to symbol C whilst level two is also regarded as
symbol C (Haris, Naway, Pulukadang, Takeshita and Ancho, 2018: 367). The department has
not considered the quality of education in South Africa when this system was developed. The
main concern of the department which is headed by the politicians was to reduce the quality
so that more learners will pass. More learners can pass and achieve matric but those matric
results do not assist the learners or the country.
The author, therefore, argues that the levels allocated to the performance of students must be
reviewed further, the quality of education in high schools must be improved. The government
is failing the education system of the country in public schools. The contributing factors of
government leaders not improving the education system could be because it does not directly
affect them hence they can afford to take their children to private schools. Most parents have
considered homeschooling and some take their children to private schools because of the
poor quality of teaching and learning in public schools.
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The problem created by the Department of Basic Education is a national problem and a
problem for most universities in the country. Learners that qualified for the university
entrance find it difficult to cope with the workload at their first-year level. This is attributed
to the teaching style but mostly by the pass mark of 50 percent in Universities. This leads to a
high rate of dropouts at most universities in South Africa. There is no connection between
the tertiary education system and the high school system. At a high school, a learner is
awarded a National Senior Certificate (NSC) or matric and this is awarded to learners who
passed with a certificate pass, diploma pass, or bachelor pass. This system is raising false
hope for most learners and parents. For example, a bachelor's pass at high school creates an
impression that a learner will qualify for any bachelor’s degree in any university (Marx,
TannerSmith, Davison, Ufholz, Freeman, Shankar, Newton, Brown, Parpia and Cozma,
2017: 31). Most learners who passed their matric with bachelor pass do not qualify for any
bachelor program in any university because of the point score they achieved at high school.
Universities do not look for matric with a bachelor pass or diploma pass but the universities
look for points. The points are based on the pass marks of learners and especially on specific
subjects.
For the South African education system to improve, it is necessary to look into the systems
that are used by other countries. In most countries, children’s schooling has been the top
priority but it does not seem to be that case in South Africa. In the United Kingdom, the
education system is classified into three classes. The pass mark for a 1st class refers to the
student that passed with 70 percent or higher, second class in upper-division is 60 percent to
69 percent, second class in lower-division is 50 percent to 59 percent, lastly, the 3rd class is
40 percent to 49 percent. Anything less than 40 percent is a fail and that learner must repeat a
grade. The application of a 40 percent minimum pass mark for all subjects could improve the
education system in the South African basic education system (Martin, 2019: 02).
V. CONCLUSION
The political game of the government leaders in South Africa is getting most people excited
about the matric pass rate in South Africa. The pass rate is confusing and not a true reflection
of the performance of learners in high schools. There is a need for South African parents to
pay attention to the high school education system in the country. The 30 percent pass mark is
a failure to the high school education system in the country and this is a strategy used by the
government to remain relevant to the people. The Department of Basic Education is more
concerned about the proportions of learners passing to make learners and parents happy. This
is a false impression of making education easily accessible and easier. The government is
doing this at the expense of the quality of education. the matric of today compared to the
matric 20 years ago is easy but of poor quality. A learner that only understands 30 percent
and does not understand 70 percent should not be given a pass but an opportunity to repeat
until at least 50 percent is achieved.
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