Minister Angie Motshekga: Release of 2016 National Senior Certificate examination results

4 Jan 2017

Keynote Address by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, Delivered at the Release of NSC Examination Results for 2016 held at Vodaworld, Midrand

Good Evening Fellow South Africans!

Programme Director and Compatriots, in his Memoirs entitled “Birth of a Dream Weaver” Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o says:

“My father, my mother,
“If these were the days of our ancestors,
“I would ask you for a cows and goats,
“Now I ask you to send me to school”

“My father, my mother,
“Yesterday’s heroes called for spears to defend the nation,
“Today’s heroes demand pen and slate to save the nation,

“That’s why I ask you to send me to school”.

These seminal words spoken decades ago, when most parts of the continent of Africa were engaged in a revolution to free ourselves from the yoke of Western Imperialism, are as profound today as there were in 1961.  To the finest son of Africa, Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and millions of other Africans – both at home and in the Diaspora, I am glad to report that the African child is today at school immersed in the learning venture to muster the triple Rs of foundational education – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.

Strategic direction in the basic education sector

The cry of the African child has reverberated throughout the corners of the globe.  There is now a global education agenda, the UNESCO Education Agenda 2030, which is part of the seventeen UNESCO sustainable development goals.

The UNESCO Sustainable Development Goal 4, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa on the African Agenda 2063, the National Development Plan Vision 2030, and our Action Plan 2019: Towards Schooling 2030 provide a clear direction in improving access, redress, equity, efficiency and quality of learning outcomes through the implementation of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework and the National Strategy for Leaner Attainment.

The National Senior Certificate examination results are one of the most important barometers to evaluate progress made by Government in the aforementioned.  Progress in the sector has also been confirmed by the recent cycles of regional and international assessment studies.

Building a solid and foundation for teaching and learning

We should always remember at all times that if we have to further improve the outputs of the schooling system, we will have to continue to improve the fundamental quality of learning and teaching, well before Grade 12.

Research is showing that the major root causes of dropping out of school towards the end of secondary school, are weak learning foundations.  Therefore, the most important priority must be to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the early Grades, so as to ensure that learners are equipped with the skills needed to cope with the curriculum requirements of the higher Grades.

Hence, though not extensively, as we report on the Grade 12 examination results, it is important to also briefly speak to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2015) and the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ IV) results, which report on performance in lower Grades.

International assessment benchmark tests

The results of recent international studies, such as the TIMSS 2015 and the SACMEQ IV, show that the performance of South African learners is improving, symptomatic of a system in an upward trajectory.

The TIMSS 2015 results confirmed noteworthy growth patterns; which when compared with other countries since 2003 at the Grade 9 level, South Africa has shown the largest improvement of 87 points in Mathematics, and 90 points in Science.

The preliminary SACMEQ IV study results further affirmed the upward trends; and showed that for the first time, South African learners at the Grade 6 level, achieved Mathematics scores above the significant centre point of 500 points.  More importantly, the largest gains were evident within the historically disadvantaged sections of the school system.

2016 National Senior Certificate Examination Results

As we analyse the 2016 NSC examination results, we must bear in mind that the Grade 12 examinations are not primarily designed to measure whether there is progress in the system as a whole, or even in individual schools.

The main purpose of these examinations is to provide learners with an exit qualification.  We however, are able to also glean on the progress we are making as a country to provide an inclusive, quality and efficient basic education for our children; and these results do exactly that.

We are therefore increasingly prioritising interventions and policies that target an improved quality of learning and teaching, and implementing accountability systems to ensure that quality outcomes are achieved.  More specifically, we have deliberately prioritised early grade literacy.

The effects of these interventions are beginning to result in improved learning outcomes.  The skills of learners have improved, according to rigorous and widely respected international testing programmes.  Ambitious policy shifts by government, combined with the efforts and commitment of the thousands of people who work in our schools, are paying off.  Available scientific comparisons of the quality of learning outcomes, over time, indicate noteworthy improvement in recent years.

Profile:  Class of 2016

The Class of 2016 is the ninth cohort of learners to sit for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) and third cohort to write CAPS-aligned NSC Examinations.  The Class of 2016 has recorded the highest enrolment of Grade 12 learners in the history of the basic education system in South Africa.

The total number of candidates, who registered for the November 2016 NSC examinations, was 828 020; comprising 674 652 full-time candidates and 153 368 part-time candidates.  Of these candidates, 610 178 full-time candidates and 107 793 part-time candidates, wrote the 2016 NSC examinations.

“Fair, Valid and Credible” Examinations

Fellow South Africans, I am also glad to announce that the Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, has declared the 2016 NSC examinations as “fair, valid and credible".

The release of the 2016 NSC examination results was approved, however the results of the learners who have been implicated in the leaked Mathematics Question Paper 2, will remain blocked pending the finalisation of the investigations.  Umalusi has further commended the DBE for the Evidence-Based Report, its support and interventions to learners, and the running of “a successful and credible examination process.”

Performance of the progressed learners

One of the key areas in the year 2015, was to encourage provinces to progress or condone learners who have repeated Grade 11 more than once, and who are over-aged; and give them extra support to sit for Grade 12 NSC examinations, or allow them to modularise their examinations – meaning that they write part of the examinations in November 2016, and the rest in June 2017.

Consequently, in 2016 we saw the largest number of progressed learners, since the policy was promulgated in 2013.  An analysis of the raw data on progressed learners paints, an extremely interesting picture, in particular this year.

For the Class of 2016, we had 108 742 registered progressed learners, up from 65 673 progressed learners in 2015.  This is an increase of 43 069, equivalent to 65.5%, from the number of progressed learners in 2015; and 16.1% of the total number of full-time candidates registered for the 2016 NSC examinations.

67 510 progressed learners wrote the requisite seven subjects during the 2016 NSC examinations.  The rest of the learners are modularising their examinations – the remaining subjects from those written during the 2016 NSC examinations, will be written in June 2017.

Of the progressed learners who wrote the 2016 NSC examinations, 29 384 passed; which represents 27% of all progressed learners, and 6.6% of all learners who passed the 2016 NSC examinations.

3 335 progressed learners obtained Bachelor passes; 12 636 obtained Diploma passes; and 13 385 obtained Higher Certificate passes.  There are a total of 2 361 distinctions (compared to 1 081 in 2015) attained by progressed learners, including distinctions in Accounting, Mathematics and Physical Science.  The significance of these achievements, is that the 29 384 progressed learners who passed the 2016 NSC examinations – the would-be-high-school dropouts if they were not progressed, now have the opportunity to either go to university or TVET College.

This is positive indeed, especially when the NDP enjoins us to mediate the high drop-out rate of learners from the basic schooling system by increasing the learner retention rate to 90%, and allowing for an increase in the number of learners entering vocational and occupational pathways.  The incremental introduction of the three-stream model that includes technical-vocational, as well as technical-occupational in the basic education sector is intended to address this NDP directive.

We have learned a lot from this exercise, and working with provinces, we will continue to strengthen and provide support for progressed learners.  We thank all provinces for the extra support they had given to these learners, because some of them could have fallen through the cracks of the system, due to continuous repetition and ultimate drop-out from the system.

Learners with Special Education Needs

We strongly believe that an Inclusive Education system make an immense contribution towards an inclusive economy to serve an inclusive society.  We have for the past few years included learners with special education needs in tracking learner performance in the NSC.

1 944 learners with special needs wrote 2016 NSC examinations – an increase of 15% from those who wrote in 2015.  The number of Bachelor and Diploma passes has increased – showing an improvement in the quality of the results.  A number of distinctions were also obtained in this sector.  Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal should be congratulated for their contribution of the 76.7% Bachelor passes achieved; and the 66% of the Diploma passes achieved by the learners with special education needs.

The benefits of the “pro-poor” policies of Government on the Grade 12 examination results, with progressed learners included

In the 2016 NSC examination results, the poverty ranking of schools in terms quintiles 1 to 5, revealed the following interesting trends.  The NSC passes for quintiles 1 to 3 (“no fee” schools) combined, stand at 272 615; the Bachelor passes achieved by learners in “no fee” schools stand at 78 878; the Diploma passes stand at 114 828; and Higher Certificate passes stand at 78 909.

More impressively, between the 60 and 79.9% pass rate, was registered in 1 526 quintile 1 to 3 schools.  Similarly, between the 80 and 100% pass rate, was registered in 1 452 quintile 1 to 3 schools.  Disappointingly though, 1 991 quintile 1 to 5 schools registered a pass rate of less than 60%.  We must however, congratulate the 354 quintile 1 to 5 schools which registered a 100% pass mark.

It is important to explain the significance of the poverty ranking of schools.  Quintile 1 to 3 schools, also known as “no fee” schools, are schools that were previously faced a multiplicity of challenges, ranging from resource inadequacies to socio-economic challenges, including environments in which these schools find themselves.  Teachers and principals have to invest a lot of energy to do more with less; and for that, we want to express our most sincere gratitude and appreciation to our teachers and principals.

Performance of the Districts

The National Development Plan recognises districts as a crucial interface of the basic education sector in identifying best practice, sharing information, and providing support to schools.  The continued growth in the performance of districts, is closely monitored and evaluated by both the provincial and national education departments.

In 2016, 67 of the 81 districts attained a pass rate of 60% and above – about 14% improvement from 2015; 31 districts achieved a pass rate of 80% and above – 7% improvement from 2015.  Nationally, the top six performing districts, with the progressed learners included, are the following –

  • First is Overberg from the Western Cape with 92.7%;
  • Second is Xhariep in the Free State with 92%;
  • Third is Fezile Dabi from the Free State with 91.8%;
  • Fourth is Gauteng West in Gauteng with 91.2%;
  • Fifth is Namaqua in the Northern Cape with 91%;
  • Sixth is Thabo Mofutsanyana in the Free State with 90%;

Four districts attained pass percentages of between 87 and 88%.  The top performing districts in their respective provinces, in an ascending order, with progressed learners included, are as follows –

  • Vhembe in Limpopo with 70.3%.
  • Amajuba in KwaZulu-Natal with 77.2%;
  • Nkangala and Ehlanzeni in Mpumalanga are tied at 79.5%;
  • Cradock in the Eastern Cape with 81.2%;
  • Ngaka M Molema in North west with 85.7%
  • Namaqua in the Northern Cape with 91%;
  • Gauteng West in Gauteng with 91.2%;
  • Xhariep in the Free State with 92%; and
  • Overberg from the Western Cape with 92.7%.

Regrettably, there were five districts which performed below 50%, and all of these districts are in the Eastern Cape; and there are eight districts that performed between 50 and 59.9%four of these, are in the Eastern Cape; three are in KwaZulu-Natal; and one is in Limpopo.  We wish to acknowledge Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape for registering the highest number of candidates in Physical Science.

Performance of the Provinces

The Council of Education Ministers had agreed that the reporting of the NSC examination results should give an indication of pass marks with progressed learners excluded as well included.

First, a glimpse is given in an ascending order on how provinces performed, with progressed learners excluded:

  • Eastern Cape attained 63.3%, an increase of 1.1% from 62.2% in 2015;
  • Limpopo attained 68.2%, a decline of 3.5% from 71.7% in 2015;
  • KwaZulu-Natal attained 69.5%, an increase of 7.9% from 61.6% in 2015;
  • Mpumalanga attained 81.3%, a decline of 0.8% from 82.1% in 2015;
  • Northern Cape attained 82.2%, a decline of 1.8% from 84% in 2015;
  • North West attained 86.2%, an increase of 9% from 77.2% in 2015;
  • Gauteng attained 87% an increase of 1.1% from 85.9% in 2015;
  • Western Cape attained 87.7%, a decline of 0.3% from 88% in 2015; and
  • Free State attained 93.2%, an increase of 5.5% from 87.7% in 2015.  Free State is the only province that broke the 90% threshold.

Congratulations MEC Tate Makgoe, this is a great feat, the first since the introduction of the National Senior Certificate examinations nine years ago.  Breaking this threshold is no child's play in the public sector with all the challenges of public education having to deal with learners from poor to wealthy households, children from rural and urban settings, learners facing a variety of learning barriers, big learner numbers, and just dealing with South Africa in its different manifestations.

With progressed learners excluded, three provinces achieved at below 70%; five achieved above 80%; and one province achieved above 90%.  The six provinces with above 80% must be commended.

Now let me announce the results achieved by the provinces with progressed learners included.  The following provinces achieved below 70%

  • Eastern Cape achieved 59.3%, improving from 56.8% in 2015, an improvement of 2.5%;
  • Limpopo achieved 62.5%, down from 65.9% in 2015, a decline of 3.4%;
  • KwaZulu-Natal achieved 66.4%, improving from 60.7% in 2015, an improvement of 5.7%.  KZN produced the second largest number of Bachelor passes, and registered the highest number of candidates for the 2016 NSC examinations.  We also wish to congratulate KZN for registering the highest participation rates of African learners in Mathematics;

Two provinces, namely Mpumalanga and Northern Cape, achieved above 70%

  • Mpumalanga achieved 77.1%, declining by 1.5% from 78.6% in 2015;
  • Northern Cape achieved 78.7%, improving from 69.4% in 2015, an improvement of 9.3%;

The following provinces achieved above 80%

  • North West achieved 82.5%, improving from 81.5% in 2015, an improvement of 1%;
  • Gauteng achieved 85.1%, improving from 84.2% in 2015, an improvement of 0.9%.  Gauteng recorded the highest Bachelor passes, and had the second highest number of candidates to write the 2016 NSC examinations;
  • Western Cape achieved 85.9%, improving from 84.7% in 2015, an improvement of 1.2%;

Again, even with progressed learners included, the top performing province for 2016 is Free State, which achieved 88.2%, up from 81.6% in 2015 – an improvement of 6.6%.

It must be noted that the three most rural provinces, i.e., Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, 82 902, 147 648, and 101 807 candidates, respectively wrote the 2016 NSC examinations.  This gives a combined total of 332 357 candidates contribution towards the overall national cohort of 610 178, who wrote the 2016 NSC examinations.  The total number of registered candidates in the three rural provinces represents 54.5% of total 2016 NSC national cohort who wrote the examinations.

Clearly, we must continue to pay particular attention to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo if we want to improve the overall NSC national picture.  If we don’t do this, our basic education outputs and outcomes may not improve to the extent necessary.

Overall national performance

This brings us to the 2016 NSC examination overall results.  For the past six years, we have noted that the NSC pass rate has consistently been above the 70% threshold.  The Class of 2016 must be commended for maintaining this trend.  They are the largest cohort in the history of basic education to sit for any NSC examination in the country.

With the Class of 2016 being the largest cohort the country has ever registered, a possibility existed that learner performance could drop.  But this did not happen – thanks to the dedication and commitment of teachers, governing bodies, parents, the South African society at large, the provincial education departments, and the Class of 2016 itself for rising to the challenge.

Programme Director and Compatriots, the 2016 NSC overall pass rate, with the progressed learners excluded, stands at 76.2%.  However, with the progressed learners included, the 2016 NSC overall pass rate stands at 72.5%, which represents 442 672 candidates who have passed, the second largest in history.  Well done to the Class of 2016!!!

The number of learners qualifying for admission to Bachelor studies is 162 374; the number passes with a Diploma is 179 619; the number of passes with Higher Certificates is 100 486; and the number of passes with NSC is 68.

In 2016, a total of 158 160 distinctions were achieved.  In the 12 key subjects (including Mathematics, Physical Science, Accounting, Economics, Business Studies, among others), the total number of distinctions increased to 65 154 in 2016, from 63 348 in 2015.  The number of distinctions attained specifically in the gateway subjects was as follows:

  • 6 576 distinctions in Accounting were achieved, compared to 5 820 in 2015;
  • 8 070 distinctions were achieved in Mathematics, compared to 7 791 in 2015; and
  • 7 043 distinctions were achieved in Physical Science, compared to 5 903 in 2015.

Aggregation according to gender

There were 56 926 more girls than boys who wrote the 2016 NSC examinations.  Overall, there are 237 130 girls, compared 205 542 boys, who passed the 2016 NSC examinations.  However, when translated into percentages, 74.3% boys compared to 71.1% girls passed the 2016 NSC examinations.  The number of girls, who achieved Bachelor passes and distinctions, is more than that of the boys.

Critical observations from research

Fellow South Africans, I wish to make reference to three important research reports.  The first is about the retention of learners through the schooling system; the second relates to the improved performance in Mathematics and Physical Science, particularly among black-African learners; and the third is on the shifting trends regarding meaningful contributions, schools are making towards Bachelor passes.

The first research report reveals that since the advent of democracy in 1994, more learners remain in school up to Grade 12.  In this regard, South Africa does well, relative to other middle-income countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Costa Rica and Uruguay.  Virtually all children remain in school up to the year in which they turn 15 years of age, in line with the compulsory schooling policy embodied in the South African Schools Act, 1994.

Further, by 2015, research has found that around 58% of young people were successfully completing thirteen years (including Grade R) of education, in the sense that they were completing the National Senior Certificate or an equivalent qualification from a college.  This figure becomes 56%, if one only considers the National Senior Certificate.  More interestingly, in 1995, 39% of young people, aged 25 years, had reported having completed Grade 12.

The second research report states that, at the higher levels of performance, the patterns have been encouraging, and lend support to the finding of a system that is on the rise.  For instance, in Mathematics, 33 511 learners achieved a mark of 60% or more in the 2016 examinations, following figures of 30 314 and 31 812 for 2014 and 2015, respectively.  Improvements at this level of performance are important, as these mean more learners get to qualify for mathematically-oriented programmes at university, and are hence equipped to fill critical skills gaps in the economy.

By far, most of the improvement has been amongst black-African learners.  For instance, the increase of 1 709 between 2015 and 2016 with respect to all learners achieving a mark of 60% or more in Mathematics, becomes an increase of 1 308, if one considers just black-African learners only.  These trends, thus point to a narrowing of the serious race-based inequalities in schools.

It is moreover important to note that historically black-African schools, currently account for around two-thirds of black-African learners, who achieve a mark of 60% or more in Mathematics.  Township and rural schools are making important contributions, and these are in fact, the schools which have shown the largest improvements in recently.

In Physical Science, the 2016 figures point to even larger improvements.  The number of learners (of any population group) achieving 60% or more in Physical Science, reached 28 511 in 2016, the highest figure seen since the National Senior Certificate was introduced in 2008.

The third research report shows the extent to which in the past, Bachelor passes, which tended to be concentrated in better performing schools, were sometimes used as a measure of the inequalities in the schooling system and society in general.  We however, in recent years, have observed a remarkable shift towards greater equity, though the inequalities remain unacceptably high.

In 2005 for instance, as many as 60% of Bachelor passes (or “endorsements”, as these were called at that time), came from the best performing 20% of the schooling system.  By 2015, the best performing 20% of the schooling system, was producing just 49% of the Bachelor passes.  In other words, the remaining 80% of the schooling system, accounted for a larger proportion of all learners deemed ready to enter university.  Also, university readiness had become more equitably spread by 2015.


Fellow South Africans, we will be the first to concede that despite the notable improvements in the system, we are yet to cross our own Rubicon.  We must agree that much has been achieved, but much more needs to be done in the area of efficiency and quality.  We call upon all South Africans to work together with us to move the public schooling to greater heights.

On behalf of the Class of 2016, we wish to extend a special gratitude to all our teachers, parents, the NGO sector, education researchers Corporate South Africa, and the rest of the population for their continued support in our endeavours to bring about quality basic education in our lifetime.  After all, the Governing Party has declared education as a societal matter.  Therefore, all hands must be on deck.

I thank you.

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