South Africa’s Education Gap Widens – Public Schools Record 41% Bachelor Passes Against 89% At Private Schools

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There is a significant disparity in educational outcomes between public and private schools, creating a clear economic divide.

As the results stand, only 41% of pupils in public schools that wrote the 2023 Matric examinations received bachelor passes.

This is a far cry when compared to the 89% of pupils in private schools who received a bachelor’s pass.

To attain a bachelor’s pass a Matric candidate would have to attain 40% for their home language subject and 50% for four other high-credit subjects, which excludes Life Orientation.

A bachelor’s pass allows the matriculant to apply for a degree programme at a university.

This means only 41% of pupils from public schools will be allowed to study for a degree at a university while 89% from private schools will have the same option.

Educational disparity

The glaring issue here is the significant disparity in educational outcomes between public and private schools, creating a clear economic divide in access to higher education opportunities.

This discrepancy raises concerns about the equity of the education system.

But what is the main instigator of this gap in education between public and private schools?


The African Transformation Movement has expressed that it could lie in the quality of education children in public schools receive.

“The current system, while showing improvement in pass rates, often falls short in adequately preparing students for higher education,” the political party said.

Amnesty International highlighted several issues that pupils in public schools need to deal with including crumbling infrastructure and overcrowded classrooms.

Broken and unequal

The organisation described the education system as “broken and unequal, and perpetuating poverty and inequality”.

The International Monetary Fund notes that the country still suffers from significant challenges in the quality of educational achievement by almost any international metric.

The surprising aspect is that the IMF does not believe it is a lack of funding in the country but more due to other factors.

“Money is not the main issue since South Africa’s education budget is comparable to OECD countries as a per cent of GDP and exceeds that of most peer sub-Saharan African countries in per capita terms.

“The main explanatory factors are complex and multifaceted and are associated with insufficient subject knowledge of some teachers, history, race, language, geographic location, and socio-economic status. Low educational achievement contributes to low productivity growth, and high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality,” it said.

According to the OECD, South Africa’s education system ranks 75th out of 76 mainly rich countries.

So what can be done?

The Democratic Alliance has calculated that 345,626 pupils dropped out between Grade 10 in 2021 and Grade 12 in 2023.

“The real Matric pass rate is an excellent indicator of not only Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her Department’s lack of success but also of the country’s,” it said.

It suggested that interventions like its #BackOnTrack programme to reverse learning losses for pupils and training for teachers were needed.

The University of Stellenbosch suggests six areas of recommendation for the improvement of the quality of education in South Africa.

To enhance educational progress in South Africa, the university’s Department of Economics has said that it is crucial to focus on developing the capacity within the teaching force.

This involves establishing an institutional structure that addresses teacher pay, bursary programmes, and interventions for existing teachers to attract and retain top talent.

Effective management

“Effective school management, particularly in selecting competent principals and management teams, is essential for creating an organised and conducive learning environment,” the department said.

“Strengthening relationships of accountability and support among stakeholders throughout the school system is also vital to prevent breakdowns in policy implementation due to capacity issues,” it added.

But, it said, this requires aligning interests and incentives towards the common goal of educational improvement.

Additionally, sharpening accountability through an educational assessment framework, addressing language issues, and improving the quality of Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities are key components for overall educational enhancement in South Africa, the university suggested.

The DA noted South Africa’s pupils already have to overcome severe circumstances to reach Matric.

“They deserve to have their efforts rewarded with a quality education that will ensure bright futures, not this pale imitation dished up by the government,” it concluded.2

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