Western Cape 2020 National Senior Certificate Awards
Speech by Minister Debbie Schäfer, Minister of Education Western Cape
A lot has certainly happened over the last year! And we can see the result of that in this rather unusual format of our award ceremony this year. I know some are disappointed that they cannot be here physically, and I completely understand and empathise. I am grateful for small mercies, though, that we could at least have 100 people here instead of the 50 we were allowed a week and a half ago.
Those of you who have been at this ceremony regularly will know that I love Dr Seuss. And I found a most appropriate Dr Seuss quote when looking back over the past year: “When something bad happens, you can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
The Covid-19 pandemic certainly counts as something bad. It has wreaked havoc in so many ways. In addition, it also had the potential to destroy the academic year, as it has in many countries.
Fortunately, the majority of our Department, schools, and learners, had no intention of giving up without a fight. It is through their incredible effort that we managed to do as much as we did, especially for our Matrics.
Yes, our pass rate did decrease this year – and we fully expected this given what a disrupted year we had – yet this was the smallest decline seen by any province in the country, demonstrating our ability to limit the fallout from the pandemic. And despite the challenges, we still saw some wonderful improvement in areas. I am very proud of that, and believe we all should be.
Our bachelor’s pass rate – one of the indicators of education quality – increased this year, to the highest level yet: 43.8% of our candidates met the minimum standard for university admission. In fact, all of the learners who passed in the Western Cape achieved either a bachelors, diploma, or higher certificate pass, meaning that every one of them has access to some form of higher education.
A number of our learners received top achievers’ awards from the DBE when the national minister announced the results two weeks ago.
- Sonica Roux from Outeniqua High School achieved third place in Quintile 5 and nationally;
- Ayabukwa Nombela from Manzomthombo Secondary School placed second in Quintile 3 in the country; and
- Sonja Jamima Jonkers from Jan Kriel School received a Special Ministerial Award.
Congratulations to each of you!
Our Mathematics pass rate – another measure of quality –increased this year, as did our Mathematical Literacy pass rate. The DBE’s top two spots for Mathematics were also won by Western Cape learners this year: Daniel Alwyn Gouws from Hermanus High School achieved the top result in the subject, followed by Veren Naidoo of Rondebosch Boys’ High School. This is the second year in a row that these top two spots have gone to the Western Cape – let’s go for the hattrick Class of 2021!
I am, however, disappointed in our low participation rate in Mathematics and Physical Science, and for the decline in the Physical Science pass rate. Given our province’s excellent performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study for earlier grades, we must translate this into better results at the matric level. This is why our focus on the STEAMAC skills our province needs is so important, and we will renew our efforts on this front.
Our districts also performed well this year, with the Metro North district achieving our top result of 85.1%, and moving into the list of the top ten districts in the entire country. Congratulations to Director Wendy Horn, who took over the reigns from Mr David Millar less than a year ago, for already delivering excellent results with her hard-working team.
We welcomed two other new district directors recently: Mr Jewel Jonkers in the Eden and Central Karoo district, and Ms Landeka Diamond in the Metro East district. I look forward to seeing what they will bring in the coming year.
I also congratulate the Metro Central district for managing to increase its pass rate during a pandemic to 82.8%. This is bittersweet as we were learnt last night that District Director Sanette Nowers has passed away. I would like to ask that we stand for a moment of silence.
While we celebrate the pass rates achieved by the province and districts, we also know that there are many ways in which provinces can artificially inflate them by ‘losing’ learners who are less likely to achieve along the way. One major avenue for this has been closed, with the end of the Multiple Exam Opportunity option which saw some provinces delay more than 20% of their learners from matriculating.
Fortunately, the Western Cape is not one of these – we believe in achieving good results the hard way. I am encouraged that despite a global pandemic, our throughput rate from Grade 10 to 12 also increased this year, and remains the highest in the country. More of our learners are moving from Grade 10 to writing the matric exams within the expected two years than anywhere else in the country. Our goal will always be to ensure that more of our learners have the opportunity to write and achieve their matric qualification on time so that they can move on to higher education or employment.
As I said earlier, when concerns were initially raised about a novel virus that might arrive on our shores, we could not have imagined the havoc that it would wreak on our education system. And as weeks turned into months of schools being closed, things were looking increasingly bleak for our children. Various ‘experts’ decided that schools should stay closed for longer, and there were some who called for the scrapping of the academic year entirely!
Our intrepid SG Brian Schreuder, summoned his resolve and all his years of experience in education, and firmly maintained that we would re-open schools and we would complete the academic year. We faced strong opposition on almost every decision taken, but they were the right decisions, and took great courage and leadership to make them.
SG, no matter what some people say about people over a certain age, you have worked harder and longer hours than many half your age.
A huge congratulations must go to the whole WCED team for getting through the last year as well as we did, whilst keeping our schools safe. Our children and our province will thank you for it in years to come.
I offer a special thanks to our Curriculum and eLearning officials for how they have handled the challenges of this pandemic. You have gone above and beyond what we could have expected in terms of making content accessible and easy to follow for learners and parents during lockdown and beyond. Our ePortal is a national treasure, and supports learners from other provinces as well! And as we catch up the curriculum to ensure our future matric classes are prepared for Grade 12, you had 29 000 teachers connected to online sessions recently as you worked through the adjusted Term 1 teaching plans. These are world class interventions that I am proud to say are being driven by the WCED.
And while we are onto acknowledgements, I have three special awards of my own today. I know this is going to completely freak out the team, because they don’t know about it!
But it is important, today, to acknowledge the contribution of three of our senior staff to the WCED as a whole, and to the NSC exams in particular. All three are retiring this year, and will leave a huge gap in the department.
The first is Ms Tina Singh. Tina is one of the main reasons our matric exams run like clockwork each year, on time, and with no leaks in our province. I don’t think anyone can actually imagine the amount of work that goes into this process. She, like the other two recipients, has not had a December holiday for more years than they care to remember. And poor Tina couldn’t even have hers mid-year last year, as her plans were scuppered by the coronavirus. Tina, thank you for all you have done for the WCED. We will certainly miss your diligence, and your calm professionalism. Please will you come and collect a special award so for once you can be a recipient for work well done. She has served the WCED for 14 years, and the public service for 40!
We also say farewell to Dr Peter Beets this year, who has served the WCED for 6 years, bringing his expertise from the University of Stellenbosch. Dr Beets has led a team of curriculum and assessment officials that has done incredible work this year and every year. Your expertise, dedication and kindness will be sorely missed. I wish you a happy, healthy retirement with your family.
And then we have our SG, Brian Schreuder, who is leaving with 46 years of service to the WCED, 20 of those being involved with the NSC exams.
SG, I will miss your constant support, kind humour, wealth of experience and above all, deep passion for quality education. At this event I will especially miss the special pen for signing certificates and the instructions to “be careful not to smudge”, even after I have been doing this for 6 years! Thank you for your many years of service to our schools.
I welcome his successor Mr Brent Walters – you have big shoes to fill, but you’ve already started doing that, and I look forward to working with you in the years ahead.
The work of these officials would not have translated into good results for our learners without the phenomenal teachers of the Western Cape. Our school staff set aside their own fears to return to school, because they know full well that schools are not just places where children go to learn – they are vital sources of support and safety.
While we celebrate the efforts of our staff, we are also keenly aware of those we have lost this year, in our schools, offices, and families. I offer my deepest condolences to their families, colleagues, and friends.
I am also keenly aware that the parents of our learners have had a steep learning curve this year, having to get to grips with remote learning along with their children. And when schools stayed closed while the economy re-opened, parents had to juggle work responsibilities whilst helping their children keep up with their schoolwork. The success of our matrics would not have been possible without your support.
I have a special vote of thanks for our Premier, Alan Winde. He has led from the front in all aspects regarding the Covid crisis, but especially backed our Department’s efforts to get learners back to school safely, and supported our decision to provide emergency takeaway meals to learners during the lockdown. It was the right decision, and one we could only have made with your support. Congratulations to you on ‘matriculating’ yourself, now that both of your children have their matric certificates (and doing very well to boot)!
Thank you also to our sponsors, MTN, for their support of our learners this year.
But for all the efforts of our staff and supporters, we would not have made it through without the hard work and perseverance of our learners. Matric is stressful enough at the best of times, and even more so during a pandemic. When endless extensions of the school closure were announced, our matrics could have given up hope – how could they get through the work on time?
And yet, they did not. Our matrics decided to make history not as the class whose matric year was lost because of Covid-19, but rather as the class that showed us just what it means to never give up.
I was pleased to join the matric class of Elswood High School as they received their results this year. The school, under the leadership of new Principal Mr Kiewiet, increased their pass rate by nearly 30% while increasing the number of learners writing. The school is in a tough area with serious social challenges, but the learners I met were determined not to let this hold them back. Their results show that no matter what your background is, if you really want to make it, you can.
In a short while we will announce the winners of a Ministerial Award this year. Every year, I receive nominations regarding inspirational matriculants who have faced enormous challenges, and this year is no exception. The Covid-19 pandemic makes their achievement even more remarkable. They have inspired me, and I am sure that they will inspire you too.
For those learners who did not achieve their matric, please do not give up hope. There are supplementary exams taking place in June this year, so you have the opportunity to improve on the results you received. You have until the 31st of March to register for them – please do so! And remember Churchill’s famous saying – “Success is not final, failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.”
It is likely that we will see further waves of infection and more disruptions this year. I urge our Class of 2021 to prepare for this – you need to keep up with your schoolwork and revision every single day, rather than waiting until the end of the year. The work you do right now will make the difference come November – do not take a single day of teaching and learning for granted.
But let us now celebrate the Class of 2020 and all those who helped them get there, and who did not let this pandemic define or destroy them.
Spokesperson to Minister Debbie Schäfer
Western Cape Ministry of Education