The matric pass rate has dropped by 1,7percent this year to 66,6percent from last year's 68,3percent, Education Minister Naledi Pandor announced yesterday.
This is the third year in a row that the pass rate has dropped.
In 2004 the pass rate was 70,7percent, down from 73,3percent in 2003.
Pandor told journalists and education officials in parliament's media centre yesterday that she was not happy with the results and urged parents and teachers to work harder with their children.
A total of 528525 students wrote the exams, more than 20000 more than last year. The number of students who passed increased from 347184 last year to 351503. This is the first time that the country has set national papers for all provinces for 11 subjects.
Education director general Duncan Hindle in a briefing earlier said the class of 2006 are the "born-frees" - the first students who began high school after the 1994 first democratic elections, but said papers set were of a higher standard than before.
Fewer students also passed well enough to qualify for university entrance than last year. University entrants numbered 85830, down from last year's 86531.
The number of students passing with distinctions also dropped to 8294 from 9339 last year. The number of merit passes have also dropped to 40148 from 40 952 last year.
Passes in mathematics dropped to 25 217 from 26 383 last year; and physical science passes also declined to 29781 from 29 965 last year.
The four provinces that showed a pass improvement are Eastern Cape at 56,7 percent last year up to 59,3 percent this year; Gauteng, 74 percent to 78,3 percent; North West, 63 percent to 67 percent; and Mpumalanga, 58,6 percent to 65,3 percent. But there was a drop in five provinces - KwaZulu Natal from 70,5 percent down to 65,7percent; Free State, 77,8percent down to 72,2percent; Limpopo, 64,9 percent down to 55,7percent; Northern Cape, 78,9percent down to 76,8percent and the Western Cape, 84,4 percent down to 83,7percent. But the Western Cape again emerged as the province with the highest pass rate.
Pandor said it appears that many provinces were not using their budgets effectively.
She said it was no excuse that the exam papers were of a higher standard because schools were operating without materials or an adequate number of qualified teachers.
She said that her department would not announce the matric results in 2008 to allow Umalusi, the assessment body, to take over this function.
Pandor said she would not step down from her post when asked whether she would do the "honourable thing and resign".
"Who said resigning was honourable?" said a flustered Pandor, to laughter from her officials.
"I think the honourable thing would be to ensure success is achieved. In my belief, the real challenge is to ensure you succeed."