Sipho Masombuka and Sapa
The first candidates for the country's new National Senior Certificate examinations achieved a 62,5 percent pass rate - 2,7 percent lower than last year's Senior Certificate.
A total of 589912 pupils sat for the 2008 NSC examinations, 28000 more than last year.
The national pass percentage for 2007 was 65,2 percent, which was 1,4 percent below the pass rate of 2006.
Delivering the matric results in Pretoria yesterday, Minister of Education Naledi Pandor said the results were based on only 533561 pupils because 56810 pupils had incomplete results because some provinces had not submitted school-based marks on time.
There were also pending investigations into irregularities.
But the number of pupils who achieved university entrance increased from 16 percent last year to 20 percent this year.
A total of 107462 candidates achieved the required pass for admission for degree studies compared to 85000 last year.
The Western Cape is leading the pack with the achievement of a 78,4 percent pass rate followed by Gauteng with 76,4 percent.
The worst performing province is the Eastern Cape which achieved a mere 50,6 percent pass rate.
It was followed by Mpumalanga at 51,6 percent.
Pandor said the National Senior Certificate and the phased-out Senior Certificate were fundamentally different.
Pandor said the Council for Quality Assurance in General Further Education and Training, Umalusi, had reported that the NSC examinations had been conducted in a manner that rendered them fair, valuable and reliable.
"They have complimented the national and provincial departments of education, and the IEB (Independent Examinations Board) and OAER (Independent Afrikaans Examination Board)," Pandor said.
But Umalusi had raised concerns about the difficulty in some papers and the low level of challenge in one of the maths papers.
It was also worried about the language skills of learners and urged the sector to attend to improving the quality and breadth of these skills.
Pandor said the 2008 candidates were the first regiment to write mathematics or mathematical literacy.
"A great deal of support was given to schools for the teaching of these gateway subjects," she said. "All of you will recall that we set a national target of 50000 passing with a mark of at least 50 percent."
She said eight out of the nine provinces met or exceeded the target, with 63038 candidates achieving a pass of 50 percent and 42323 achieving a pass of 60 percent or higher.
Pandor added that out of the 199322 pupils who failed, about 139000 require passes in only one or two subjects to pass.
"They qualify to write supplementary examinations in February/ March 2009."