While 73.9% of the 511 152 matric candidates who wrote a full set of exams last year passed, many of them are unlikely to either study further or get jobs.
Worse, more than a quarter (26.1%) of last year’s matric candidates failed, which makes their entrance into further study or employment well nigh impossible.
Of course, there are many who have done well, often despite enormous personal odds, and they should be celebrated.
But, South Africa has a huge youth unemployment problem - just under half (49.7%) of those aged 15-24, and 30.1% of those aged 25 to 34, were unemployed in 2011.
The country is hardly unique. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned of a "scarred" generation of youth who face "a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world".
It says young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and more than 75-million youth worldwide are looking for work.
At least 26.6% of last year’s matrics who wrote the state-set exams achieved marks good enough to study at university, and 17.3% are able to study at universities of technology.
Not all of them will be able to do so, because many simply do not have the funds. Of those who do get in - and higher education institutions set their own entrance requirements, often stiffer than the state-set minimums - many will not emerge qualified.
The high university dropout rate has been a talking point for years. Last year, the Human Sciences Research Council released its Student Pathways study, showing 40% of South African students dropped out of university in their first year, the main reason being financial difficulties suffered by poor black students.
The high dropout and failure rates are a major problem in a country with limited state resources, a shortage of high-level skills, and a pressing need to raise income levels among the poor. Also, student debt is crippling higher education institutions.
While the government’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which in the decade to 2010 provided more than R12-billion in financial aid to about 659 000 students, is a valiant attempt to ease this problem, it is spread thin because it was decided it was better to fund more students with less per student.
Even before matriculants can study further, there is the school dropout rate with which South Africa has yet to properly contend. Education rights group Equal Education points out that 12 years ago, when most of last year’s matric class began school, there were 1 130 659 pupils, according to the Department of Basic Education’s statistics. Only 512 133 (45.2%) enrolled for matric last year.
Even the attempt to offer another path in the "vocational" matric certificate has been a general failure. Last year, 91 111 candidates wrote the exams for the National Senior Certificate (Vocational), a "nonacademic" matric aimed at giving access to further education and training colleges. This is just more than half the 167 055 who enrolled.