The central government has acknowledged that “the quality of school education for black people is poor” across the country.
Turning that around has been listed as one of nine key challenges on the path to overhauling the economy.
Experts say the government will have to overcome years of underinvestment in black education under apartheid.
But 20 years after the end of white rule, progress remains slow, and many say the ruling African National Congress’ unwillingness to take on allies in the teaching unions is part of the problem.
So too is the vicious circle of poor education leading to poorly qualified teachers.
But undeterred by her school’s dismal pass rate, Desiree Mathekga is determined to go to university next year and study for a commerce degree.
These children had nowhere else to go, letting them go would only have served to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, he said. Without education they are nothing.
She wants to become an accountant.
“I want to make my school and village proud,” said the petite 17-year-old.
Her school principal wants to make sure she has all the opportunities to do so.
He has decided to do away with the national norm of preventing failing pupils from repeating exams, giving them a second chance.
“These children had nowhere else to go, letting them go would only have served to perpetuate a cycle of poverty,” he said. “Without education they are nothing.”