PRETORIA,SOUTH AFRICA — PRETORIA, South Africa -- Black students in South Africa scored the worst results ever recorded on high school graduation exams in 1990, a year in which political turmoil, violence, teacher strikes and student boycotts added to the problems of underfunding and overcrowding.
Only 36.6 percent of the 233,000 black pupils who took the exam scored a passing grade, education officials announced yesterday. The rate was 5.8 percent lower than the previous year's and drastically below the 97 percent passing rate for white pupils.
Education Minister Stoffel van der Merwe blamed political turmoil and disruptions for the poor test results.
"The candidates who succeeded in the face of the worst disruptions and boycotts in the history of education deserve our respect," he told a news conference. "It is sad that because of all the turmoil, most of our candidates were denied the opportunity of performing to their full potential."
The worst scores were recorded for pupils in Soweto township, a hotbed of political activism, while the best scores were recorded in Natal Province, where teachers did not participate in a nationwide teachers strike, he said. In Soweto, only one in four pupils passed the graduation exam. In Natal, 41.4 percent passed.
Mr. van der Merwe said 18 percent of school days were lost because of "teacher or pupil action" during the first three-quarters of the school year. Black teachers went on strike demanding better pay and working conditions, while black students boycotted classes to protest overcrowded conditions, textbook shortages and the continued existence of separate school systems for different racial groups.
Anti-apartheid organizations have demanded that the government merge the school systems for blacks, whites, Indians and mixed-race "coloreds," and they have expressed outrage at disparities in the treatment of pupils of different races.
South Africa continued to spend more money per pupil on whites than blacks in 1990, but Mr. van der Merwe said "the budget for black education has increased more than tenfold" in the past decade.
"In 1980 we had expenditures of 10-to-1 [white to black]. Last year, the rate was 3.6-to-1," Mr. van der Merwe said. He conceded the gap was "still unacceptable, but at least it shows we're putting our money where our mouths are."