Matric Results 2009 and its challenges: briefing by Department of Basic Education and UMALUSI

Basic Education

02 February 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education reported on the 2009 National Senior Certificate examination results. The national pass rate of the National Senior Certificate examinations for 2009 was 60.7 percent. This meant that there was a slight decline in the pass rate from 2008 of two percent across the country and Quality Basic Education. The examination system was stabilising as Umalusi was able to use the raw scores in the majority of subjects. Out of the 57 subjects that were standardised, 41 subjects were accepted as raw scores. Of those that were adjusted, six were adjusted downwards and 10 were adjusted upwards.

The Department acknowledged the crisis in basic education and the need to understand the challenges faced by schools. Most schools did not have the conditions required for effective attainment of learning outcomes. Other factors contributing to system failure included the socio-cultural environment within and outside the school. Past efforts had not been effective and fundamental shift was needed in how the Department intervened. There were two broad dimensions to what needed to be done. The one was a strategic intervention designed to promote effectiveness in the delivery of Basic Education in the medium, long and short term and secondly, was leveraging accelerated delivery through a focus on performance management, accountability, and remediation.

Umalusi reported on monitoring, moderation and standardisation of quality assurance processes. The organisation explained that t
he findings of the quality assurance processes were a clear indication of a maturing system that had, on the one hand, made positive strides towards improvement in certain areas of assessment and examination, but, on the other hand, still had a few challenges that need to be addressed. In general, they were pleased with the manner in which the 2009 NSC examination was administered. Umalusi acknowledged that a number of technical irregularities were reported, but these were addressed in a fitting manner. The few serious irregularities reported were given proper investigation and resolution to ensure that the credibility of the 2009 NSC examination was maintained

Members asked how the Department was proposing to balance teacher union activities and teacher professionalism. Members raised concerns about political appointments and nepotism, and why the Rapid Intervention Programme was only brought into play at the end of year. The Committee asked about readiness of the Department for the supplementary examinations. The Committee questioned the status of the Physical Science examinations as it was felt they were pitched too high. The Committee raised concern about the situation in Mpumalanga and asked what the Department was doing to assist and capacitate provinces to handle examination issues. The Committee asked how the curriculum was developed and what processes were followed for development.  The Committee expressed the hope that the irregularities seen in the report on monitoring the conduct of the examination would be remedied. The Committee asked if the possibility existed for the return of Higher Grade and Standard Grade Mathematics. The Committee questioned the translation of examination papers into other languages.

Meeting report

Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefing
Mr Nkosinathi Sishi, Chief Director of Exams, presented the Department’s report on the 2009 National Senior Certificate examination results. He reported that the examination system was
stabilising. Umalusi was able to use the raw scores in the majority of subjects. Out of the 57 subjects that were standardised, 41 subjects were accepted as raw scores. Of those that were adjusted, six were adjusted downwards and 10 were adjusted upwards. Umalusi pointed out that in none of the cases were adjustments made that exceeded the maximum adjustment allowed in either direction and most adjustments were relatively minor. The Department had seen some positive gains in the results of the class of 2009. There was an increase in the number of passes over 40% and an increased number of bachelors pass from 18% to 32%. This meant that there were a greater number of learners who would be eligible to access higher education. A positive feature of the 2009 exams had been that more learners had registered for mathematics (296 659) than for mathematical literacy (284 309). The results for mathematics also showed greater differentiation at the upper levels, despite an overall decline in the pass rate. The performances of learners in the gateway subjects of maths, physical science and accounting however remain cause for concern. The national pass rate of the National Senior Certificate examinations for 2009 was 60.7%. This meant that there was a slight decline in the pass rate from 2008 of 2% across the country (see Document).

Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Acting Director-General, DBE, discussed the Department’s Key Outcome One: Quality Basic Education document. He acknowledged the crisis in basic education and the need to understand the challenges faced by schools. Most schools did not have the conditions required for effective attainment of learning outcomes. Other factors contributing to system failure include socio-cultural environment within and outside the school. Past efforts had not been effective and fundamental shift is needed in how the Department intervened. There were two broad dimensions to what needed to be done. The one was a strategic intervention designed to promote effectiveness in the delivery of Basic Education in the medium, long and short term and secondly, leveraging accelerated delivery through a focus on performance management, accountability, and remediation (see Document).

Discussion
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked how the Department was going to balance union activities with teacher professionalism.

Mr Soobrayan replied that it would be a mistake to attempt to reign in unions. The right to join a union was an important right. The Department believed that a distinction should be made between responsible teachers and those who were reckless and irresponsible. The Department would identify and target the latter group as part of its intervention strategy.

Mr Mpontshane expressed concern about political appointments and nepotism.

Mr Soobrayan replied that the President was addressing this issue. The Department would continue to address the matter through performance management and accountability measures.

Mr H Hoosen (IFP) asked why the Rapid Intervention Programme (RIP) - intended for implementation - was only brought into play at the end of the year.

Mr Soobrayan explained that provinces were following this process as a matter of routine and implemented it as a coordinated effort. Rapid assessment after the result did not mean that nothing happened before the result. The process had not happened as optimally as it should have.

Ms N Gina (ANC) examined two issues. Firstly, she noted that the Department’s interventions made sure that teachers performed well, but did not talk to the outputs from learners. Secondly, she asked if the Department was ready to administer the supplementary examinations.

Mr Sishi said that there were timetables that were approved as per an 18 month cycle. Provinces and districts did control how these timetables were issued.

Ms Gina asked about the Physical Science examination paper, as it was noted that it was set at a high standard.

Mr Sishi replied that the Department openly accepted the curriculum development process as a challenge. The Minister of Basic Education had announced that there was a curriculum transformation process underway. There were concerns about curriculum development, but the standards of the Department were not under question with Physical Science.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) raised concerns about the monitoring of examinations in Mpumalanga, and asked how the Department planned to assist all the provinces to deal with the challenges.

Mr Soobrayan said that there were benchmarks in place to assist provinces with systems, protocols and procedures; to see that capacity was addressed at all levels.

Mr Skosana asked how the Integrated Quality Monitoring System (IQMS) was going to be monitored.

Mr Soobrayan explained that IQMS sought to improve teacher practice in the classroom, but had certain weaknesses. In order to rectify this, the Department had established the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit to integrate all issues relating to monitoring and development. He added that there were weaknesses, but the Department had independent people who visited schools and made assessments according to protocols.

Mr Skosana commented that human and physical resources were the fundamental issues that the Department should consider.

Mr Soobrayan said that it was not often only about the availability of resources, but also how the resources were used. The Department was actively working on a strategy to ensure that resources were used in a productive way.

Mr Skosana highlighted that in Mpumalanga some students had not received their results or certificates for the past few years and the Department needed to address this issue.
 
Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked for clarity about the point raised in the presentation that curriculum experts would visit schools in the future.

Mr Soobrayan explained that schools should be visited in a systematic way, and this function was the responsibility of districts. Part of the review of the curriculum had been to look very systemically at what kind of support and curriculum advisor capacity was needed to support the implementation of the curriculum in the classroom. A committee had been established with a brief to clarify job descriptions, deployment and capacity building.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked how the Department developed the curriculum or what process was used for curriculum-development.

Mr Soobrayan replied that the curriculum was developed formally in terms of the National Curriculum Statement, by experts, practitioners and government officials. The conversion into teaching materials was done by practitioners and publishers, and the advice of teachers was also sought for this process.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if the 46% fall-out figure for Grade 11, took cognisance of the option to go to Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.

Mr Soobrayan replied that the survival rate from Grade 1 to Grade 12 was 46%. This meant that 46% of those who started in Grade 1 ended up in Grade 12. The emphasis seemed to be on Grade 12 and the Department was not picking up on those going to FET colleges.

Mr D Smiles (DA) asked if the Department could be trusted with examination results and the quality thereof. He questioned whether an alternative body should not take care of examinations instead and pointed out that higher education institutions had lost faith in the Department.

Mr Soobrayan emphasised that Umalusi, which was an independent quality assurance body, was responsible for protecting the credibility of the examinations. This body was represented by credible people from higher education institutions.

Mr Smiles said that Grade R was a long term intervention, but it was not evident that there was sufficient focus to make it successful. Was the Department giving more attention to the situation regarding Grade R learners?

Mr Soobrayan said that Grade R had shown spectacular growth, especially with Early Childhood Development (ECD) being selected as a priority area. There were long and short term interventions in this regard.

Ms M Kubayi (ANC) asked if the Department had highlighted the response taken in Mpumalanga, and if the Department had not anticipated the challenges that arose there.

Mr Soobrayan responded that the situation in Mpumalanga was taken very seriously and this was evidenced by the fact that an investigation by the Hawks had been invoked to address the matter in a sustainable way.

Mr Sishi added that if officials were unable to perform tasks, there were clear steps for remedial action. However, when the problems were centred around integrity, corrective action would be taken.

Ms Kubayi said that one of the key challenges was that during preparation time prior to examinations, learners were taught by others and taken to centres out of school. To what extent was the Department involved in these preparation centres to prevent a negative impact on examinations.

Mr Sishi said that each province had co-ordinators of learner attainment strategies which were managed as teams. This process had become quite difficult to monitor. Parents and school governing bodies were also involved in this process, but closer monitoring was required.

Ms A Mda (COPE) asked what made the Department use a benchmark of 20% for those learners who had under-performed.

Mr Soobryan said that three criteria were used. For a school achieving under 20%, the President was asking why this school should not be closed. The President was also saying any school that had shown a dramatic reduction in performance should be focused on. The third criteria in the short term, were schools that had been successful and were thus attracting learners. These schools became a focus area because they could not cope with the increase in student numbers.

Ms Mda asked what the Department intended to do to prevent the replication of poor performance.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) said that it would be useful to have the documentation dealing with the Rapid Assessment Process to clarify issues.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee viewed the situation in Mpumalanga in a very serious light, as this posed a danger to the integrity of the examination system as a whole. He added that the Committee would visit Mpumalanga to assess the situation.

UMALUSI briefing
Professor John Volmink, Chairperson of UMALUSI, explained that the organisation had the responsibility to protect the credibility of examinations. This was done through three processes: moderation of examinations, monitoring of the examinations and through standardisation. Throughout this process, particular attention was focussed on issues of irregularity and dishonesty. This brief involved both technical expertise as well as qualitative input (see document).

Dr Mafu Rakometsi, CEO of UMALUSI, explained that t
he findings of the quality assurance processes were a clear indication of a maturing system that had, on the one hand, made positive strides towards improvement in certain areas of assessment and examination, but, on the other hand, still had a few challenges that need to be addressed. In general Umalusi was pleased with the manner in which the 2009 NSC examination was administered. Umalusi acknowledged that a number of technical irregularities were reported, but these were addressed in a fitting manner. The few serious irregularities reported were also afforded proper investigation and resolution to ensure that the credibility of the 2009 NSC examination was maintained (see document).

Discussion
Ms Mushwana referred to the report on monitoring the conduct of the examination and saw some irregularities in it. She expressed the hope that next year this kind of reporting would be without irregularities.

Mr Smiles asked what the level of satisfaction was for Umalusi regarding the results.

Mr Volmink said that there were three important points to consider and those were: massification, quality and access. Satisfaction was mostly expressed in terms of quality. Of all those who had passed, Umalusi would feel that quality had been attained in achieving the results.

Mr Smiles asked if Umalusi would consider bringing back Higher Grade and Standard Grade Mathematics, to allow excellent learners to excel.

Mr Volmink said that it was important to have quality Mathematics for all. In his personal capacity he could make a case for the importance of Higher Grade and Standard Grade mathematics. 

Ms Kloppers-Lourens noted that the Department had encountered some problems in the translation of examination papers and questioned whether this had been rectified.

Dr Rakometsi said that the Constitution guaranteed importance and parity to all 11 official languages. Because the language of instruction was English, all papers were in English and also translated into Afrikaans. The issue was about whether papers would be translated into all other languages.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked about the investigations into certain schools and the five schools in Limpopo.

Mr Soobrayan replied there were irregularities present in every province, and all provinces were governed by strict protocols to investigate and deal with all the cases. The provinces were required to report on these cases by the 19 February 2010.

The Chairperson asked that the Department provide a report to the Committee about these irregularities and how they were being dealt with.

Mr Skosana reiterated the issue of certificates arriving late, and asked Umalusi to improve on this.

Mr Sishei said that he could only deal with this as an investigation of specific cases. This would allow for a more thorough approach and would yield the desired result more satisfactorily.

The meeting was adjourned.

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