The Department of Basic Education briefed the Select Committee on the 2009 National Senior Certificate examination results. The Minister of Education’s opening remarks at the release of the results on the 7th Feb 2010, was that the DBE was disappointed that almost 40% of the 610 000 learners who wrote Matric had failed. The Minister had already formulated a set of interventions to be presented to the Legislature at her Budget Speech on the 21 March 2010. Consistent with the President’s State of the Nation Speech on 11 February 2010, the Minister’s approach would promote a culture of support, assessment and accountability. DBE had the responsibility of exam credibility as well as preparing learners for their examinations. DBE’s primary objective was to create conditions for learners to succeed. The socio-cultural environment within and outside schools played a significant role. DBE aimed to ensure that school management and governance was appropriate and that teacher capability and commitment, infrastructure, learning materials and parent involvement in both homework and school affairs met the requirements. There was also new focus on the quality of Grade R teaching. The President stated in the State of the Nation Address that his Cabinet would sign performance agreements with the DBE and NGOs. A new Organogram would ensure accountability and give support throughout the Provinces.
DBE wished to scrutinize the reasons why Quintile 5 schools performed less well than Quintile 1 schools and provide a relevant intervention strategy for remediation.
DBE’s convergent approach with UMALUSI reflected a maturing system amidst rapid growth and change. UMALUSl’s analysis of results revealed the important challenges areas, especially with regard to teacher development and supply in the poorer areas.
In general, UMALUSI was pleased with the manner in which the 2009 NSC exams were administered. A rigorous standardization process was used to arrive at the 2009 standardization decision. It had performed downward adjustments in 6 subjects and upward adjustments in 10 subjects.
Over the past 2 years UMALUSI had commissioned an important research project (Maintaining Standards Project) which compared the old Curriculum with the new South African National Curriculum Statement (NCS). The NCS posed a greater cognitive challenge than in the past and represented a more modern and demanding version of the previous subjects.
UMALUSI maintained that the standard of the Mathematics paper for 2009 was indeed at the correct level, despite an outcry that it had been pitched too high. More learners had registered for Maths (296 659) than for Maths Literacy (284 309) and results showed greater differentiation at the upper Maths levels, despite an overall decline in the pass rate. With the introduction of Maths and Maths Literacy, a challenge of Maths teacher quality had emerged. UMALUSI had advised DBE to offer intensive training workshops to equip teachers with the necessary expertise to cover the new Maths and Accounting syllabi.
UMALUSI believed that the Physical Science content was pitched at second or third year University level and had advised DBE accordingly.
Although there had been improved monitoring of examinations and intensified security by Provinces in the majority of centres, a major irregularity had occurred in Mpumalanga, where Maths 1 & 2, Physical Science 1 & 2 and Accounting papers were leaked.
The few serious irregularities reported were given proper investigation and resolution to ensure that the credibility of the 2009 NSC examination was maintained.
Questions posed by the Committee were around standardization of exam results, leakage of exam papers, quality of the staff appointed to mark the papers, adjustment of marks, risk management, Higher Grade and Standard Grade Maths, the Quantile system, transport problems and teacher training.
The Chairperson thanked UMALUSI for the steady manner in which it collectively executed its obligation to basic education in the past and for granting integrated validation and certification to the annual Matric exams. She also expressed appreciation to DBE for their role as custodian of education in South Africa and their continued critical role in preparing SA children for a better life. She welcomed Mr Bobby Soobrayan, the new Acting Director-General of DBE.
DBE Briefing: Towards A Sector Plan For Basic Education
Mr Nkosinathi Sishi, Chief Director of Exams, presented the Department’s report on the 2009 National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam results. The presentation was not merely to present statistical evidence on the NSC performance results of 2009, but to indicate how DBE would deal with the lessons it had learned from the experience.
The bulk of Grade 12 learners in 2009 were age 17-18 years old, and DBE would use innovative ideas to holistically imbue the Grade 10 to Grade 12 learners with attitudes and values that were entrenched in the Constitution of South Africa.
DBE was confident of the 2009 NSC results. Close examination of the statistical analysis of the results revealed that there was much work to do in the education system. The results had been scrutinized not only by UMALUSI but also by other external players who were invited to observe from SADC regions as well as internationally. Importantly, for the first time in 2 years, more than 75% of the NSC results presented to UMALUSI were raw scores, meaning that they had not been tampered with and were therefore a direct reflection of the scores of the young people.
Debate had emerged about the Matric results. In 2008 feedback was that Maths too easy, and in 2009, it was said that Maths was too difficult. The NSC Curriculum implemented in 2008 elevated South Africa to probably the only country in Africa where every learner exiting Grade 12 would have done Maths in their Curriculum. All 610 000 learners who wrote Matric wrote either Maths or Maths Literacy. This new Curriculum however posed a challenge in terms of the quality of the Maths teacher and this was reflected in the results. Physical Science and Maths were the most challenging subjects. There could be many reasons for the drop in results. Quality of teachers, lack of support to teachers and pitching of the Curriculum too high were outlined as causes. DBE took responsibility for the need to improve training of teachers and felt it was important to uphold standards and continue to benchmark internationally.
DBE was proud of its commitment to the setting of dates and times of exams as set out in admission letters to learners 18 months prior to their exam. There were a number of irregularities in exam centers, but generally the dates were adhered to. There were 114 marking centres with 35 000 teachers to mark the exam papers, 828 Chief markers and National examiners to moderated those marks. The markers were appointed based on their expertise on the subject, by the National Department and by UMALUSI.
The Minister of Education’s opening remarks at the release of the results on the 7th Feb 2010, was that the DBE was disappointed that almost 40% of the 610 000 learners who wrote Matric had failed. After 12 years, the results did indicate a problem and therefore the approach is the DG was to focus on what DBE would be doing in this regard.
The NSC was written by 30 000 more learners in 2009 compared to 2008. Of the learners who wrote exams in 2009, 334 718 learners passed their exams. 131 000 learners qualified for diploma admission and 109 000 learners qualified for bachelor admissions. In terms of figures, more learners passed and more learners obtained bachelor admissions compared to 2008. However, on a percentage basis, more learners had failed. DBE hoped that stakeholders would assist with the Department’s proposal to deal with the challenges.
KZN, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces constituted more than 60% of all Matrics in the country and problems in any of those provinces reflected significantly on the national average pass rate.
Quintile 1 schools, those challenged in terms of infrastructure, of which there were more than 196, performed well. DBE was disappointed that Quintile 5 schools, which had better infrastructure and teachers, and which were in more affluent areas and had access to electricity, telephones and water, performed less well. DBE wished to scrutinize the reasons for this and provide a relevant intervention strategy for remediation.
Mr Soobrayan said that in order to serve the country’s basic education and economic goals, DBE needed to address the inequality of education outcomes. With the exception of KZN, which increased its pass rate slightly, the Eastern Cape, which had a stable pass rate, and North West Province, which had a very small drop in pass rates, the other Provinces had fairly significant declines in pass rate. Many of those drops were represented by schools which catered for poor learners.
From an administrative point of view, DBE was functioning very well and from an oversight and quality assurance point of view, its convergent approach with UMALUSI reflected a maturing system amidst rapid growth and change. UMALUSl’s analysis of results revealed the important challenges areas, especially with regard to teacher development and supply, particularly in the poorer areas.
DBE’s primary objective was to create conditions for learners to succeed. The socio-cultural environment within and outside schools played a significant role. DBE aimed to ensure that school management and governance was appropriate and that teacher capability and commitment, infrastructure, learning materials and parent involvement in both homework and school affairs met the requirements. There was also new focus on the quality of Grade R teaching. DBE believed that in combination, these factors shared the outcome of success.
The President had in his State of the Nation Speech on 11 February 2010 identified that Basic Education was a priority. He highlighted the need for teachers to be at work on time, for quality improvements in schools, visits to schools, and learner-assessments in grade three, six and nine. The Minister had already formulated a set of interventions to be presented to the Legislature at her Budget Speech on the 21 March 2010. Consistent with the President’s approach, the Minister would promote a culture of support, assessment and accountability. In the past, a Basic Education Action Plan (BEAP) was developed in accordance with the PFMA. However, to ensure that it was a completely integrated system, BEAP would now be developed for the education sector as a whole. This would enable the President to have performance agreements with the Minister for the whole of Basic Education, including NGO’s. A new Organogram would ensure accountability and give support throughout the Provinces.
Mr W Farber (DA, Northern Cape) believed that the Quantile system should be re-evaluated and organized according to income and not according to area, as poor children who lived close to and attended the Quantile 4 or 5 schools were not receiving financial support.
On a visit to the Diamantveld High School, which had achieved 100% pass rate, the Principal told Mr. Farber that he attributed the learners’ success to their ability to read. Mr Farber also visited a school in Platfontein, where Xu and Kwe Bushmen were learning in Afrikaans and where all nine Matric students had passed Matric. He suggested to DBE that the skills of those successful graduates should be harnessed to help the other 700 school children who were battling with Afrikaans. Mr. Farber tried to visit Mier Secondary School in Kimberley but was denied access because he was a DA member. He felt strongly that for the sake of the children of the country, all party members should be permitted to be involved in improving education and requested DBE to give a response on the matter.
The Chairperson asked what mechanisms DBE was putting in place to avoid leaking of exam papers.
Mr T Mashamaite (ANC, Limpopo) asked what could be done to address the problem where teachers and students arrived late at school due to transport difficulties. He also asked if teachers had been trained according to the NSC Curriculum since it had been introduced. He was aware that some teachers would train after school for an hour but felt that this training was not necessarily equipping the teachers adequately. He asked when DBE would implement BEAP.
Mr J Gunda (ANC, Northern Cape) asked if DBE had a simple workable plan for schools which had received no funding for years. He was concerned as there was a marked difference in ability to read when comparing previously disadvantaged schools with previously advantaged schools.
Mr S Plaatjie (Cope, North West) asked if examinations were indeed standardized across the country and for an explanation of the grading of Higher and Standard Grade and what factors had led to the sudden change in the system. With regard to supply of textbooks and lesson plans, he asked if DBE took into account the geographical area, as there were differences in conceptualization of learning materials in the different areas.
Mr M De Villiers (DA, Western Cape) said that irrespective of whether students had access to a library or not, the problem of illiteracy and innumeracy would be solved when learners gained the advantageous habit of reading their school books.
Ms M Boroto (ANC, Mpumalanga) said that in many rural areas, parents who were educated were away from home during the day, and children were taken care of by grandparents or others who were illiterate and unable to assist with homework. She asked how DBE planned to assist these children. She felt strongly that training for teachers needed to be monitored closely by the Integrated Quality Monitoring System (IQMS), as some teachers in rural areas were doing courses in subjects which they were not teaching.
In answer to the questions, Mr. Soobrayan said that the Quantile system had been discussed with the Minister and was under review. The difficulty DBE was encountering was the question of how to cater for schools which had inherited good infrastructure versus those which had not and yet still not discriminate.
The key leg of DBE’s turn-around strategy was that successful education was a societal matter. This meant involvement of everyone. DBE, together with unions and parent stakeholders, had created the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QTLC), which intended to mobilize stakeholders to visit and support schools in a proactive way. Many countries had shown that visiting schools in a proactive way was beneficial to the school system. DBE was developing guidelines whereby school visits would be seen as supportive, as opposed to being disruptive.
With regard to Provinces where specific institutions had problems, DBE would engage with the Provinces to ensure that the problem was dealt with. The QTLC would be discussed at a future meeting in more detail with the Committee.
The problem with transport in rural areas was that where the population density was low, improved transport systems could not be validated. The key was to look at boarding facilities.
Indeed, they took into account the various language and geographical contexts when developing lesson plans and workbooks. Draft workbooks were tested for compatibility in classrooms and supplementary support was given to teachers where there were compatibility issues.
In addition to assistance to teachers, it was important to give assistance to illiterate caregivers at home. QTLC was designed to access people in the communities who were illiterate.
BEAP was linked to measurable targets and was not simply a policy with promises. With regard to the Sector Plan, the DBE looked forward to working hard with the Committee to ensure that the Sector Plan did indeed ensure accountability throughout the Provinces.
Mr Sishi said that Mr. Farber’s suggestion regarding the value of the Xu and Kwe graduates was profound and would be presented to the Minister. UMALUSI would address Mr. Plaatjie’s question on the standardization of the Education System.
Professor John Volmink, Chairperson of UMALUSI, said that UMALUSI, as custodian of quality assurance in education, was responsible for moderation of question papers, marking, monitoring and standardizing of the Matric exams. The NSC was a selection tool which had to have predictability, validity and reliability. He outlined the history of the standardization process, pass rate trend and growth since 1994, and the statistical, quantitative and qualitative value of the NSC (see document). Although the NCS was Nationally set by very credible teams of people and was a international benchmark, over the past 2 years UMALUSI had also commissioned an important research project (Maintaining Standards Project) which compared the old Curriculum with the new NCS (higher and standard grade) as well as the exam results of the higher grade Curriculum in the subjects of English, Geography, Life Sciences, Maths and Maths Literacy. In the past year, analysis of the Curriculum and examinations of Accounting, Business Studies, Economics and History had also been added and those results were available on the website. Findings showed that in most cases, the NCS posed a greater cognitive challenge than in the past and represented a more modern and demanding version of the previous subjects. The Maths Curriculum was somewhere between the old Higher and Standard Grade, but more towards higher grade. The pass of 50% in the NCS Mathematics was equivalent to the old higher grade pass of 40%. NSC Physical Science however was of a higher standard than the old Higher Grade.
Dr Mafu Rakometsi, CEO of UMALUSI, outlined the functions of UMALUSI and the moderation process at the various levels for the subjects after the papers had been set by either the DBE, Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) or Onafhanklike Afrikaanse Eksamenraad (OAER). By the time the exam papers were finally approved by UMALUSI, they had been checked and approved by a number of internal moderators as to whether they were set according to NCS guidelines. External moderators, who were responsible for signing off exam papers before they were sent to the respective Provinces for printing, were also monitored by UMALUSI.
Corrective remedial measures for areas of concern would be discussed between UMALUSI and DBE. Although there had been improved monitoring of exams and intensified security by Provinces in the majority of centres, a major irregularity had occurred in Mpumalanga, where Maths 1 & 2, Physical Science 1 & 2 and Accounting papers were leaked. This led to fresh papers being written country wide. Thereafter, concern was brought forward that papers had further been tampered with in Mpumalanga. This matter was vigorously investigated and based on a DBE report, UMALUSI decided on 4 Jan 2010 not to approve the release of the Matric results. Between 4 and 6 January 2010, UMALUSI did a thorough investigation of the standard deviations and means of 2008 and 2009 Mpumalanga exam results and concluded that there was no indication of infringement. The results were released together with results for the rest of the country on 7 January 2010.
UMALUSI believed that the DBE needed to give attention to School Basis Assessment Tasks (SBAT) as they focused very much on assessing the lower cognitive skills. Educators lacked creativity in developing suitable tasks on all cognitive levels.
Subjects which were not Gateway subjects required more attention. Improper translation from English into Afrikaans disadvantaged learners, and irregular marking and totaling of marks was also of concern. All Provinces had exam assistants who were responsible for checking that the correct marks were displayed on the cover page.
The standard of the Maths paper for 2009 was indeed at the correct level. However teaching and learning had to be improved to meet the required standard. UMALUSI believed that the Physical Science content was pitched at second or third year University level and had advised DBE accordingly. Another concern was that Accounting in the old Curriculum had not included Auditing and Financial Management. UMALUSI advised DBE to offer intensive training workshops to equip teachers with the necessary expertise to cover the new scope of the Accounting syllabus.
UMALUSI used a rigorous standardization process to arrive at the 2009 standardization decision. It had performed downward adjustments in 6 subjects and upward adjustments in 10 subjects. (see document)
In general, UMALUSI was pleased with the manner in which the 2009 NSC examinations were administered.
Mr Farber said that he was concerned about the quality of the markers themselves. Where marking was irregular, there were large differences in the marks achieved. He also asked for more clarity on the standard of the 2009 Maths paper. He suggested that more students be encouraged to take Maths Literacy rather than achieve 25% in Maths, as only the top 20% of Maths students were inclined to want to become Accountants. He also asked for clarity on how to ascertain the level of Matric as there appeared to be many levels of Matric qualifications.
Ms B Mncube (ANC, Gauteng) said that 30-60% of schools did not offer Maths after Grade 9. It was known that foreign teachers, who tended to be temporarily employed, had a high standard of Maths and Science teaching. She asked DBE what could be done to educate teachers adequately. Learners could not be blamed for lack of achievement when exam questions contained information which learners had not been exposed to. UMALUSI’s findings talked to markers and monitors but not to the people who were setting the papers. The upward adjustments, in her opinion, were evidence that the standard was too high for the students.
Ms Boroto asked why it was necessary to adjust marks if UMALUSI had checked that the question papers were of acceptable standards. She asked what was being done to ensure that teachers had been thoroughly trained so that the standard of papers could be upheld. She also asked if administrative and IT systems would be able to prevent future ‘collapse of examinations’ as had happened in Mpumalanga and if there was a risk management plan to ensure integrity of examinations. She commended DBE’s introduction of Life Orientation which helped students with life skills.
Mr Plaatjie again asked why the Higher and Standard Grade had been done away with. He said he struggled to explain to the ordinary person on the street what was wrong with the old system.
He also asked if DBE and UMALUSI could complement each other more closely even though they were completely different frameworks.
Mr De Villiers said that in the past, not all teachers were required to teach Maths and Science. Now that all learners had to write exams on it, he asked what was being done to equip the teachers with knowledge of these subjects. He also asked what steps UMALUSI had put in place to ensure better safe keeping of exam papers in the future and said that he was uncomfortable with downward adjustment of marks given that a paper was supposed to be set at the standard of the learners.
Ms Rantho (ANC, Eastern Cape) questioned the authenticity and accuracy of results in the Provinces as not all centres had been monitored adequately and there had been no preparation given to the markers before going to marking centres. Some of them were not even fluent with the content. She also suggested that DBE should introduce mandatory Career Guidance for learners from Grade 10 level.
In response to the questions, Mr Rakometsi said that all bodies which conducted exams had to do so in accordance with the NCS. UMALUSI performed the same quality assurance treatment to bodies across the board. Employers and higher institutions would not distinguish if a NSC had been set by IED, OAER, or DBE.
Regarding marking, Senior and Chief markers sampled scripts to check for problems. There was unfortunately very little that could be done owing to the element of human error. UMALUSI took action where examiners, internal and external moderators did not comply with the NCS. However, it could not guarantee examination readiness where in isolated cases, staff members had ‘evil plans’ in mind.
After UMALUSI had quality-assured a Curriculum it was then approved by the Ministry of Education. UMALUSI gave advice to DBE where gaps were picked up. It could not assure safe-keeping of the exam papers.
Standardization was important to ensure consistency in the NSC qualification. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 for example, levels had to be comparable. The method used in South Africa by UMALUSI was in accordance with international standards.
Professor Volmink said that the 2008 Maths assessment guidelines had not been adhered to correctly, but in 2009, the examination was correctly administered. The difference between Maths and Maths Literacy was not a difference in degree but in kind. Maths Literacy was designed to accommodate those who had not done Maths previously in their schools. The new system had resulted in a doubling of the number of students passing Maths at the 50% level. DBE was looking into core and extended Maths subjects.
DBE was aware that foreign teachers, especially Zimbabweans, had a good command of the language and Mathematics. There was talk of an academy for training of Maths and Science teachers but this would be a DBE matter.
In the past, Accounting was focused on financial accounts. It had now changed to include Auditing and Managerial Accounting, in which teachers had not been trained.
Professor Volmink encouraged Mr Plaatjies to read the ‘Maintaining Standards’ booklet as it discussed whether the NSC was a step forward or step back. As a Maths teacher, however, he believed that the NSC was a very progressive Curriculum and was very proud to take the SA Maths Curriculum to international conferences. The quality of teaching, however, was an issue that needed to be addressed. UMALUSI wished to extend its mandate in the future to ensure quality assurance of teaching.
Mr Sishi concluded that the briefing by the Acting DG had hinged on 3 pillars: accountability, performance management and remediation. The President had stated that his Cabinet would sign performance agreements which meant that action would be taken for incompetence. DBE would present a clear action plan and implementation of policy involved the people of the country. He felt that it was important that people understood the opportunity for transformation for themselves and their country.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
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