2011 National Senior Certificate Examination - state of readiness: briefing by Department of Basic Education

Basic Education

12 September 2011
Chairperson: Ms M Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) explained the 2011 candidates had been registered and the data was stored on the National Computer Examination System which monitored and controlled data across the nine provinces. Enhancements to the system would be completed by September 2011.

DBE was concerned about the decline in NSC full-time enrollments and increase in part-time enrollments. The increase in part-time enrolments was attributed to learners returning to write the examination after failing the NSC the previous year and that in 2000 the admission age for school changed from six years of age to seven years of age in 2000 resulting in fewer full-time enrollments in 2011. However, the phenomenon could not be fully explained and results of further investigation would be reported back to the Committee.

Where Examination Centres had not met the required criteria, they had been deregistered and where the integrity of a centre was in question, a chief invigilator or resident monitor was appointed to take care of the examinations at the centre. Question papers would be moderated by Umalusi and finalised by 19 September 2011. Where examination panels were not up to standard, they had been re-constituted. Pre-testing of question papers was a 2011 initiative which involved independent teachers writing the NSC exam and then offering feedback.

DBE was committed to reducing the number of distribution points across the provinces over the following two years so as to reduce the safety risk of leaked question papers. Currently Limpopo had 61 distribution centres. The Northern Cape had reduced their distribution points from 123 to 42. Papers would be distributed to the examination centres on the morning of the exam, except in the Western Cape, where they were stored at schools. DBE had requested that these papers rather be stored in districts and distributed to schools on a daily basis by 2012.
The Western Cape’s practice of utilising private invigilators had ended in 2011.

Since 2011, DBE had introduced norms and monitoring of answer scripts across provinces. They had to be sealed before leaving the school and transit times for papers were closely monitored.

Markers were appointed based on Personnel Administration Measures (PAM) and a competency test was being tabled at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) for implementation in 2012. The Western Cape had taken up the initiative of implementing this competency test in 2011 and this would be implemented throughout the country in 2012. DBE would appoint internal and external moderators for each subject at each marking centre.

The Umalusi report had described all the 2010 assessments and the NSC examination administration as being markedly improved. The provincial and national departments continued to review, plan and improve the system on an annual basis. Processing and release of 2011 results would be thoroughly checked by DBE, the provincial education departments and Umalusi from 26 to 30 December and results would be released on 5 January 2011. Analysis of feedback on the 2011 NSC from each school would be used to improve the system going forward. The 2011 certificates were scheduled to be released to candidates by the end of May 2012.

Members were concerned about the competency of teachers, the qualification criteria for and competency of markers; and the number of marking centres. They felt that the practice of distribution of papers should be standardised across all provinces. They asked how DBE would address these issues. They also asked for a detailed report on the drop out rate from full-time to part-time study since 2000. They asked how DBE assisted part-time learners to meet the requirements of the NSC and Senior Certificate; if the 4:1:4 model for monitoring of provinces correlated with the drop-out rate; and if DBE’s goal was for all provinces to be monitored equally.

Members were concerned about the failure of the education system to empower citizens in mathematics and literacy, and the number of learners graduating from high school with mathematics and sciences. Finally members asked if the response time to deal with issues between schools, provinces, districts and DBE had improved; if the number of question papers sent to schools was monitored; and why there was an expectation that there would be more question papers than answer scripts. They asked for a report on the relationship between NSC registration and results, access and delivery of quality education and the Annual Performance Plan for 2012.

Meeting report

Dr S (Paddy) Padayachee, DBE Acting Deputy Director General: Planning, said that Dr Rufus Poliah had been appointed Chief Director: National Examinations and Assessment on 1 September 2011.

Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Examinations and Assessment said that there were 40 days until the commencement of the NSC formal written examinations on the 24 October 2011. Practical subjects would commence on 17 October 2011.

The Umalusi report had described all the 2010 assessments and the NSC examination administration as being markedly improved. The provincial and national departments continued to review, plan and improve the system on an annual basis.

With the commencement of the NSC in 2008, the National Examination Computer System was implemented and the data could now be monitored and controlled across the nine provinces. The 2011 candidates had been registered on this system and examination preparation could be monitored 18 months prior to the NSC examination. The system was maintained and supported by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). All enhancements of the computer system would be completed by 30 September 2011.

In August 2011, DBE had appointed 67 moderators to ensure compliance of School Based Assessment (SBA) according to Umalusi standards. They would conduct follow-up moderation in October 2011.

The mandate of examination units in the provinces had been extended from the Senior Certificate exam to the NSC, the Senior Certificate (SC) in June, Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) and Common Tests (Grade 10, 11 & 12).

The differentiated approach for monitoring of provinces consisted of a 4:1:4 model, with the four better-performing provinces differentiated from the four provinces which were not up to standard with assessments. Mpumalanga province had been fully supported by DBE and continued to receive special support.

The scope and size of the 2011 Exams and the number of NSC full-time and part-time enrolments (2008-2011) was listed (see document). The total number of NSC candidates enrolled for 2011 had decreased by 21 735 candidates since 2010. The number of part-time enrolments was 108 237 in 2011 compared to 82 835 in 2010, 39 351 in 2009 and 1116 in 2008. The number of full-time enrolments had decreased from 588 643 in 2008 to 512 029 in 2011. The increase in part-time enrolments was attributed to learners returning to write the examination after failing the NSC the previous year. Another reason for the changes was that in 2000 the admission age changed from six years of age to seven years of age, thus fewer learners enrolling in grade 1 in 2000 resulting in fewer enrollments in 2011. However, the Director-General and Minister were concerned about the gradual decline in NSC full-time enrollments as well as the large drop in enrollments from grade 11 to grade 12. Grade 11 established the standard required before entering grade 12. This required further investigation and findings would be reported to the Committee at a later stage.

In Limpopo, 11 independent (or private) examination centres had not met the required criteria and had thus been deregistered. In KZN, irregularities had resulted in auditing, evaluating and reregistering all centres. In the case of doubt about the integrity of a centre, DBE appointed a chief invigilator or resident monitor to take care of the exam at that centre.

Before the 2011 question papers were set in January, DBE received comments and concerns from 2010 question papers. Where the examining panel was not up to the standard required, it had been re-constituted.

The 258 question papers had been moderated by subject specialists and would be finalised by Monday 19 September 2011, by Umalusi.

Pre-testing of question papers was a 2011 initiative which involved independent teachers writing the exams and then offering feedback. Papers were adapted for students who were blind and deaf and were currently being brailled for blind candidates. DBE monitored the printing and packing of papers closely. 

DBE was concerned about the large number of distribution centres where the papers were stored for five days prior to the exams and was committed to reducing the number of distribution points across the provinces over the following two years. Currently Limpopo had 61 distribution centres. The Northern Cape had reduced their distribution points from 123 to 42 to reduce risk. Papers would be distributed to the examination centres on the morning of the exam, except in the Western Cape, where they were stored at schools. DBE had requested that these papers rather be stored in districts and distributed to schools on a daily basis.

Since 2011, answer scripts enjoyed the same attention and security as the question papers. DBE had introduced norms and monitoring across provinces. Answered papers had to be sealed before leaving the school and transit times were closely monitored.

Marking competency was a priority in 2011. Markers were appointed based on Personnel Administration Measures (PAM) and a competency test was being tabled at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) for implementation in 2012. DBE would appoint internal and external moderators for each subject at each marking centre.

Processing and release of 2011 results would be thoroughly checked by DBE, the provincial education departments and Umalusi from 26 to 30 December and results would be released on 5 January 2011. Analysis of feedback on the 2011 NSC from each school would be used to improve the system. The 2011 certificates were scheduled to be released to candidates by the end of May 2012.

Other concerns included the application of promotion requirements in Grade 10 and 11; the rate of subject changes; and human resource capacity. All concerns would be addressed prior to the commencement of the examinations.

Discussion
Ms N Gina (ANC) asked how DBE planned to address teacher competency for marking.

Dr Poliah replied that the DBE had a number of teacher development programmes to address the deficiencies in teaching. It was a long process but there had been progress in this regard. The quality of marking could not be compromised by bringing in incompetent markers - teachers who did not have adequate language skills or knowledge to interact with responses from learners. After markers were appointed, they received specialised training and the chief markers from all provinces were taken to National Marking Guideline discussions to ensure standardisation of marking and competency. Teacher competency was a long term plan of DBE to be achieved in due time.

Mr W James (DA) said that he was aware that the Minister was committed to addressing the competency levels of markers and that the Western Cape already tested the competency of their markers. He asked what plan was in place for testing competency of markers in all the provinces.

Dr Padayachee said that marking was a focus and additional measures had been implemented for the 2011 NSC exam. The competency test would be implemented in 2012 throughout the country. The Western Cape had taken up the initiative of implementing the test in 2011.

Dr Poliah added that marking was a priority and that for every seven markers there was a senior marker who supervised the seven markers. For every seven senior markers, there was a deputy chief marker, who was supervised by the chief marker. At implementation of the NSC, DBE had requested provinces to reduce the ratio of 1:5 markers to senior markers.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked for clarification on PAM criteria for markers.

Dr Poliah replied that the criteria for markers were clearly outlined in the PAM document. (He listed the criteria.)

Ms Gina asked how DNE monitored schools which appeared to opt to register their learners as part- time candidates to get a better result for the school.

Dr Poliah replied that whether learners attending school were full- or part-time NSC candidates, the requirements were the same and they were continually assessed by SBA. The situation was being monitored closely. Part-time candidates who were registered for seven subjects were unlikely to be bona fide part-time students. There were very few cases like this and they were tracked in the system. Part-time candidates wrote their exams at a separate centre and schools were reserved for full-time learners.

Mr K Dikgobo (Alt) said that he suspected that schools pushed their poor learners to be part-time candidates. However, learners not passing during full-time teaching could not be expected to pass when learning on a part-time basis. He asked how DBE and provincial departments assisted part-time learners.

Dr Poliah agreed that this was a challenge that government had to address. Certain provinces such as North West had adult centres which provided part-time candidates with support.

Mr Dikgobo asked if the national computer system would also perform the provincial audits.

Dr Poliah replied that there was one national computer system and this was used by all provinces for data capture. Data was audited by DBE to ensure that the data complied with the requirements for registration.

Mr Dikgobo said that public perception was that it was unfair for some schools to store papers. He believed that the principal at a school should only assess the batch of papers on the morning of the exams and that DBE should take over control at all schools to ensure their safety.

Dr Poliah replied that there were certain historical practices that provinces had inherited from the previous dispensation and DBE had indicated to the Western Cape that the practice of storing papers at schools would end by 2012. The Western Cape’s practice of utilising private invigilators had ended in 2011.

Mr Makhubele asked if the drop out rate related to the 4:1:4 model.

Dr Poliah said that it would be interesting to know if the drop out rate correlated with the model and this would be investigated. Findings would be made available to the Committee.

Mr Makhubele said that leading up to the 2010 NSC examinations there had been delayed response time to challenges, particularly with regard to communication with schools. He asked if there had been improvement in this regard so that schools would not be ‘left hanging’.

Dr Poliah agreed that response time needed to be intensified. DBE received daily reports from provinces and provinces in turn received daily reports from districts. Districts were supposed to monitor and deal with schools. DBE would ensure that any inadequacies would be dealt with immediately.

Mr Makhubele asked how many question papers were given to school and if there were additional papers given to schools.

Dr Poliah replied that the number of papers was rounded to the nearest 5 in case of packing inaccuracy to ensure that there were enough copies. Additional papers were monitored and those not used had to be returned to ensure that they were not utilised in any devious manner.

Mr Makhubele asked if candidates could be shifted to a different marking centre at the eleventh hour.

Dr Poliah replied that if a private centre shifted candidates to an alternate marking centre, they would be deregistered immediately. If it happened at a public centre, it would only be done with approval from the provincial head office.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) asked if the NSC replaced the SC.

Dr Poliah replied that the NSC was part of the new curriculum but there were still a large number of candidates who had not completed all their SC qualifications. Also, there was no alternative qualification for adults currently in the system. After recommendation from Umalusi, the Minister had agreed that the SC should be extended until 2014, with the stipulation that candidates should be 21 years old or older to be able to write the SC. The NSC was the qualification which DBE wanted to promote for all school students in the country.

Ms Mushwana noted that Mpumalanga was given assistance and asked if DBE planned to monitor provinces equally.

Dr Poliah replied that Mpumalanga had made significant strides after being assisted by DBE. Competent provincial staff had been appointed and they had been allowed to run their own May/June 2011 exams. DBE continued to monitor their provincial management plan closely and the district worked closely with the provincial office. They were on track and concerns were continually been addressed. DBE had a good relationship with provinces and was in full control of what was happening in the provinces. DBE met with the Inter-provincial Examination Committee and Head of Exams every alternate month.

Ms Mushwana asked why there were 6.8million question papers and only 6.2 million answer scripts for the 2011 NSC exams.

Dr Poliah replied that the reason for the difference in papers versus scripts was because there would be candidates who would not pitch to write the exam.

Mr James commented that there were an inadequate number of mathematics and science students leaving high school and that innumeracy and illiteracy were a problem. Also, the pass rate was not what it ought to be. The alarm needed to be sounded that the school system was failing the children of South Africa.

Dr Padayachee agreed that there was a need to increase the number of mathematics and science learners passing the NSC and this was a focus in the 2025 Action Plan.

The Chairperson summarised that it would helpful for the Committee to know the guidelines used by DBE to better understand the national system as the norms and standards set by DBE were not clear to Members. She also asked DBE to make available a more comprehensive report on the drop out rate of full-time learners from 2000 to 2011 and reasons for the increase in part-time candidates. She knew of learners that were kept in Grade 11 for four years and this was unacceptable. Also, all provinces should practice the same method of distribution of exam papers and teachers should be developed and due process followed toward quality marking. She asked DBE to report back to the Committee on how the public hearings on Access and Delivery of Quality Education related to the Strategic and Annual Performance plan for 2012. Finally, she said that there were still learners in certain provinces who had not received their NSC certificates and also some markers had not yet been paid.

The meeting was adjourned.

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