National Senior Certificate 2012 examinations and Annual National Assessments: Departmental and Umalusi briefings

Basic Education

11 February 2013
Chairperson: Ms H Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Umalusi, the Council for Quality Assurance in education, and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on the 2012 National Senior Certificate results and assurance, and the DBE also touched on the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results for 2012. Umalusi noted that it had developed a regulatory framework for quality assurance of learner achievement. There was external assessment through examinations, and internal, continuous assessment. The main challenges were overly-lenient marking, inability of learners to express themselves in English, poor performance, particularly in maths, and the fact that little effective teaching and learning was taking place. Late submission of examination papers caused concern, as did the quality of School Based Assessment (SBA).

In discussion, there was concern about inability of learners to cope with papers translated from English. It was remarked that although NSC results were good, UMALISI had nonetheless found that very little effective teaching was taking place. There were questions about competence tests for markers. Disparities in school based assessments and poor performance in key subjects received attention. There was a question about implications of upward mark adjustments for standards, and about late submission of examination papers. Members suggested that subject advisors take the lead to improve teaching. There were also questions asked about examination irregularities.

The DBE emphasised that the NSC was an exit examination of great importance. Unemployment figures were directly related to the possession of a matric certificate. NSC results were also linked to poverty, although the poor provinces like Limpopo had actually shown improvements. There was improved access to Bachelor degrees, and more 22 to 25 year olds with matric. Interventions were needed to improve teacher capacity and curriculum development. The ANA was defined as a diagnostic and accountability tool. 7.2 million learners had been assessed. Lack of generic basic skills identified was related to the inability to write. Performance at mathematics remained a challenge.

In discussion, there was concern about the access to further education with an NSC certificate. Unequal exposure to quality education was discussed. The performance of Dinaledi schools was questioned. There was serious concern about the fact that the ANA had an examination focus, with teaching of the whole child receiving less attention, and regular teaching being ignored while preparing for ANAs. Teaching numbers were skewed, with teachers were being pushed into Grade 12 teaching, at the expense of other grades. Literacy and numeracy strategies were lacking in some provinces. Members suggested that DBE needed to audit teacher and marker qualifications, that serious consequences should attach for irregularities with exams and tampering with marks during School Based Assessment. There was considerable discussion about “incubating” learners during holidays, and why this was more effective than regular teaching, yet led to learners and teachers becoming over-stretched. Members suggested the need for an Indaba about maths teaching was suggested. Disaggregated data was requested from the DBE.

Meeting report

National Senior Certificate 2012:
Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi) briefing
Dr Mafu Rakometsi, Chief Executive Officer, and Mr Vijayen Naidoo, Senior manager, Umalusi, delivered the briefing on the National Senior Certificate (NSC) 2012. By way of background, they noted that Umalusi was charged with developing a regulatory framework for quality assurance of learner achievement. Its work was informed by deep research. The framework consisted of external assessment through examinations, and internal, continuous assessment. Moderation of internal assessment pointed to teacher subject knowledge often being inadequate. Marking was often too lenient. Ability of students to express themselves in English was an important determining factor in their success. There was extremely poor performance in subjects like maths in the 2012 examinations. Evidence suggested that very little effective teaching and learning was taking place. Vacant posts and the use of contract staff was a major concern for monitoring. Marking was generally accurate, but there were problems with marking extended writing and essays. The Council could adjust raw marks.

Non-adherence to timeframes for submitting question papers had to be addressed. Low levels of performance in key subjects had to be addressed. The quality of School Based Assessment (SBA) continued to be a concern. In general, however, Umalusi was pleased with the manner in which the 2012 NSC examination was administered.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) referred to complaints about language policy. It seemed that papers were first set in English and then translated into other languages. The people who set the papers were not African language speakers.

Dr Rakometsi replied that external moderators were employed, who were subject or language specialists. Names could be confusing. He cited the example of a language specialist who specialised in Sotho languages, although his own first language was Zulu.

Mr Naidoo added that there was a common instrument to moderate languages.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that the findings of internal assessment seemed to be telling another story on the National Senior Certificate results. He asked if the results now given were a true reflection of the position. He also was concerned with the statement to the -effect that evidence suggested little effective teaching and learning, particularly when considered with the other statement that the results provided a true reflection of the position. The question was whether the end product could be reconciled with quality teaching.

Dr Rakometsi responded that it was not right that learners should benefit more from supplementary teaching, like autumn schools, than they did during regular school hours. Teachers were not doing their part during regular teaching hours. Umalusi did not get involved in debates about whether it could impose systems, when it came to marking competency. Labour relations and unions were involved.

Mr Booby Soobrayan, Director General, DBE, added that it was unfair to say that no teaching was being done at all. Problems would be identified and dealt with. Teaching was improving, although it was not yet satisfactory.

Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Chairperson, Umalusi, added that teachers could only teach what they knew. Many of them had not been taught well themselves. There was a weakness in content knowledge. Teachers had to be unshackled from hopelessness and blame. They were not sufficiently exposed to content. Teachers could not be re-made, but they could be better equipped. Everyone who had a good education could remember an exiting and inspiring teacher. It would not do to merely condemn teachers; solutions must be found.

Mr Mpontshane asked why competence tests for markers had been abandoned at the last moment, and what the response of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to that had been.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked about Umalusi’s involvement in a Ministerial Commission of Inquiry. It seemed that the Minister was concerned about standards.

Mr Soobrayan noted that it was not a Commission of Inquiry, but a Ministerial Committee. Commissions of Inquiry were set up by the President. The Minister wanted independent experts on a Committee. There was concern, for instance, about the move between maths and maths literacy.

Dr Rakometsi replied that Umalusi was involved with briefing on a continuous basis.

Ms Lovemore asked if Umalusi had the power to enforce competency tests for markers.

Ms Lovemore remarked that there were massive disparities in school based assessment. The annexure to the presentation had pointed to poor performance in key subjects. She asked if the NSC would not be compromised by that.

Mr Soobrayan responded that there were problems with internal assessment in each province. If schools did not know what to do, the Department helped them, through the districts. The DBE could not intervene directly in schools.

Ms Lovemore asked why the failure rate was not higher. Standards could be compromised if raw marks were moved upward. She asked about reasons for the poor quality of school based assessment.

Mr D Smiles (DA) referred to delays with submission of examination papers, and how that affected Umalusi. He said that timeous submission of papers had to be at least a minimum standard. He asked if the DBE were listening to Umalusi about the issues, and what their powers were in this instance. When papers were submitted late, it showed that there was a more general problem. In this year, papers had been submitted late and were of poor quality. There had been no improvement over the previous year.

Dr Rakometsi answered that the DBE’s Director General had been involved in interventions around late submissions. Disclaimers would be issued in future.

Mr Smiles agreed with Mr Mpontshane’s concerns around the evidence indicating that little teaching was taking place. South Africans were not happy with returns on investment in education, which amounted to some R200 billion. Umalusi had stated that there was progress, but its own report contradicted that statement. That point in the annexure was in fact being hidden.

Mr Smiles stated that the DBE was failing in its duty to provide internal assessment. Someone had to be held accountable, and he suggested that it was high time that someone admitted failure, and agreed to be removed.

Ms N Gina (ANC) remarked that education was not yet where it had to be, but there had been change, nonetheless. There were commentators on education who were not familiar with the sufferings of the disadvantaged, and hence were not able to recognise and admit change.

Mr Soobrayan replied that since 1994, more information had been put out. However, that information was used to discredit the education system.

Ms Gina suggested that the comparison between current and past NSC results be presented in a simplified form. A definition was needed on what was meant by “improvement”. It was a higher order problem for assessments. She asked about interventions that were intended. Subject advisors had to lead. There had to be oversight of subjects and advice given about weak links. The subject advisory unit did not contribute enough.

Dr Rakometsi replied that the poor quality of SBA could be due to poor training in assessment or leniency on the part of teachers. The DBE could train teachers in assessment for SBA. There had to be checks and balances for SBA. He agreed that pass requirements had to be simplified to be understood.

Ms Gina pointed out that competency tests for markers assumed different forms from one setting to another. She asked about the lack of uniformity.

Mr Soobrayan answered that competency assessment for markers was a matter of determining who was best placed to mark certain questions. It worked better for establishing a common competency assessment.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked about examination irregularities.

Dr Rakometsi responded that there were clear protocols. A major problem was highlighted in reports from centres to provincial level. There had been leakages of papers, the use of crib notes by candidates, and wrong papers opened at the wrong time. These reports had been scrutinised and sent to Umalusi, who would take a position.

Ms Lovemore asked for an answer to her question about poor performance in subjects, referred to in the annexure.

Prof Mabizela responded that Umalusi should withdraw the statement about adjusting marks upwards. There had been much debate about minimum promotion requirements. Learners had to pass three subjects at 30%, and three subjects at 40%. However, less than one in a thousand of learners only met the basic minimum requirement. Under the old NSC system, learners passed with an aggregate mark. It had been possible to obtain only 10% for a subject, and still pass on aggregate. It was an eye opener to look at the pass requirements of countries like Britain or Australia, yet it would not do to remain content with the 30% and 40% requirements. The irony was that NSC matters related to the back end of the schooling cycle. There had to be more investment in Early Child Development at the front end of the cycle.

National Senior Certificate Examinations (NSC) for 2012, and the Annual National Assessment (ANA): DBE briefing
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director General, Department of Basic Education, agreed that there had to be focus on the entire education system, including the front end. The NSC merely represented the back end of the system. It had been resolved, in 2009, to take Annual National Assessments (ANA)  through the system. 7.2 million learners to date had been assessed through ANA. The NSC was an exit examination of great importance. Labour market statistics showed that unemployment was directly related to grade 12 qualifications. It would not do to obsess over the fact that the pass rate had moved up to 73.9%. Results were also linked to poverty levels, but poor provinces like Limpopo had improved. Access to Bachelors degrees had improved. The media reports were being misleading about school dropout. There were currently many more 22 to 25 year olds who had matric. There was huge progress in the poor provinces.

Mr Soobrayan continued that interventions had to be engineered to improve teacher capacity. Curriculum development had to receive attention. A Ministerial Committee would address the challenges of maths teaching. School Based Assessment (SBA) had to be life oriented.

Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director, Department of Basic Education, stated that ANA was an early detection system, as well as being a diagnostic and accountability tool. Grades where ANA had been utilised had improved. South Africa had created international history by assessing 7.2 million students through the system. There had been impact intervention that improved the quality of maths teaching, except for Grades 6 and 9. There was qualitative analysis of learner performance. Challenges related to generic basic skills included lack of ability to write. It was imperative that learners read more. Challenges with maths teaching and performance persisted…

Mr C Moni (ANC) said that parents had accepted bad education and bad working conditions, because they hoped that it would be better for their children. A child who had obtained 30% for mathematics would not be accepted to study medicine. The question arose why children were being sent to school at all. There were elements of inequality in teaching. Children everywhere had to be equally exposed to quality teaching, and the current disparities in education would have to be addressed.

Mr Soobrayan responded that improved access to university was a general concern among South Africans. People were indeed asking about the value of education. There had to be also a focus on proper vocational training.

Mr Makhubele referred to the inability of learners to respond in English. There had been policy directives before so he wondered what had changed.

Mr Soobrayan answered that languages were a big issue. There was a problem with explaining concepts in physical sciences in other languages.

Mr Makhubele asked about the performance of Dinaledi schools. They had not performed as well as expected. Unions were making assessments impossible. Work could not be done because unions had grievances.

Mr Soobrayan replied that performance was up in Dinaledi schools, but the focus and investment in them had not yet been fully justified.

Mr Makhubele suggested that performance per subject should be looked at in schools.

Mr Mpontshane noted with regard to the ANA, that there had been a move away from teaching the whole child, because of too much concern with the NSC exam. He agreed with earlier comments that teachers could only teach what they knew, and this was a problem.

Mr Mpontshane also advised that the DBE should do an audit on markers. Some provinces had audited their own teacher qualifications, and it was found that there were teachers who were in fact not qualified to teach the subjects that they were handling.

Mr Soobrayan replied that there would be an audit across the provinces to assess teacher competence. Performance management was critical to the process.

Mr Mpontshane remarked that NSC results differed widely between the provinces. Interventions were required, not just performance development. He had visited schools in the Eastern Cape, where there were teacher shortages, because all the teachers had been pushed into grade 12 teaching. He agreed with Dr Rakometsi that learners were being pushed through the systems, without necessarily being properly prepared. He noted that there had to be systematic interventions, not just “putting out fires”.

Mr Soobrayan replied that post provisioning had to be looked at, and it had already been decided that this would be done in 2013.

Mr Mpontshane referred to the ANA results as presented by Dr Poliah. To say that a child was numerate or literate if that child had obtained 50% was not acceptable. He had been told that there was a literacy and numeracy strategy, but in the Eastern Cape there was practically no awareness of it. Schools did not know their own ANA results. The regular teaching was brought to a halt, to prepare for ANA, yet the schools did not know how to utilise the results.

Mr Soobrayan replied that schools were indeed slowed down for ANA, but the system had to be instituted in some form. It would possibly take another form within the following three years. The ANA system had only run since 2011/12 and improvements could not be seen as yet. ANA had to link up with other interventions. The Minister had taken steps towards a literacy and numeracy strategy. Provinces had their own strategies, and the Minister had appointed a team to look at the provinces.

Dr Poliah added that assessment was a tool, to be used circumspectly by the developmental state. Examination could improve performance. Tests had to be constructed that were synonymous with the curriculum. 50% was not a magical figure, it was to be viewed as a guide only.

Mr Smiles referred to accountability. The Auditor-General had made the point, elsewhere, that failure on one level implied failing on all. He asked what would happen if there was tampering with results during school based assessment. When dishonesty was allowed it amounted to moral cowardice. There had to be consequences.

Mr Soobrayan replied that accountability had to be strengthened in that area. Principals were not holding teachers to account. There had to be performance agreements, accountability and support. Tampering was an offence for which people could be charged. The principle had to be that if a person did not act as required, action would be taken.

Mr Smiles remarked that maths and literacy problems could be related. If the child did not know the meaning of “calculate” s/he would be unable to do the sum.

Ms Gina remarked that it was commonly seen in the provinces that there was pressure for matric results. Schools had turnaround strategies designed to “incubate” learners. Schools would continue during the holidays, all day long, and some learners and teachers were sleeping at the schools. There were complaints that teachers and learners were tired by the time it came to examinations. She thought that a full indaba was needed about maths challenges. The question was how best to bring resources together.

Prof Mabizela responded that the problem with incubation strategies was that a philosophy of teaching, or epistemology, was lacking. He referred to a recent article in the Mail and Guardian where a young woman asked the question: “How could I have failed university?” The article and responses to it were worth taking seriously.

Mr Soobrayan added that it had to be established whether incubation was indeed in the interests of the community.

Ms Gina agreed with Ms Lovemore that there was little use in having the ANA when schools could not interpret the findings.

The Chairperson remarked that there was a need for disaggregated data, to identify problem areas. She asked if it was known what led to maths dropout. There were problems at the Grade 10 level, and she wanted more specifics of what was wrong there. The possibility of creating a two-stream academic or vocational system had to be considered. She felt that incubation had to be considered as an option.

Mr Soobrayan replied that there was not a thorough enough assessment at the Grade 9 level. Disaggregated data would be supplied, and schools had access to that as well.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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