Annual National Assessment and NSC examinations 2013: Department Basic education briefings, READ Educational Trust briefing

Basic Education

10 September 2013
Chairperson: Ms H Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on the state of readiness of the Department and its schools, firstly for the Annual National Assessments in 2013, and secondly for the National Senior Certificate examinations for 2013.

The Annual National Assessments (ANA) were introduced three years ago with the aim of improving the quality of education. Unless the DBE was able to assess and diagnose learner problems using a national diagnostic instrument it would be unable to reach the desired outcomes for learners. Over the last two years, ANA provided learners, teachers and parents, and also districts and schools, with useful diagnostic information on areas of difficulty, which led to restructuring by the DBE of targeted remedial programmes. ANA also encouraged schools to celebrate areas of outstanding performance. Verification ANA was based on a sample of 2 163 schools nationally, across Grades 3, 6 and 9, and 450 schools for Grades 1, 2, 4 and 5. DBE noted that universal ANA marking would be done by teachers at the schools. All marking at the schools would be completed by 18 September, and centralised moderation by the Provincial Education Departments would follow, using samples of grades 3, 6 and 9 scripts. This should be finalised by end September and consolidated data would be produced. DBE was confident that the ANA would be successfully administered, assuring the Committee that all systems and processes were in place. However, it must be remembered that because this was a mammoth task, there could be some problems.

The DBE then briefed the Committee on the state of readiness for the 2013 NSC examinations. There were 707 136 candidates registered, across 6 699 examination centres, with marking being done at 118 marking centres. The highest enrolment was in KwaZulu Natal, but there was an increase in every province, and an overall increase of about 50 000 more candidates writing. All provinces reflected 10% more females than males. Trends for enrolments for mathematics and mathematical literacy had not changed, with 67% opting for Maths Literacy. Overall, however, there was increase in enrolment in all subjects, with about 5 000 more full-time enrolments for physical science.  The DBE noted that in 2014 the Department would be implementing the Curriculum Assessment Policy (CAPS) in Grade 12 for the first time, and the examinations next year would be based on CAPS. DBE was preparing for the change-over at the moment. All learners were being asked to sign a pledge, on 18 October 2013, to comply with the examination code of conduct.  New measures were put in place for script control, including electronic bar-coding. Results were due on 7 January 2014, and candidates would be given 14 days after release of those results to apply for a re-mark of check; the reduced time was to allow more time for re-marking to allow the candidates then to register on time with the institutions of higher learning.

The DBE said that although there was good progress in Grade 12 in most provinces, the ANA was not running that well, having moved from low performance. Overall, pass performance in NSC improved to 73.9% in 2012, which was ascribed to the Portfolio Committee’s stricter oversight, and the number of learners qualifiying to enter bachelor degree studies increased to 26.6%, on track for the target of 32% by 2014. Statistics were given for some provincial performance. The completion rate of schooling was 75.6%, compared to 77% in the United States, 87% in the United Kingdom and 93% in Japan.

Members asked a wide variety of questions and called for a number of status reports, including the training of markers and the possibility of enforcing proficiency tests, whether markers’ remuneration was standardised, and if it was a funded mandate, and questioned the figures for completion rate for schooling, and whether this, firstly, was based on the numbers writing matric examinations, or took into account those leaving the system earlier, and whether it took into account the imbalances created by historically disadvantaged schools. Some commented that the ANA was being over-emphasised at the expense of the usual curriculum. Members questioned the union difficulties, and asked why monitoring of curriculum coverage was causing problems, whether the curriculum was indeed being covered. They wondered whether there were steps to reduce the numbers of marking centres and to standardise them, and questioned the dates for printing, packaging and distribution, as well as the norms and standards that were applied here. Members emphasised the need for tight security. Members asked about the examination board disqualified in the last year, what DBE had done for those students, and what interventions it was making in Olifantshoek to avoid a repeat of the problems in the last year. They questioned who was being entered as “private candidates” in light of media reports that some principals entered their weaker candidates under this category to artificially inflate their pass statistics. Members questioned the DBE’s figures on re-writes, and supplementary examinations, and also questioned how it ensured reliability of data if the provinces were still allowed to operate their own systems. The particular difficulties in Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo were questioned. The DBE was asked what exactly the initiatives referred to by the Minister to address some of the problems were, and hoped this would not be artificial inflation of marks, and also questioned if reading, writing and numeracy norms had been established. The class sizes, comparisons with other countries, and improvements to come up to international standards, were also interrogated.  

The NGO READ introduced a number of learners to the Committee, who had come to demonstrate their reading skills, which were promoted through the READ Educational Trust, in the current Readathon Week. The learners were from  Wesley Practicing School in Salt River, and included students from the DRC and Zimbabwe. The concept of the Reading Boxes was explained, which grouped books, games and activities according to themes, enabling children to increase their general knowledge and reading whilst having fun, encouraged the use of interactive and imaginative games rather than television, and came in a thoroughly practical format. Members were touched to hear the learners read beautifully on an interesting range of general knowledge issues, such as democracy, air pollution, disability, and geography.

Meeting report

Department of Basic Education briefings:
Annual National Assessments for 2013: Administration and Readiness

Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: Examinations, Department of Basic Education, briefed the Committee on the Annual National Assessments (ANA) which he said would be written on the following day, after months of preparation to ensure that the system was ready to administer the assessment to almost 7.2 million learners, and preparation of learners. The Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) was confident that it had dealt with the weaknesses that emerged over the last two assessments. Dr Poliah noted that it was not possible to make an exact comparison from one year to another because of the variation in time and coverage from one year to another.

He reminded the Committee that the ANA was introduced three years ago as part of a plan to improve the quality of education. The Department recognised that unless it was able to assess and diagnose learner problems using a national diagnostic instrument, it would be unable to reach the desired outcomes for learners, in terms of the national determination. In the last two years ANA provided learners and their parents and teachers, and schools and districts, with useful diagnostic information on areas of difficulty. This information also helped the Department in the structuring of relevant and targeted remedial programmes. Schools were encouraged to celebrate outstanding performance where it was identified.

In order to ensure that ANA was credible, the DBE had, in this year, focused on administration, marking and moderation, the analysis and feedback. The Department also introduced a Verification ANA, which was administered to a select group of learners by an independent agent, and marked and processed by an independent agent. This aimed to reach an outcome that was more reliable, more valid, and had a high degree of credibility, given its independence. The Universal ANA was administered by the teachers, marked by the teachers and consolidated and processed by the Department.

In terms of comparison of performance, there had been a gradual shift from 2011 to 2012 in terms of mathematics, and a significant shift in terms of language. In relation to the test development process, the Department improved on the moderation, editing and review process and reviewed the panel to ensure that it was staffed by the best possible people. An advisory committee was comprised of subject experts, both international and internal. Two of them came from the national institution in the United States responsible for national assessment. The Advisory Committee ensured that the tests were of the required standards. Particular attention was paid to the Grade 9 mathematics test, which, in the past, had not produced the desired output. Tests were also adapted for the deaf, the partially sighted and the blind.

In total 22 884 schools would be writing ANA, of which 854 were independent schools and 22 030 public schools. There were 7.2 million registered learners. 168 special schools would also be writing ANA, being 3 independent and 164 public special schools. There was a total of 57 204 learners in special schools across the different grades from the 168 schools.

Printing, packing and distribution for five Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) was outsourced to a service provider appointed by the DBE. Four PEDs opted to take responsibility for the printing, packing and distribution. Distribution points were established in each of the PEDs, from where tests would be collected by school principals. 80 DBE Monitors would be deployed to monitor the distribution and test administration of ANA. Monitors comprised of DBE staff and Independent Monitors appointed by the DBE (retired school principals and subject advisors). Each province would also monitor the distribution and test administration, and each PED would submit a daily report to the DBE.

The marking of the ANA would be done by teachers at the schools, and should be completed by 18 September. Thereafter, there would be centralised moderation. Grades 3, 6 and 9 scripts would be sampled for centralised moderation, using between 3 to 15 scripts, per school, per grade and per subject. They would be brought to a central point and marked by markers appointed by the PED, which would compare how school level marking compared to centralised moderation. All this should be completed by 28 September 2013, and then the consolidated data in terms of Universal ANA would be produced.

The marking for the Verification ANA was based on a sample of 2163 schools nationally across Grades 3, 6 and 9, and 450 schools for Grades 1, 2, 4 and 5. This would be administered independently, processed and the report on output would be presented to the Minister.

Dr Poliah said the DBE was confident that ANA 2013 would be successfully administered, as all systems and processes were in place. However, given the mammoth size of the country and the fact that nowhere else were similar tests administered on such a scale, the DBE was anticipating and was prepared for a few minor glitches. By the end of this week, every learner in the country would have written a standardised test in language as well as mathematics. The outcome would indicate the progress being made to reach the goals of the Action Plan to 2014.

The Chairperson thanked Dr Poliah, and hoped to see an improvement compared to 2012.

State of Readiness for 2013 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations
Ms P Ogunbanjo, Director: Examinations, DBE, briefed the Committee on the state of readiness for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, due to start in 47 days. She noted that over the last six years there had been substantial improvements in administration of the examinations, although it was recognised that some areas still needed improvement.

The key components of the examination cycle that contributed to the credibility of the examination were the assessment instruments, test administration, marking and moderation, and analysis and feedback. She noted that there were 707 136 candidates registered for the 2013 examinations, of whom 576 490 were full time and 130 646 were part time candidates. They would be writing across 6 699 examination centres. The papers would be marked at 118 marking centres.

Kwazulu-Natal was the province with the highest enrolment, but all provinces showed an increase in overall enrolments between 2012 and 2013, with approximately 50 000 more candidates writing this year. All provinces reflected 10% more females than males.

The trend of enrolments for mathematics and mathematical literacy had not changed, with 67% opting for Maths Literacy. However for other subjects there was a general increase in enrolment. There were 26 000 more mathematics full time enrolments, and approximately 30 000 more full time enrolments for mathematical literacy, compared to 2012. About 5 000 more full time enrolments were seen for physical science this year than in 2012.

Ms Ogunbanjo said it was the intention of the Department was to build a national examination and assessment system. Progress was monitored through a series of meetings, including the National Assessment Examination meeting, teleconferences, and regular reporting on the provinces’ readiness. Between May and July 2013 the DBE undertook an intensive audit of examination/assessment processes and systems across all PEDs, auditing both systems and facilities in an evidence-based manner. This had identified areas of weakness and improvement plans were made. The DBE provided ongoing support and monitoring. The final state of readiness visit would be made in September. Target success indicators were used to track whether the system was working, including ensuring that high quality question papers were set and moderated, that examination centres and candidates were accurately registered on the examination computer system, and that question papers were accurately printed.

Ms Ogunbanjo reported that all candidates had been registered on the examination computer system of the DBE. Two schedules of entries had been sent to all schools to verify accuracy of registration data of all candidates. Subject changes, immigrant candidates and special concessions had been appropriately managed. The registration data was audited by the DBE. Letters of admission to the examination would be sent to schools by 13 September 2013. All enhancements on the computer system would be completed by 30 September and a dry run, in conjunction with Umalusi, would commence on that day.

She said that all independent centres were evaluated to ensure that they satisfied the criteria for registration. Centres with repeated irregularities were de-registered. In cases where there was doubt about the integrity of the centre, the examination would be administered by the PED at those centres, or be closely monitored. She noted that candidates from the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACA) were registered as private candidates.

At the moment, the PEDs were able to register learners on the IECS from Grade 10 and then transfer candidate data to Grade 11 and 12. As from 2014, that would be made compulsory for all PEDs.

Some concessions were granted to candidates with special needs, which included additional time, amanuensis, and scribe.

Question papers
Ms Ogunbanjo note that all question papers hade been set, and approved and moderated by Umalusi and handed out to provinces for printing. Papers were also adapted for the blind and the partially sighted, and brailling of the adapted papers for the blind was in progress.

The printing of mark sheets commenced on 30 August 2013;

Printing, Packing and Distribution
Provinces had commenced printing already. Six of the PEDs had excellent in-house printing facilities. Two PEDs utilised the services of the Government Printing Works for printing, and the remaining province outsourced printing to a reputable service provider. Commencement of printing was fixed to the date of 1 August 2013, as this allowed time for additional quality checks to be completed before printing commenced.

Storage facilities across all PEDs were inspected and security was improved at distribution points. All question papers would be distributed to examination centres on the morning of the examination, except in the Western Cape, which had already piloted the distribution of question papers during the SC examinations in June, and would extend that pilot in November 2013.

Writing of the examination
The writing of the examinations would commence on 28 October 2013 and conclude on 29 November 2013.

All PEDs were presently training Invigilators who supervised the writing of examinations. The principal was the Chief Invigilator. There were detailed regulations and guidelines governing the conduct of examinations and managing of irregularities.

To inculcate a sense of commitment to complying with the examination code of conduct, all learners would sign a pledge on 18 October 2013 at a Pledge Signing Ceremony.

In addition the DBE also established a collaborative forum with SAPS, Crime Intelligence and Disaster Management Services through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS). A priority committee on Education had been formed.

Script control was an area of concern and new measures were put in place. All candidates would be using bar coded labels, which meant electronic control of data and of scripts. The Department also introduced norm times for the return of scripts between the different collection points.

Marking centres were established across all PEDs, with their markers being appointed based on the set criteria, with most PEDs having added learner performance as an additional criteria. The training of markers was ongoing and specialised training sessions would be organised prior to the marking sessions. National Marking Guideline discussions would be hosted in Pretoria, for all subjects, to ensure standardisation of marking across all PEDS.

Internal moderators were to be appointed for each subject at each marking centre, and the DBE would appoint external moderators to evaluate marking at each centre. In addition, Umalusi would conduct centralised moderation of marking, while marking was in progress.

Ms Ogunbanjo noted that School Based Assessment (SBA) was ongoing a school, district and provincial level. Provincial moderation here was to be completed by 16 October 2013, and all SBA marks would be captured by 15 November 2013.

Life Orientation was one subject where the credibility of the assessment was in question. In 2012 the DBE introduced a Common Assessment Task rating of about 20% of the marks and was administered across PEDs on 4 September 2013. National Marking Guideline discussions were currently being hosted in Pretoria for Life Orientation to ensure standardisation of marking across all PEDs.

Results would be released on 7 January 2014. Candidates were usually given 21 days after the release of the results to apply for a re-mark or re-check, but in 2014 that would be reduced to 14 days in order to give sufficient time to complete the remarking and rechecking so that candidates would receive their results in time to register for higher education. If candidates were still not satisfied with the outcome, they would be allowed to view their script. If they complied with certain criteria, candidates could write a supplementary examination.

2013 certificates were scheduled to be released by end May 2014.

Future plans
Improvement initiatives for 2013 included sharing of intensive post-test analysis results with examiners and moderators. Reports from international benchmarking were shared with examiners and moderators and, where necessary, incorporated in the papers for 2013.

Ms Ogunbanjo noted that whilst the DBE was preparing for the 2013 examinations, it must be noted that in 2014 the Department would be implementing the Curriculum Assessment Policy (CAPS) in Grade 12 for the first time. In 2014, the examinations would be based on CAPS and the Department was preparing the system for that concurrently.

Ms Ogunbanjo concluded that the DBE and PEDs were ready to administer the 2013 NSC examination. The Department would vigorously pursue its agenda of building a national examination and assessment system. It recognised the strides it had made, but was not yet where it wanted to be, with a fully internationally-comparable and credible system, although there were many aspects where it was already compliant. The Department was confident that its extensive intervention programme would result in an improvement in learner performance in 2013.

State of Learner readiness for ANA and NSC exams in 2013
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Acting Deputy Director General: Curriculum, DBE, said that the DBE was well aware of what the National Planning Commission (NPC) was expecting of the Department, particularly in the areas of maths, science and technology, and that by 2013 the number of people embarking on careers in science and technology should be three times the current levels.

The Department acknowledged that it was, to some extent, running a lopsided system. The system was progressing very well in Grade 12 for the NSC, but the ANA still showed some problems, particularly because the DBE had moved from a low performance base at the beginning. He reiterated that this was the third time that the learners were sitting for their ANA. District performance in ANA and NSC varied, and intra-provincial performance was a concern. Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape did fairly well, but other provinces did well in the NSC but not in ANA.

In the GET – 2012 ANA results, Grade 9 performance in both languages and mathematics was very poor. The challenge was to focus on reading, writing and thinking critically to resolve numerical problems.

NSC overall performance improved from 60.6% in 2009 to 73.9% for 2012, which Mr Mweli maintained was a result of the Portfolio Committee’s accountability and oversight responsibilities. Those who achieved passes entitling them to proceed to bachelor degree studied increased from 19.9% in 2009, to 26.6% in 2012, which was on track for reaching the target of 32% by 2014. The results of the supplementary NSC examinations pushed up the percentage from 73.9% to 75.6%. Western Cape results dropped to 82.8% in 2012, but came back to 85.2% after supplementary examinations.

He described the gains after the 2013 supplementary examinations. These resulted in 13 349 candidates achieving their NSC. Of these, 3 267 achieved admission for diploma studies, and 1 204 for bachelors’ studies.

Mr Mweli said that the South African education system was comparable with other countries. The completion rate was 75.6%, compared to  77% in the United States, 87% in the United Kingdom and 93% in Japan.

Mr Mweli maintained that now there was increasingly more support material made available in the system. The challenge was putting the material to good use. MTG Accounting, MTG Economics, MTG Geography, and MTG Life Science were made available to every learner in Grade 12 studying those subjects.

ANA Exemplars were made available to all nine provinces during the Department’s road shows. The ANA 2012 diagnostic report and the NSC 2012 diagnostic report were shared with provinces, so that problems were identified and remedial action taken.

In addition, teachers were now more qualified than they used to be.

Mr Mweli noted that the DBE would be focusing, in the future, on the following improvements:
- Increased cognitive demands of tasks;
- Increased workbook/textbook utilisation;
- Regular utilisation of exemplars;
- Increased utilisation of support materials such as Mindset and Mind the Gap study guides;
- Heightening school-based assessment;
- Strict adherence to Time-on-Task;
- Revision through radio programmes, DVDs and newspapers, supplements, revision camps, etc.
- The use of ICT to deal with challenges on Teacher Demand and Supply in scarce subjects, as well as support programmes for learners.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) referred to the state of readiness for the NSC examinations and the training of markers, and asked for the status of the proposal that markers were to undergo proficiency tests.

Mr Padayachee responded that the Department had a plan for a competency test. It was due for gazetting, but during the public hearings process, various comments were raised, which required the Minister to consult with stakeholders. In the process of the appointment of markers and in the marking itself, teachers must complete a form of competency test, which some provinces implemented fully, others partially. The Chief Marker and the Internal Moderator were basically responsible for the marking team, to improve on the quality of the marking.

Mr Mpontshane referred to the remuneration of markers for ANA, which was left to individual provincial departments. He questioned if that was an unfunded mandate. Provinces had always complained to the national sphere that sometimes they could not perform their duties efficiently because they were burdened by unfunded mandates. He wondered also if there was potential conflict of variations in remuneration.

Mr Padayachee responded that ANA was fully funded from the national Department and provinces provided budgets. If a province undertook printing, it would submit an amount and there were norms within which the Department would pay. For the markers themselves, the Department used a PAM regulated rate, and provinces appointed people who, at the request of the Department, were supposed to be the best teachers. There were norms for timeframes for marking. Last year, that had been a problem, so the norm times were adjusted for the 2013 ANAs. He added that although this was not an unfunded mandate, any provinces going beyond the norm would have to pick up the difference.

Mr Mpontshane referred to interventions by the Department to improve the completion rate for schooling. The completion rate for KwaZulu-Natal was 70%, but that percentage did not cover the historical imbalances. in KwaZulu-Natal, where the bulk of the schools were attended by previously disadvantaged people, and where the improvement was negligible.

Mr Mweli responded, and reminded the Members that when results were released last year, the DBE had tried to show that South Africa had made movements, from an unequal system to one that was beginning to balance out. Learners from the rural areas who did well would account for the improvement. Districts that were beginning to improve had historically been under performing, with over 90% of learners drawn from villages, and from commercial farming areas. The historical imbalances were evening out.

Mr D Smiles (DA) referred to monitoring of curriculum coverage, asked why it was becoming an issue and asked what the stance was of the South African Teachers Union (SATU).

Mr Mweli replied that the Department had developed an instrument for the entire system, which was to be populated from school level, sent to districts and set through the system. It was a uniform template across the entire system. The instruments that subject advisors and circuit managers used were cardinal to monitoring curriculum coverage. Quarterly reports emanated from the system.

Mr Padayachee added that the Department had provided support to the KwaZulu-Natal Head of Department. The MEC for Education was also the Acting Premier, and he personally managed the process with SATU to try to ensure that the crisis was dealt with. The Department received reports that there could be disruptions with the ANA, and would hear if that indeed happened. However, the ANA was not as stringent as the NSC so there was a possibility that learners could write it later. The DBE would be monitoring if there were threats to the NSC, and would report to the Committee. The Department worked very closely with other bodies. It must be remembered that people were being paid to perform tasks and could still carry out those duties.

Mr Smiles said the Committee had appealed \many times for marking centres to be standardised, to ensure that security was in place, and for the number of marking centres be decreased. He asked for an update on that, given the increase in the number of candidates.

Dr Poliah indicated that that was a priority area and was receiving attention by the DBE. The Department wanted to minimise marking centres, but did not have venues that were large enough to accommodate more markers, thus reducing the number of venues. However, the marking centres had been reduced from 123 to 118. The Department was continually monitoring provincial departments to look at options for reducing, and was exploring options that might include smaller subject-marking being centralised, or e-marking, by scanning scripts. The pilots on this would start next year and be slowly phased in. Marking was a priority in conducting credible examinations.

Mr Smiles said he had the opportunity to speak to teachers and principals in his constituency, and he thought that ANA was being over-emphasised, with preparations for it being done every day after the last few months, sometimes at the expense of the ordinary work and ordinary curriculum.

Mr Mweli acknowledged that preparation for ANA was sometimes done at the expense of normal schooling.

Dr Poliah added that this was an internationally-recognised downside of examinations and national testing. Schools became so caught up with the tests and the impact of them on the reputation of the school and the teachers, that learners and teachers were forced to undergo extensive preparations. He reminded Members that this was the third year of implementing the ANA and the model would be refined, with negatives and downsides examined, monitored and addressed. He did not think the DBE could continue to have all grades tested annually, but the Minister and Department must consider that.

Mr Makhubele followed up on the training of markers. He understood it was ongoing, but said the Committee needed time lines for completion.

Mr Makhubele questioned apparently inconsistent dates in the presentation on printing, packaging and distribution.

Dr Poliah clarified that 28 August was the start date for material to be moving from Pretoria to provincial warehouses. The packing on 30 August was the completion date.

Mr Makhubele asked when the Acting positions of officials in the DBE would be concluded.

Mr Padayachee responded that that was a decision for the Minister. There were processes to be followed. The Department’s Director General was currently on special leave and the Department was attempting to  fill the acting posts in the Department. More information would be available with the presentation of the quarterly report.

Mr Makhubele asked whether there was 100% curriculum coverage, and where the challenges were.

Mr Mweli responded that the Department did not have 100% curriculum coverage in the system in all schools. Both an independent survey and the DBE monitoring said that this required more focus. Even if there was 100% coverage, some schools would still be lacking in terms of the quantity and quality of assessment data. Successful curriculum coverage was about what was being taught, and the quality of feedback, which did not apply in all instances.

Mr Makhubele noted that the Department said there were norm times for the return of papers between the collection points, but asked for more detail.

Ms Ogunbanjo responded that there was no standard norm times because it depended on the distance. However, in principle, she illustrated that within one hour after the examination was written, the script should be at the nearest distribution point, where the question papers had been collected. Provinces were monitored when they were asked to draw up lists of distribution points, so that schools were serviced at least approximately 30 kilometres, allowing about thirty minutes to travel, and thirty minutes for packing. Schools differed in size, so that packing of scripts of 200 candidates obviously differed from 50 candidates. There were exceptions to take care of the differences.

Mr Makhubele recalled that an examination board had been disqualified last year and asked what was the status on that, and the risk area.

Dr Poliah responded that that was a body that was part of the Afrikaner Culture Group, which had previously been de-registered. The DBE took over those learners, assisted by a new assessment body that had been provisionally accredited by Umalusi. Most of the candidates were home-schooled, and some were registered as part time candidates. That was under control, and the Department was dealing with the certificates that were issued by that body.

Mr Dikobo was concerned about the number of private candidates, particularly since there had been media reports that some schools were entering their weaker candidates as private candidates. He asked if the DBE was aware of the profile of the private candidates, and whether they might be writing the full quota, in which case they surely should not be registered as such.

Mr Padayachee responded that the Department had been concerned about “gate keeping”, where principals registered their learners into part time candidates in order to get a better pass rate for the school. A full time candidate would write six subjects, with the seventh being Life Orientation. The Department had looked at those trends of part time candidates who wrote the full set, although those numbers were small.

Dr Poliah added that that was monitored very carefully because that would really be a travesty of justice if principals began to play the system and move learners to the part time model.

Mr Dikobo understood that the initial pass percentage could not go down, but could rise because of supplementary examinations. He wondered therefore how the statistics for Gauteng, which did show a drop, were explained.

Mr Mweli agreed that Mr Dikobo’s assumption was correct and said that this seemed to be a mistake.

Dr Poliah explained that this was because of the way the results were given. The results of the provinces released after the supplementary examinations did not only include those writing the examinations. Some of the results might be outstanding on the general date of release, or the marks from one paper. In the case of Gauteng, the initial figure was released up to 3 January, up to and including the supplementary examinations, but there was a large percentage of failure, leading to a drop in the overall rate.

Mr Dikobo referred to the role of subject advisors per province and said the Limpopo numbers did not add up at 101%.

Mr Mweli accepted that Limpopo’s numbers did not add up, but this may be the result of rounding of figures.

Mr Dikobo noted that Eastern Cape and Limpopo were the weaker provinces, and asked what DBE could do to reverse that. There should be a correlation between good teaching, good support and good results.

Mr Mweli agreed but said that in Eastern Cape, Limpopo and North West, the difficulties were not only around service, but the number of subject advisors in the system to provide support. Increasing the number of subject advisors would increase the level of satisfaction.

Dr Lovemore asked for clarification on ANA ,and a statement in the DBE’s media release of 9 September, which was also mentioned in the presentation, to the effect that the Minister stressed that special attention has been devoted to the development of this year’s mathematics text books for Grade 9 learners, to ensure that it served as an appropriate indicator of learner performance at that level”. Last year, only 2% of learners in Grade 9 were considered numerate. She asked what “special attention devoted to development”  meant. She hoped that it was not that it was easier to artificially raise the marks.

Mr Padayachee responded that the Department did not need anyone from outside to help it to set the tests as there were sufficient teachers of quality on the panel. The DBE wanted the tests to be benchmarked against its own curriculum. The Advisory Committee comprised national experts as well as two from the United States. The tests had to meet the guidelines for the curriculum, which did not necessarily translate to the reality in schools. That was the kind of attention that the Minister had been referring to. The Department expected improvement but it would not be so dramatic as to up the marks. It would eliminate some of the problems of last year. The pilot indicated that learners got about 27%, so 30% was expected.

Dr Poliah added that when results were poor, as in mathematics, the blame was inevitably ascribed to a poor or a problematic instrument. The statement was clarifying that the DBE had ensured that the instrument of the test was not contributing to poor performance, and the DBE therefore ensured that the test was aligned to the curriculum. However, there was a challenge; the tests were written in September, when many schools had not yet completed the curriculum. The test developers must ensure that they covered those aspects of the curriculum that would have been covered by September. To assist in that process, the Department sent out an assessment guideline, indicating which topics would be tested, to try to ensure that no learners would be disadvantaged.

Dr Lovemore referred to Mr Mweli’s statement that ‘reading, writing and counting remains our focus’. In response to a question raised by Dr Lovemore recently, the Minister stated that ‘reading, writing and counting norms had been established’. She questioned what the Department was doing on the norms that were established, and how they were being implemented.

Mr Mweli responded that the Department was still following Foundations for Learning Campaign and used the universally-accepted AGRA reading programme, which provided the number of words to be covered within a specified time frame. The DBE was still busy developing norms for the entire system. All provinces had aligned their reading plans with the national reading plan.

Dr Lovemore noted that the last page of the presentation spoke about building a national examination and assessment system that was internationally comparable and credible. Ms Ogunbanjo had said ‘we are not really where we want to be’, and she asked her to expand on that.

Ms Ogunbanjo clarified that the Department was speaking of 118 marking centres. The Department would like to move to electronic marking and should not even be talking about marking centres. It spoke about convening examiners to set question papers. The DBE wanted to draw on better examples, and wanted still to enhance the system further. She was saying that the DBE wanted to move ahead, and not remain with the current systems.

Dr Lovemore commented that Mr Mweli was disingenuous in his assertion that South Africa was at a 75.9% retention rate for learners. The NDP mentioned how many learners started in Grade 1 and finished Grade 12, and it was not 75.9%. It was lower this year than it was last year and the year before, and was in fact at less than 50%. It was disingenuous to suggest that the 75.9% of learners writing the matric examinations correlated with the retention rate in the system.

Mr Padayachee responded that the 75% was the comparable rate for completion of examinations, as used in other countries. Retention was a different matter and indeed implied keeping a child in the system from grade 1 through to completion of Grade 12. However, he reminded the Members that some children remained until Grade 12 but others left after Grade 9 to take other avenues.

Mr Mweli added that he had not mentioned the word “retention”. He had quoted from extracts.

Ms Mushwana asked what could be done to ensure that Grade 6 learners, who showed a 3% percentage drop, did better in future.

Mr Mweli responded that the Department had strengthened interventions in Grade 6 to ensure that performance in 2013 would be an improvement on 2012 and a substantial improvement on 2011. The first point of departure was to look at what learners had written, to analyse their scripts and identify areas of weakness, to then inform the improvement plan of each and every school. Subject advisors and circuit managers would be given instructions to do so. The Minister and DBE spent time in Limpopo where that information was shared with principals of schools, teacher unions and other stakeholders.

Ms Mushwana noted the presentation compared learner performance with the USA and other countries, and asked how the Department would be able to sustain that relationship. She was concerned about the teacher/pupil ratio in South Africa. For public schools the ratio was 1:40, and she wondered if the DBE had any plans to change that, noting that other countries had twelve to fourteen in a classroom. South African teachers could not be expected to teach 40 learners and produce the same results.

Mr Padayachee indicated that over the weekend the Minister had addressed the Independent Schools Association Conference. The presentation specifically touched on the “myth” of class size. Whilst it was accepted that overcrowding must be avoided, in Japan there might be 50 in a mathematics class, yet its results were excellent. The Department had to look at the trade off between the introduction of ICT and smaller classes. Smaller classes meant insufficient money for the other things that needed to be introduced.

Ms Mushwana noted reference to markers, and to educators who marked. She thought it was wrong if a Grade R teacher was paid to mark matric examinations.

Dr Poliah responded that the policy was that if a teacher marked the scripts of his or her own learners at school, this fell within the normal teaching, learning and assessment responsibility, and would not attract any additional remuneration. However, if scripts were taken to a central venue, and the marker was officially appointed by the Head of Department, and marked scripts from a collection of schools or from scripts throughout the province, then those markers were remunerated separately.

Ms J Ngubeni-Maluleka (ANC) was pleased that the Department was addressing the issue of candidates not receiving their certificates in time. She was aware of a young person who, by her final year at university, still had not received her certificate, although the school claimed to have despatched it. She asked what this student could do to ensure that she could graduate, and whether the DBE monitored receipt of certificates on time.

Dr Poliah responded that there were clear processes to be followed and such a certificate could be replaced. He asked for the details, and offered to deal with that problem. Certificates were despatched with a unique number that was used to track the location of the certificate from the time it left the Umalusi offices, until it reached the provincial office and the district.

Ms Gina was concerned about data and differences between provinces on learner registration for ANA and NSC. The presentation stated that data differed from province to province, because they used different systems. She questioned how reliable the data was.

Mr Padayachee responded that data was most accurate on the Grade 12s, because each learner had to be registered, and the DBE was now trying to extend that compulsory registration down into Grades 10 and 11. for the ANA, there was EMIS and the workbook data. Two audits had been done, one in Limpopo, which indicated that the data was not far off course. The audit in Eastern Cape was still being completed. The DBE aimed to ensure that the data verification became operational and as accurate as possible. Obviously, where children moved so numbers could vary, but any discrepancies arising through the actions of the principal would have to be addressed.

Dr Poliah added that, specifically in terms of ANA, the DBE was developing a system that would produce valid data, and therefore it allowed provinces to use different systems for capturing the data. The ultimate factor was the schedule of names and details, which was sent to the schools for checking, with corrections by teachers and principals then being captured on to the system. There was therefore a verification process centrally.

Ms Gina noted that for printing and packaging the provinces could use their own methods and asked what lessons were learnt from that.

Ms Ogunbanjo responded that the policy dictated that every province must have secure printing, but it was  preferable for them to have in-house printing. There were norms and standards for printing, packing and distribution, and these were applied uniformly, irrespectively whether printing was in-house or using service providers. All had to have double sealing, irrespective of where they were printed. The examination provincial officials responsible for that process monitored those processes.

Ms Gina was also concerned about differences in provinces with the impact of preliminary examinations where there was no uniformity, and the disturbances in KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Poliah responded that currently there was no policy that preliminary examinations should be standardised. This year, the Department took seven subjects that had been set by the different provinces, and moderated them nationally to make sure there was a common standard in keeping with that of the final examination.

Ms Gina supported Mr Makhubele in asking the Department to clarify the gaps and challenges in relation to readiness for ANA. DBE reports suggested that everything was under control. However, on its oversight visits the Committee always found there were challenges. Issues of security, and where the papers were stored, were very important.

Mr Mweli responded that that was covered under the DBE’s acknowledged list of areas on which it must focus.

Dr Poliah added that in this year, the DBE had been visiting the provinces and doing an intensive audit, sometimes spending up to five days with the larger provinces, to go through every detail, every plan, every document line-by-line and word-by-word. Despite all the preparation, it was impossible to guarantee what happened on the day of the examination. The human factor could not be controlled, and how an official behaved and responded on a particular day could determine what the problems were. It was vital that the DBE was alerted if there were suspicions that things could go wrong, and if they did, then it must be able to immediately pick this up, across the country, and be able to respond in the shortest time.

Ms Ogunbanjo added indeed the human element was important. Security in examinations would always be a matter of concern. There was stronger collaboration with NATJOINTS this year. The main concern was errors in printing, which compromised the performance of the candidate. The DBE had sorted out the software that was the main cause of printing errors last year, and had corrected the systems.

Ms Gina noted that the Department wanted to empower parents to understand the ANA tests and to be able to interpret and analyse them. That was a very good point, but she questioned how it could be done, if at the moment not even the schools and principals were able to make use of the ANA results.

Dr Poliah responded that that was a critical point, and the Department was doing the best it could. It would strengthen advocacy and develop a guide for parents that would be sent out with the report card, to allow them to interpret the data and respond appropriately.

The Chairperson was interested to know what measures the Department put in place to intervene in Olifants Hoek. Last year Grade 12s did not write the examinations or the ANA. She supported Ms Gina’s concerns about uniformity, especially for holding of scripts and packaging.

Mr Mweli responded that the Department had to do something about Olifants Hoek, given the fact that Grade 11 learners of 2012 were now the Grade 12 learners of 2013, and that they had experienced major disruptions last year. The Department was offering special support in a learning camp. The camp of last year seemed to have worked, and the Department strengthened its support.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the comprehensive report. However, she was still not satisfied with the answer on the numbers who wrote and passed, and the change of numbers after the supplementary examination.

Mr Dikobo said a candidate could not write a supplementary examination if had not written the main examination. The number of candidates was 511 152, but the number increased to 518 935 after supplementary examinations, so there were discrepancies.

Mr Makhubele said that the DBE also needed to speak to areas where instability in the community led to disruption in the education offerings.

Dr Poliah responded, on the numbers, that there were 511 152 writing the November examinations. This increased to 518 935, when taking into account the numbers who wrote the initial and supplementary examinations. Two categories of candidates would re-write; those who wanted to improve their results, and those who were absent for some reason from the November examinations, and they were not included in the 511 152 count. They had brought up the number to 518 935.

READ Educational Trust briefing
The Chairperson welcomed guests from the READ Educational Trust.

Ms Hlubi Mboya, Ambassador for the READ Educational Trust, introduced her colleagues Mr Brian Prehn, Ms Paulene Solomon, and Ms Thando Tenza. They would like to introduce Members to the initiative titled the “Red Read Box”.

Mr Prehn explained that the main goal of READ was to promote literacy within the country. The current week was Readathon Week; Readathon was one of the campaigns to promote literacy throughout the country, to promote the joys of reading and to remind learners that they may love television, but books were just as fantastic. The learners who accompanied the delegation were all from Wesley Practicing School in Salt River, but one was from the DRC and one from Zimbabwe.

Ms Mboya explained that READ Educational Trust had created a Red Reading Box, which was a gift box with books, games and activities with instructions. It grouped these by theme and enabled children from nine to twelve years old to learn about matters, in an enjoyable way, promoting general knowledge about the glorious world. This year’s theme was “space”. The Box allowed the children to be interactive in school and allowed them to spend hours playing a game, using their imagination. In that way they could become their own heroes, and their dreams could become reality. It was all about letting the imagination go wild. The tools and stationery and games and books came in a box so they would not get lost.

Ten learners were introduced, from grades three to seven. Members were touched as each learner read beautifully on an interesting range of general knowledge issues, such as democracy, air pollution, disability, and how we learnt that the world was round.

Dr Lovemore (DA) thanked the learners. She believed that leaders were readers. She wanted her children to grow up in a South Africa with strong leaders, and if what she saw in front of her was a reflection of the leaders of the future, she was very happy that her country was in good hands. She thanked the learners for showing what they were capable of; perhaps one would be a President one day, and another would be a Minister of Basic Education one day.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) thanked the group from READ and the learners. She stressed that people gained information through reading; and knowledge was hidden in books. The learners would learn where this country came from and where it was going to. She congratulated them and said they had read very well.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) echoed the sentiments of other Members. The Committee enjoyed having READ visit it. Most Members were teachers and the learners had brought nostalgia. The challenge was how to replicate what was happening here, in every school in South Africa, so that every child could read as well.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) was very impressed by what was seen and heard. He encouraged the young ones, saying that reading was a skill that they could develop still further.

Ms N Gina (ANC) thanked the children; and agreed that many Members were reminded of their classrooms. There was always an outcry that the DBE produced learners who could not read. Now, seeing the little ones who could read so nicely, that attitude could change. Many learners did not treat their books with respect as they failed to see their value, but the seeds that READ had planted would make sure that the country was in good hands, with due value attached to the importance of reading. These learners were bound to be more  open minded and critical thinkers, simply by reading those books. Members had learnt a lot just listening to the children, and she charged them to keep it up, and thanked the organisers for their good work.

Mr S (Paddy) Padayachee, Acting Director General, DBE, congratulated all the learners and thanked the READ Trust leaders. He noted that Mr Leruti, Head of Communications, DBE, was present and may put them on television as well. His role was to take the good practices and share them with other people in the country. Listening to these learners made everything the officials in the Department did worthwhile. The Department would continue to do its best, to ensure that the children got the best.

The Chairperson asked Mr Leruti to express his impression, very briefly, and Mr Leruti countered that it was “stunning”.

The Chairperson thanked the children and said they were excellent readers. If they knew the language and could read it, they would do very well in any subject. They were the leaders of tomorrow, some would be in Parliament, some would teach, some would be doctors, because everything was open to all learners once they passed Grade 9.

Learners thanked the Committee for their time, for listening and for the wonderful opportunity to read to Parliament.

Other Committee Business
The Chairperson announced that, given the shortage of time, the Committee had decided to visit the Western Cape. She noted that in Western Cape the printing and packing and distribution was done by a service provider. As the Department said, there were certain norms and standards and certain specifications that provinces had to adhere to. Members must check that the schools were adhering to those norms and standards as set out by the Department.

The Committee would be going to Manenberg, because it had been badly affected by gang violence, and the principals would be asked to detail what impact that violence had on education. The Committee would be meeting firstly with the Provincial Department, then the principals and two senior staff, then the unions, and then other stakeholders working on community forums or with any problems within the areas.

The meeting was adjourned.


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