The Department of Basic Education gave a briefing on the Ministerial Committee Report on National Senior Certificate Examinations. There were legitimate concerns about the quality of passes, the value of mathematics and mathematical literacy, the language of learning and teaching and English as the designated language of instruction. A task team had been set up to among other things consider the different pathways in obtaining a National Senior Certificate (NSC). The Report would be presented to the Council of Education Ministers in the next week to consider and reflect upon the recommendations in the Report. The Committee’s thoughts and reflections were critical to this process.
It was impressed on the Committee that the findings and recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team had been well received. Members asked for an explanation about cognitive demands; problems learners were having with mathematical literacy and its place in downgrading subject combinations; implementation of the Report and the lack of resources; teacher preparedness when implementing the Report; research into cognitive demands; vocational pathways and career choices; the ability to cater for vocational occupational subjects at school level and qualifications for the National Senior Certificate. Members were concerned about the new Grade 9 exit strategy; mathematics and mathematical literacy and English as the main language of instruction and that Life Orientation would not be held within the whole school career.
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister and acknowledged the importance of the report and getting it out to the country as a whole. What was the report saying about the pass rate? This was the hot debate. There was a hope and belief that this report would come up with something about what could be done. The Committee was aware of how hard the Department had tried, and appreciated the time set aside to address it today.
Deputy Minister briefing
The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty, thanked the Committee for the invitation. He extended an apology from the Minister who was in Japan attending an important UNESCO summit on behalf of the country. He introduced the Acting Director General, Mr Paddy Padayachee, the Acting Deputy Director-General, Mr Mathhanzima Mweli, who would foreground what has happened, and Dr Rufus Poliah, the Chief Director who would provide the details. The Chairperson was correct in that there was a lot of interest in the outcome of this report. The pass rate has been in the public domain for a long time. There were legitimate concerns about the quality of the passes. This prompted the Minister to establish a task team and she did so with a very competent team. It was chaired by Prof O’ Connell, Prof Vital, Prof Khosa, Prof Motala and Ms E Khembo, Prof Howei made up the Technical Team. It looked at the National Senior Certificate (NSC) Life Orientation as a subject and the value of Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy. The team looked at whether there should be intermediate maths and at the language of learning and teaching particularly in the context that this was a multilingual country where the vast majority had English and Afrikaans as a third language. It also looked at whether the cognitive demand was adequate in terms of the requirements.
The Task Team considered the option of different pathways to obtaining a NSC. The Department declared without reservation that they were very satisfied with Technical Committee in terms of competence, ability and commitment. They invited public comment, they received more than 300 submissions from stakeholders that they considered and provided the Department with a report. The Portfolio Committee was invited to reflect and comment on it. This meeting was very important for the Ministry because in the course of next week, it was meeting with the Council of Education Ministers, where they were going to reflect on the recommendations coming from this meeting. The Report has been circulated and there were some preliminary discussions, but the full discussion would take place there. The views of this Portfolio Committee, as the matter was taken to the Council of Education Ministers, would be critical as it was an important stakeholder representing the country as its leadership. This did not mean the Department had done nothing. There has already been engagement with important stakeholders about the content of the Report and Heads of Department under the auspices of the Acting Director-General were able to engage with the content of the report and had reflected on it.
The Deputy Minister shared with the Portfolio Committee that the Department – and this was said without any formal approval from the Council of Education Ministers meeting – was broadly in support of the view of the Technical Committee. The Technical Committee said amongst other things the Department should not change the curriculum and the Department agreed with that. They said that mathematical literacy should be retained. This view was supported. What they have said and what DBE had already begun implementing was that every school should offer a learner the choice between Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy. Another recommendation was when looking at Mathematics; one should look at the combination of subjects with Mathematics. So a number of the recommendations have already begun to be implemented even before the Department received the Report because it was consistent with the thinking of the Department.
Some areas required more thought, the cognitive demand for languages for example, whether it should be done incrementally or immediately? Another view was that Life Orientation should not be part of the bouquet of subjects for Grade 12. Two views, one was that values and attitudes form an important pillar of the learning experience and it would not be proper for it to be removed completely. The other view, which was the view of Technical Committee, was that it could be tested. There could be a summative assessment of this at Grade 11 and in Grade 12 the learner could be released from that responsibility and would be able to devote more time to mathematics, science and other areas that had a greater cognitive demand.
There was broad support for the recommendations. The Department had accepted the spirit of it, and did want to increase the cognitive demand. It believed the language of learning and teaching should find expression across the curriculum and indeed the Department has introduced that particular element. Colleagues were certainly aware of the fact that the Department had already in the previous administration begun introducing English or Afrikaans, whatever the case might be, into the curriculum. It had provided workbooks in literacy and numeracy from Grade 1 to Grade 9. This was because the Department had realised it was one of the single biggest challenges that was faced and learners certainly were compromised in terms of their ability to manage the cognitive demand of languages. So the recommendations were welcome. The thoughts, reflections and contributions of this Portfolio Committee on the Report were very welcome. Dr Poliah would then in a much more systemic way, be making the presentation. The Department wanted the Committee to have a robust debate about this and look at the virtues and challenges of the Report.
Department of Basic Education: Ministerial Committee Report on the National Senior Certificate
Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: Department of Basic Education, said that despite the initiatives from the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director General to convince the critics that among other things the NSC reflected an equivalent if not higher standard in certain aspects to the old Senior Certificate, the criticisms persisted. The Minister therefore took the bold step of establishing a Ministerial Committee comprising experts in Education to investigate the pass requirements and the standard of the NSC more broadly.
The recommendations were categorised into three groups: those currently being implemented; those that could be implemented by the DBE in short term and those that will be phased in over the long term. There were 22 recommendations; 8 were already being implemented; 6 have far reaching implications. The Minister supported the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee and the DBE agrees that the recommendations are in sync with the trajectory the Department envisages for the medium to long-term improvement of the standard of the NSC. One needs to look at the policy that should precede these changes and this would take time in terms of what got implemented and how.
Life Orientation would be removed from the promotion requirements for the NSC. The Grade 12 Life Orientation curriculum would be reduced. School life would be reduced to a six-subject package. The pass requirements for the Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) would be raised for all but the basic NSC: Higher certificate: 40%; Diploma: 50% and Degree 50%. Exam practices in LoLT had to be improved. Promotion requirements for the Basic NSC were:
Pass 3 subjects at 40% including an official language at Home Language level;
Pass 2 subjects at 30%; and
May fail the 6th subject, providing there was full evidence of the School-based Assessment (SBA) in the subject having been completed.
Dr Poliah said that CAPS had to be implemented for the next eight to ten years without any further curriculum policy changes. A different vocational/technical Mathematics closely aligned with vocational, artisanal and technical programmes and work contexts should be developed.
A thorough investigation into the standard and the nature of the assessment of the African languages at HL level had to be carried out. The Committee has presented the Report to the Minister. The Department has already commenced with the implementation of a few of these recommendations and others will be implemented in the short term/medium term.
Mr Mweli said that it was important to make this point which has been made by the Minister and Deputy Minister and emphasised by Dr Poliah, that the findings and recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team have been well received. The engagement with the recommendations and findings should not be understood as rejecting them. The Department was duty bound as people in the public service to engage with the recommendations and make sure that even the blind spots were engaged upon.
The Chairperson asked for an explanation about cognitive demands and challenges.
Dr Poliah replied that if one talked about cognitive demands, there were questions that were low order that dealt with direct recall. If one talked about middle order, one was talking about comprehension, and if one talked about high order, those were questions that required application, synthesis, and evaluation. So that was broadly the three orders of questions. What the Technical Committee was suggesting was that currently the division or the allocation of low to middle to high, was in the range of 40% low order, 40% middle order and 20% high order. So one was looking at 20% of questions dealing with evaluation, synthesis and application. What the Technical Committee was suggesting was the level 1 and 2, which was your recall and your comprehension be 30%, and that the high order that dealt with evaluation and synthesis should be 70%. So that was a significant increase in the cognitive demand. So one was not only raising the bar in terms of 50%, but raising the cognitive challenge in the question paper currently.
Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) asked how this could be done. If one looked at the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report and looked at Maths, Science and Literacy, all of this for getting a better pass rate and equipping the learners, then this was cause for concern. She was concerned because learners were expected to get those percentages in the subjects. If one looked at the schools without laboratories, and the Neims report actually stated that 81.9% of schools were still without laboratories. If one looked at literacy, 71.3% of schools in the country still did not have libraries; and out of those who had libraries, only 16.8% were stocked. There was a very high percentage of schools that had not met the infrastructure targets. That made for a non-conducive environment for teachers to teach in or for learners to be taught. This recommendation of this report could not be read on its own.
Mr Mweli replied that this Committee knew that the Department had been providing science kits for schools without laboratories. Not to all of them but to quite a few. Those schools were even trained how to use them. With regard to libraries, the notion of a school library has changed. The worldwide notion defined a four-walled structure as a library. He invited the Member to see the School Monitoring Survey 2011. The figures mentioned by the Member differed from the Department’s school monitoring survey because the School Monitoring Survey combined the central library with a classroom library.
Ms Lovemore said that in the Report there was a statement that said that ‘quality was fitness for purpose’. She shared the concern that other South Africans had about the National Senior Certificate and it came through in this Report. When there was a youth unemployment rate of over 50%, and when universities were testing learners – here referred specifically to North West - who had got into university, and had reading levels of Grade 7 and comprehension levels of Grade 5 then there was a problem with the NSC. She fully understood when Dr Poliah was talking about momentum and building up a positive psyche. She found that very short sighted and short term. She would like to believe that the positive psyche was from being prepared for life and being prepared to get a job. The number one reason why the labour organisations were saying unemployment was so high was because of poor education. So surely the positive psyche that would result from a better education would be so much better than the short term positive psyche of maintaining a high pass rate. She was saying this as a statement and not as an attack.
Ms Lovemore said the question to you is that you must have put these two versus each other. On the one hand this report was saying the NSC was not producing ‘fit for purpose candidates’, any number of changes could be made and there were implications to that. The failure rate would increase so should those changes be made or not to maintain the momentum that had been built up to increase pass rates. Dr Poliah has said that the Department agreed in principal with the recommendations of the Report. The way she heard it was that the Department agreed in principal with the recommendations which said that nothing needed to change, or recommendations which said one had processes already started like technical mathematics – started under duress she added – there one agreed because one did not have to change anything. When there were things that had to change like the pass mark had to go up, cognitive levels should increase, the level of African language teaching was too low, then it appears the Department was finding reasons to say no, this was not okay, we not going down that route, that route would have negative implications. So it seemed the Department was agreeing when there was no change needed. This was a comment on her part, not necessarily a question.
Mr Mweli agreed that quality was about being fit for purpose. He thought that the broader discussion in the country was focused on numerical value rather than on objectives. The curriculum was predicated on objectives, which was what was expected from learners when they exited the system. The discussion in the country was focused on numerical value rather than on objective value. There was a need to correct that assumption because it polluted the national psyche. The national psyche was around numbers rather than skills. The issue was what was in this numerical value that has occupied people. There was a need to bring in the debate that dealt with the objectives of the national curriculum and interrogate what was in the numbers.
Ms Lovemore said that on page 8 of the presentation with respect to the various cognitive levels, Dr Poliah had said that whatever was suggested had to be backed by sound research. She fully agreed with this but asked if that research had been considered, and who would do the research into increasing cognitive levels.
Mr Mweli said that he had research that was conducted by UCT, involving an international expert. It looked at the performance of the NSC in relation to employment levels. This could be made available. What business people were talking about was not informed by empirical evidence. That piece of research will show empirical data on how the NSC was performing. It was done in 2011/12 and completed very recently; it said that the NSC did not perform the way people had projected it. The data showed this.
Ms Lovemore said that on page 14, there was a bullet point that she did not understand. It said ‘Subject pre-requisites related to Maths are being discussed at the HEDCOM sub-committees’’. Her assumption was that those were subject combinations. She asked for an explanation about this.
On subject combinations Mr Mweli replied that in 2012 DBE issued a circular to all schools saying to them that if they were taking mathematics, the combination should include physical science that linked them to the careers that learners would follow. One could not combine mathematical literacy with physical science because this combination was not possible. Although that circular was issued in 2012 the impact has been minimal. The Department was looking at intensified interventions to make sure that the combinations were correct, right from Grade 10 up to Grade 12. So that careers would then respond to the NDP.
Ms Lovemore referred to the discussion on vocational pathway, her understanding of vocation was that it was not just technical. She asked why the Department was not looking at vocational in a much broader sense such as starting to train chefs, or hairdressers. This was not special schools or schools of skill. This was not just technical, but certainly far broader.
Mr Mweli agreed. The Department was saying education had to provide three streams: academic, technical vocation and vocational occupational streams. Subjects such as hairdressing or becoming a chef were important and they were from the vocational occupational stream. This was what was missing from the curriculum and what the Department was bringing back to the curriculum. Dr Poliah has said that the Department had already started with this.
Ms H Boshoff (DA) referred to page 8 where it stated: “the increase to 50% from the current 30% was excessive’. If there were proper teachers in place this could be realised. The next bullet point said: ‘’need for teacher development programme for improved teacher proficiency’. How are we going to get the current teachers in our system on board to ensure that they were trained properly to teach in every single subject that was given to them because if we remove them from the system to do the relevant training who was going to take their positions at that point in time?
Mr Mweli replied that a week ago the Department was with this same Committee receiving a presentation from Dr Green and Dr Nick Taylor. They gave the status of teacher education. This was raised because there was a question about when was the Department going to train teachers to be able to perform at expected levels. Initial teacher education has been done at that level. This should be discussed by looking back to that presentation that was shared with this Committee by asking which journey should be traversed to train teachers with the qualities that were required.
Ms Boshoff said that a programme for having vocational and technical mathematics in place - referred to on page 13 - had been approved. She asked when this would be implemented.
Mr Mweli replied that the Department wanted to start implementing it in 2016. 2015 was being used to prepare for implementation because the Department was going to use resources provided by Dinaledi Schools and the Technical High Schools Conditional Grant. The Department was developing a curriculum for skills from grade 1 to grade 9 for starters and it was going to be embedded in Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) for technical high schools. This would be linked to NQF level 4, which would be vocational occupational skills programmes. The Department wanted it to be accredited and recognised. CAPS for technical high schools was out and was ready, it could be shared with the Committee. The one for skills started last year and it was continuing. That work had not been concluded as yet.
Ms J Basson (ANC) thanked the Department for the presentation. She asked for clarity about the basic NSC pass of five subjects, with 40% for three subjects and 30% for two subjects. She asked if there were any requirements that the subjects passed were compulsory, or could learners just pass any five subjects.
Dr Poliah replied that passing any of the five subjects was the right way to obtain the NSC. The only other requirement was that one had to pass the home language at 40%, two other subjects at 40% and currently three other subjects at 30%, but with the revised requirements it would mean three subjects at 40%, and two subjects at 30%.
Ms Basson asked if the Grade 9 exit certificate might possibly create laziness to study and an early dropout rate. Learners should not just aim to reach Grade 9. She was worried about the National Certificate Vocational (NCV), as this idea was very good but the lack of resources might not make this possible. The Department has mentioned that there were 22 proposals, but 8 were short term. She asked which ones were short term, knowing that there was this NCV that had to be implemented with scarce resources. She asked if the NCV was compulsory for all high schools or only for certain ones.
Mr Mweli said that the General Education and Training (GET) at Grade 9 required three streams. At the end of Grade 9 this certificate would help the Department to direct these learners on whether to go for the vocational stream, the academic stream, or the vocational occupational stream. The Department was considering bringing back the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) for that purpose.
Mr Mweli said to the Chairperson and the Director General that maybe he should just raise this thing. Basic education was a subset of the entire education system. NCV programmes were raised. He asked if it would be useful to change the way FET colleges were operating at the moment. This discussion was raised by the Minister of Higher Education: ‘Do we want to teach FET colleges at NQF level 5 because at the moment they were at NQF level 4, which was the same level as all our high schools’? NQF level 5 would be the old technikons. The discussions taking place might have to be linked with higher education at some stage.
Ms N Mokoto (ANC) said that she appreciated the report. She asked what benchmarking had been carried out in the process of putting this Report together and how useful was it to shape this outcome particularly with regard to quality.
Dr Poliah replied that the Department had embarked on a benchmarking programme almost three years ago. What were benchmarked were the question papers. So the Department submitted the question papers together with the marking guidelines. This had to been done with four institutions, three international and one local. The three International bodies were Cambridge International Exams, the Scottish qualification authority and the New South Wales Board of Examinations in Australia. In the last year a national benchmarking exercise was done with Higher Education South Africa (HESA) where they appointed certain experts to look at our question papers. What was learnt from the exercise was that the question papers were comparable, however there were areas in which improvements were required. These improvements should be dealt with on a gradual and continuous basis.
Ms Mokoto asked how the Department envisaged implementing these recommendations. There were so many schools, was the Department going to have a pilot project or start implementing across the board?
Ms Mokoto asked how the Department planned to ensure the recommendations were aligned to the outputs it had to produce as dictated by the National Development Plan (NDP).
Mr Mweli said that in the NDP it was stated that by 2030 the country should be able to produce 450 000 learners eligible for Bachelor’s degrees, the country was close and it could do it. The NDP said by 2030 the country should have 30 000 artisans per annum. This was a tall order and that was why the Department was bringing in Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) for technical high schools.
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said he appreciated the general statement made by Dr Poliah that the Department did acknowledge the concerns about the quality of the NSC. One would have liked the Department to spell out where they saw these weaknesses and these improvements so that the Committee could support these improvements.
Mr Mpontshane said that the Task Team recommended that Life Orientation should not be an examination subject for Grade 12, only for Grade 10. The Department argued that it would impact negatively on morals and values and other good things. He did not think that the argument held water because if the teacher’s worldview or moral philosophy were wrong, no amount of good life orientation would assist them in promoting those morals and values. Important was that the worldview and morals of teachers were good. He argued that Life Orientation should be done away with if it was not helping students to get into tertiary education.
Mr Mweli said that he would like to agree. The UNESCO Multicultural Effort was started about two years ago and South Africa was a part of this. They developed a curriculum called ‘Respect for all Persons’. This was going to be used by all members of UNESCO to evaluate their curricula. All values, like human rights and social justice, were considered because sometimes bright people were produced who had no inkling of humanity and social justice. The Department was saying that Life Orientation helped to develop the total being of the child. Whilst the Department agreed with the Ministerial Task team, offering life orientation to Grade 11 only should not come back to bite the Department.
Mr Mpontshane said that the Department was proposing that examination markers should be carefully selected. In the past they were selected by inter alia proposing a competency test that was however defeated by the unions. The Department had become a little bit timid as always. How was the Department going to ensure this time around that these markers were selected correctly? Even Umalusi has admitted that most of them lacked subject competence and that that had a negative effect on the end result.
Dr Poliah replied that it should be accepted that the competency test was not the most important criteria for the selection of markers. The competency test would help in terms of one domain and that was that it helps the Department to establish the knowledge level of the marker. Currently other indicators were used, and these related to the qualification of marker. Currently in terms of policy, a marker should have the subject that he applied to mark at least second year level at university. Teaching experience and marking experience was looked at. What the Department was looking for at the moment was learner performance and looking at a cut-off. Teachers that performed below a certain level would not be considered for the marking process. Markers were monitored continually.
The Chairperson remarked on the language Mr Mpontshane used when he said the Department was ‘timid’’.
Mr Mpontshane said that it was a political statement. He asked the Chairperson if she wanted him to withdraw the statement.
The Chairperson said if he could not explain it, then he should withdraw it.
Mr Mpontshane said he was a disciplined member of this Committee and he would withdraw the statement.
The Chairperson asked the Director General how conducive could it make the schools so that the recommendations could be well implemented.
Ms Lovemore repeated her question about the research that had to be done before assessing cognitive demands.
With regard to research on the cognitive demand, Mr Mweli said that Ms Lovemore might not like this one. Internally the Department has started implementing English across the curriculum. The gaps have been identified. Research work was being done in implementing English across the curriculum, and of course the research would go on in the Department and DBE would hear from the Committee of Education of Ministers whether DBE needed an outside body to work with DBE or continue with it on their own.
Mr Mweli replied that research and international benchmarking had to be done. People have said to the Department that they had never seen a system that changed its curriculum four to five times in 20 years, no wonder your learning outcomes were so poor because the minute teachers get used to the objectives of the curriculum, they were changed. What Dr Poliah was saying was that there was a need to do research into this and to do international benchmarking. The Department has benchmarked with the best in the world in terms of changing the curriculum. The question was how to phase it in so that it did not affect teaching and learning adversely.
Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked how the Department dealt with criticism. He asked further what the aim was of education.
The Acting Director General, Mr Paddy Padayachee, replied that there was a need to evaluate those comments, and in some instances they were valid and needed to be taken account of. Even if they were not valid, the Department needed to give an explanation as to why it had taken another view. So what was referred to as criticism, could not be dismissed. This was not limited to the NSC, each criticism warranted the Department’s attention.
Mr Mnguni asked if the Department talked to the Department of Higher Education in terms of mathematical literacy. He asked if there was an agreement with them.
Mr Mweli replied that from the 29 subjects, there were 18 subjects designated and mathematical literacy was not one of them. Designated subjects were those recognised by universities. That was why if a learner took them it, it would not help because it was not recognised. This had to be added to the list.
The Chairperson referred to the issue of six subjects again. Some learners were doing nine subjects. She asked what the advantages were of more subjects. She asked further how learners could be given the chance to do more subjects.
Mr Mweli replied to the Chairperson’s question about English across the curriculum, saying that when they met Dr Taylor last week, he thought the first thing that would be raised with the Department, even before the English issue was what about mother tongue in respect of indigenous African languages. Because before one got to English, one had to have the level of competency and knowledge that would take you to English from the foundation phase of mother tongue. So that was another area that the Department had to pay attention to. The Department had started a pilot and was continuing with it next year, in terms of incremental introduction of African languages.
Mr Mnguni asked if six subjects were the minimum, and if a school could allow learners to do more subjects.
Dr Poliah replied that taking more subjects than the minimum raised the question “what was the value and what was the purpose’. Provision was made for learners who excelled. It allowed for them to take more subjects. One could look at the comparison across 6 subjects. Learners would often take extra subjects as a backup to increase their career options. It was held in better stead at universities if the learner had a particular subject. This was the reason why learners took additional subjects.
Mr Mweli replied that on the issue of six subjects versus more subjects, fewer subjects afforded the learner a better focus than having more. Some did go for more subjects but the average was six.
Mr T Khoza (ANC) said that the central problem was an attitude problem especially when it came to science and mathematics. One could go to teacher education issues and work out attitudes. Mathematics was simpler than mathematical literacy.
Mr Mweli said the Department agreed with him. While there was agreement that some people were saying one was focusing on mathematics and science at the expense of other knowledge, one had to be careful and draw a very delicate balance. Whilst the Department was saying that the skills desperately needed came from mathematics and science, we must make sure we attend to the other needs of the country, like occupational vocational skills. They were very important and would help to reduce unemployment.
Mr L Ntshayisa (AIC) said that it would be an advantage for the learner whose home language was English. How would the Department reshape requirements for that learner.
Mr Mweli agreed that it would benefit that learner. In the main it would benefit the person who had proficiency in English. The rest would be disadvantaged. The Department has taken a policy position that from grade 4 one could go with mother tongue up to grade 6. The policy allowed for this. The Department has taken the decision that it becomes English in the main so it had to live with the consequences of that. Whatever was done, it had to be born in mind that the greater burden would be on those who did not have the advantage of the utility and proficiency of English.
Mr Ntshayisa asked what would the Department’s approach be if the unions rejected recommendations.
The Chairperson said she could respond to this question. She noted that the report has been widely accepted even by the unions.
Mr Padayachee replied that going forward, these recommendations would find their space. Implementation would require some legal processes, which would lead to regulation and policy. The recommendations were open to public comment and the exchange of views before implementation.
The Chairperson expressed concern about Life Orientation and physical education. She asked what the situation was with regard to physical education, especially when it was said that there was movement towards that.
Mr Mweli replied that regarding Life Orientation, a cautionary note was issued that as the Department changed and took things out, it had to be accompanied by careful consideration. Within the same Life Orientation, physical education was embedded in it. Going forward, the Department had to look at this quite carefully.
The DG replied that there was a view on its retention as well. There was always a counter irrespective of what the report said.
The Chairperson asked for clarity with regard to passes and diplomas and if there were any conversions.
Dr Poliah asked if by conversions, the Chairperson was talking about different categories such as Diploma and Bachelor. The Department was saying there was no conversion as such, the learner had to satisfy the requirements for the Bachelor’s which was four 50%s. If he/she did not satisfy the requirements but obtains four 40%s then there was no conversion but the learner now attained that pass at Diploma level. If the leaner did not get four 50%s, but got three 50%s and one 40%, then he/she would be allowed to write the supplementary examination in that one particular subject, and that would allow her/him to qualify for a Bachelor pass.
The DG said there was this terminology of Bachelor passes and Diploma passes. Officials liked to draw new documents. There was a need to keep things simple. One had to be cautious about what one was proposing. One had to keep caution and concern in mind.
The Chairperson asked about the time for standardisation.
The DG replied that it was not about the standardisation process itself. The period Umalusi was given to deal with the results that it had to process was a very short period of time – that was only from about the 17 or 18 December to just before Christmas. This was perhaps only two or three days that they may have to deal with the results. These were not fulltime people but it was something that could be solved. The processes for examinations were set almost 12 to 15 months before so the Department followed what was put out. It had become a tradition but Umalusi would have to determine how long that committee had to take. His own view was that it could not have been with the intention of delaying the results for a period longer than the time already delayed.
The Chairperson said that the Committee should organise a visit to schools of skills.
The Chairperson asked if a learner took an eighth subject that was not provided at school, would they have to get their own support for that.
Dr Poliah replied that in some cases the school might provide support, but it became complicated because only a handful of learners were taking additional subjects. They had to get private support for this
Ms Lovemore said that she just needed to understand the Department’s response to the Report. She was not hearing any sense of urgency. When Mr Mweli responded to the question about research that had to be done, he said they would have to look at what research was done. This Report came out in June and she did not understand what had happened since then. She had read this report and it expressed concern about teacher competence, about national benchmarking assessments and their findings, about school based assessment, literacy and numeracy tests, first additional language standards, African language standards, subject choices, international comparisons, low cognitive demand, exam processes needed upgrading, a whole host of things. The Report was very clever in that nowhere does it say that the quality was bad. One single sentence states, ‘there was no escaping the conclusion that South Africa had the poorest performing school education system in the world’. But nowhere does it say that the quality of the NSC was poor. But every single aspect that has been highlighted as not good enough, to her there was no escaping the conclusion that the NSC was not good enough. So she did not understand the response of the Department. Was no cognisance taken from that point of view that we are failing our children who were spending 12 years to get the certificate and it was not good enough for university or anything else? So when this goes to the Council of Education Ministers next week, it will be presented as has been presented to us. She presumed that things like cognitive demand would result in skewed levels, too high, not doable etcetera. The teachers should be trained so that they could teach this, so that our kids can get jobs. She looked forward to Mr Mweli’s research article that he was talking about.
One of the recommendations in the Report was that education must be in line with the economy of the country. One of the examples here was that trade has been spoken about a lot, every single artisan was listed on the list for critical skills for artisans in South Africa that was put out by Home Affairs Minister Gigaba. What was on that list was every possible job/career one could think of that was linked to ICT. Now if one looked at IT or ICT in a school, there were 0,85% of learners taking it and that was a critical subject, why was that not being encouraged?
She did not understand subject choices. Mr Mweli spoke about a 2012 circular that there has been little response to. That was three years ago almost, and we are going to have to look at interventions. She did not understand why was it possible to register to write physical science or whatever it is called now and maths literacy. Why was it possible to write civil technology and maths literacy. It should not be possible to register for that combination. The Department had a database of learners registered to write both. Why was the Department not stopping that?
Mr Mweli said he probably agreed with Ms Lovemore but unfortunately when changes were introduced in education, one had to wait for a while. This circular was brought in 2012. It was now 2014 and the Department has assessed the impact of that circular and the data that was coming said to us that the impact was not what we would want it to be. We want the subject combinations to be more aligned to careers and so forth, and this circular has not afforded us to do that. That was why we saying we are now coming with other drastic measures that would strengthen the circular issued in 2012. Learners should take subjects that would afford them careers.
Ms Lovemore said she felt rather insulted by what Mr Mweli said. Her political party (DA) has never got onto the numbers bandwagon. It was on the ‘cognitive demand, the quality, and the fitness for purpose’ bandwagon. This was the one that really mattered.
She asked Mr Mweli to tell the Committee about the research into cognitive demand he said would have to be done. She asked when it would be done.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Lovemore and said she hoped that what Mr Mweli said was not provoking that attitude from her side. She thought it was a general statement that wherever one went politically, publicly, socially people always focused on the percent, on the pass rate and it was a fact. She did not see anything that was wrong in the response but Ms Lovemore was justified in defending herself.
Mr Mpontshane said the comment on numbers and objectives was a very interesting debate. He had just one request. The last paragraph in the presentation read : ‘In the case of recommendations that have more far reaching implications, the DBE is in the process of planning the policy and organisational changes that must precede such changes’. He asked the Department to tabulate for the Committee, not now, which in their opinion had far reaching implications and the planned organisation that was in the pipeline for this, so that the Committee was with the Department in what it was envisaging.
Chairperson added: in addition the long term and short term.
Mr Khosa said that for everyone here the focus in terms of the six subjects was not new. It was not new in terms of standards. It was something that has existed since his own schooling days. Some things were portrayed as if they came with the present government whereas they were older than his age.
The Chairperson said that English proficiency would always remain a problem. Yes, the recommendations in the report were still going to be processed in different avenues. From her side she was talking about quality. The issue of getting 50% in English was a problem. One had to get more marks in English and fewer marks in our home language. What could the Department do about the language issue? This had to be taken into consideration. This was a good report and the Committee was happy with it.
Mr Mweli said that in case he did not articulate his views correctly and it ended up not sitting well with Ms Lovemore, he apologised for this. He said he would always apologise when he realised that he had done something wrong. He repeated what he had said: ‘the debate in the public domain has been about numbers, as opposed to their objective value’. The Department’s core business was to ensure that the objectives of the curriculum were met. For him numbers did not matter that much, it was about the objectives of the curriculum. The reason why he had issued a caution, was because when one focused too much on numbers, there was a risk of creating an assessment curriculum from the intended curriculum because when one was focusing on numbers one moved away from the objectives of the curriculum. It was a delicate balance that needed to be struck. It was in that context that he had made that statement. He wished that the country would debate the objective value and it probably marry it with the numerical value instead of just focusing on the numerical value of 30% or 40% because this was not taking the country anywhere.
He said GETC was going to help the Department a lot. The rationale was based on, for example, saying in terms of what was coming from Grade 9, one should follow this stream, and the Department believed these were the subject packages one should take up to the end of FET.
The Chairperson asked the Deputy Minister if he wanted to say anything.
Deputy Minister final briefing
The Deputy Minister thanked the Committee and said that he did not want to reopen anything from a very interesting discussion that had taken place. He would pay particular attention to the issues that had been raised and would confer with officials and see how the Department could do it. He would give three assurances to the Committee. First, was that the Department regarded the Report with great earnestness and anticipated a huge impact on the education system. Secondly, the Department had to be purposeful in what it was doing. It had to share its vision and plan in terms of implementation. If there were challenges and difficulties, those should be shared. The third assurance was on language that the Committee was talking about. This was very subjective and he was not giving an official or ministerial position. English was not only a barrier for learning or cognitive development for schools. it was beyond schools. This matter had to be looked at very urgently. His personal view was that the Department had to raise the bar.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the responses and hoped that the Committee was satisfied with the responses received.
The meeting was adjourned.