Education standards & comparative performance in Africa: SACMEQ III & IV study results; 2016 NSC examination preparations: Department of Basic Education briefings

Basic Education

13 September 2016
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on the comparative SACMEQ study which had correlated data from fifteen Southern and Eastern African countries to compare learner outcomes and teacher performance in education. Two studies had been conducted, in 2000 and 2007, but the final results from the SACMEQ IV study were still being correlated and an announcement on these and publication of the study would be made shortly. The samples considered learners at Grade 6 level, and compared a number of subjects,with a focus on reading and mathematics, but also health knowledge, of both learners and then teachers. South Africa had been eighth out of the 15 countries in the first study but had now moved up to sixth, but its average performance was still below the SACMEQ ideals. There had been improvements in some areas, particularly learner performance in Limpopo and Eastern Cape, which had started from a lower baseline level. This was a motivating factor as these two provinces had notoriously underperformed in the past. However, a discouraging point was that the performance of teachers in reading and mathematics had decreased across provinces. Comprehensive slides were produced covering all aspects, and the Committee commended the Department on the level of detail in that report.

Particular areas of concern highlighted were the drop in the standards of teacher performance, and this was questioned since it seemed to be at odds with increased learner performance. DBE conceded that teacher training and development was a priority issue and would be further investigated. It was suggested that DBE must collaborate with the Department of Health in order to increase  health knowledge in learners. Members also questioned the reasons why there was little improvement shown in students from high socio-economic schools and DBE admitted that the focus had been on the lower sectors, with decreased pressure on the higher sectors but this would be investigated further. Other questions addressed the

The Report on the Preparations for the 2016 NSC Examinations was split into two parts. The first part dealt with system readiness in preparation for the 2016 NSC examinations. The second part dealt with learner readiness. Examination systems were in place and ready for the 2016 NSC examinations. The overall national statistics revealed an increase in enrolments to write the 2016 examinations. An increased enrolment for mathematics was noted, accompanied by a decrease in the enrolment for mathematics literacy. There had been an overall decrease in the enrolment for business subjects. The preparation included special review sessions during which question papers were prepared, with various subjects being pre-written, then fed back into the final questions. 60 non-official language papers were sourced from the independent Examinations Board. The DBE conducted audits on all storage points and categorized them into high, medium and low risk centres. School based assessments (SBAs) were compared with the final examination marks to determine whether, as suspected, the SBAs might have been inflated, and it was noted that all provinces were working on improving that system. The criteria for progressed learners was outlined, with a note that they must complete examinations deferred in the next year. The systems for marker competency were determined and explained, as well as the training given and what was expected from Chief Markers and moderators. One problem that was also of concern to Members was that staff capacity was still of serious concern across all provinces. DBE then reported also on registration of candidates and centres and highlighted those centres where there were considered to be risks, which included Northern Cape and Limpopo, where papers had been stored at schools where security had been a problem in the past, and KwaZulu Natal, whose marking centres were set at universities that may see disruptions due to the Fees Must Fall campaign. Overall the DBE concluded that the evaluation was that everything was on track. Provinces were to be given till the end of this month to ensure that all centres complied with these standards.
The Chairperson questioned this, noting that there were several areas where flags had been raised, but the DBE explained why it still maintained that readiness was established, because of the interventions that the DBE had been able to make in these areas and the monitoring that was continuing at national and provincial levels. Members were particularly concerned about security of papers and asked several questions as to what the DBE was doing to address issues that had been raised in the previous year. Members were concerned abut the figures for enrolments. One questioned whether the business subjects had seen a decrease because of the examination system that was not splitting the subjects covered into two papers, and others hoped that the increase in mathematics enrolments, while seen generally as a positive, had been catered for with adequate teachers.  DBE stated that the economics paper in 2015 was split and that the DBE would consider how to divide this workload in the future. Members asked what the audit provided and how the standards were designed to increase security. Members asked why DBE had not mentioned special needs learners, and DBE then responded by outlining the steps taken to cater for these learners. Members also raised questions on the removal of the  language compensation, which they thought might prejudice learners, exam papers from IEB, and the steps taken to improve the Afrikaans papers, which in 2015 had been difficult to answer because the nuances were not correctly captured in translation. The Committee also requested more information on the selection of markers and whether the Personnel Administrative Measures were being properly applied or needed to be reviewed.

The DBE then outlined the achievements and key activities undertaken by each province in the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA), which was a monitoring tool used to track learner performance, over Grades R to 12, and the Evidence Based Report (EBR) which focused on learners from Grades 10 to 12, ad which would include programmes and interventions over and above the normal teaching, as mandated by Umalusi. ICT was recognised as an important teaching tool and was being used in all provinces except Limpopo. School Based Assessment workshops had been held in all nine provinces and statistics were provided. There had also been further teacher training to ensure that the new curriculum was effectively implemented. All provinces were currently holding extra classes. The presentation went into some detail on the provincial interventions into various subjects, and noted that best practice was being isolated to be shared across all provinces. Tracking was now being done on learner performance and outcomes, at school, district and provincial level. DBE, despite opposition from some teachers, was conducting pre and post tests. The Last Push Campaign included four components and would run from investigation of provincial plans, to investigation at district level, how they were being presented and lessons learned would be used to guide the final stages of preparation to the final examinations.

Members asked if there was not stigmatisation of progressed learners and how the DBE avoided them becoming demotivated, and were told that about half of those progressed last year had managed to pass,with a number getting Bachelors passes. The Committee again questioned the decision by Umalusi to drop language compensation but DBE explained that the final decision lay with Umalusi. Members noted the workshops and inspection figures but maintained that a large number of schools were not being visited. Several Members were not convinced of the value of extra classes, pointing out that it put strain on the pupils, that teachers either held back in normal working hours in order to earn extra money, that parents were being asked to pay in excess of the normal school fees, and that some teachers were struggling to travel to their schools over the weekend and were not being paid. Members asked for an indication whether these did raise pass rates, whether in principle it was good to continue with them, and why there seemed to be a problem in completing the curriculum on time. Similarly, Members were not convinced that the subject advisers were always best for the job, and urged the DBE to reconsider its position, as DBE had been forced to include them when teacher training colleges closed, but often did not get value from them. Members asked about the monitoring of the curriculum, questioned whether teachers were being properly trained to teach the current curriculum and noted that while in theory the same levels of coverage were implemented, in practice there were wide variations. The Committee noted the DBE's assurance that the examinations should run smoothly.

 

Meeting report

Educational performance in Africa: Southern & Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) III and IV results: Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefing
Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director for National Assessment and Public Examinations, DBE, presented the results from the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) III to SACMEQ IV report.

SACMEQ is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation initiative that focuses on the extent to which targets set within the framework of the International Education for All campaign and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are being met. This study gave South Africa the opportunity to assess its own educational performance against other countries within the same continental area. It focused on neighbouring countries in the Southern hemisphere and Eastern region, and then also highlighted performance in 15 countries. The study provided a comparison as well as important data that may be used to generate research information to improve the quality of education and future planning.

SACMEQ is unique as it looks at learner performance and contextual factors, including school, learner and teacher characteristics.

The methodology and research design were outlined in slides 8 to 9. The SACMEQ study was informed by policy concerns identified by ministers of SACMEQ member countries. It focused on reading and mathematics and covered curriculum topics across the 15 member systems. The sample used had a 90% level of confidence, as although it was small it had been scientifically determined. The test was introduced in 2000, when SACMEQ II was conducted. The SACMEQ III results were released in 2007 and SAQMEC IV covered the position in 2014, and the final results were expected shortly.

Because South Africa had been concerned by the SACMEQ results, the DBE requested SACMEQ to perform additional tests before the public release of data.  SACMEQ assured the Department that nothing irregular was found. SACMEQ used the most modern techniques. It considered performance over the years but also provided comparative data. SACMEQ used the Item Response Theory (ITR) model. The tests were confidential, and whilst there were minor changes to the tests yearly, they remained substantially the same, to ensure that comparisons of performance from 2007 to 2013 were accurately assessed.

The processes were set out in slide 11, and it was noted that the sample size for SACMEQ III was 2 446 Grade 6 learners from 290 schools, as set out in slide 11. Key findings were summarised in slides 13 to 15. For both reading and mathematics, performance had increased since 2000, ,however South Africa was below the centre point. He explained that  SACMEQ used 500 points as the centre point. Where a country performed above the centre point it was regarded as performance above the minimum standard. South Africa’s performance in both subjects in 2000 and 2007 was below the SACMEQ centre point and it ranked eighth out of 15 in 2000. He explained that although 15 countries had participated, Mozambique had not submitted its data, so that the final results were for 14 countries only. South Africa had now moved from eighth to sixth position comparatively. The most important improvement was the better performance in SACMEQ IV. There had been an increase of 63 points in reading and a 92 point increase in mathematics. The DBE conceded that the ranking should be higher but acknowledged the significant improvements, as well as the fact that South Africa was the third country to show significant performance differences between the III and IV studies.

Overall and provincial performances were set out in slides 17 and 18. These gave a comparison between SACMEQ III and SACMEQ IV. There had been improvements in two underperforming provinces, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.  The Eastern Cape had increased from 448 to 545 points in reading and from 465 to 570 points in mathematics. In Limpopo the increase was from 425 to 519 in reading and 447 to 594 in mathematics. All provinces were now then above the SACMEQ centre point as they scored above 500. A comparison was then also given of how much each province had improved, and this showed that because Eastern Cape and Limpopo started from a lower baseline, they had improved significantly more.  All other provinces have demonstrated encouraging improvement.

The highest improvement in mathematics was in Limpopo and the Western Cape, followed by the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). This was also encouraging as it demonstrated the success in the Grade 6 programme and the interventions of the DBE. The graph showed the performance of the nine provinces over the last three years.

Slide 21 set out the performance that SACMEQ graded on reading Levels & SA Grade Equivalents, using a 7-point scale. Should a learner obtain a score of 2 or lower, the learner would be regarded at a pre-reading stage (non reading assessment). A score of 3demonstrated emergent skills, 4 established basic reading, 5 showed reading for meaning (and these categories were mediocre). Level 6 demonstrated interpretative reading, 7 showed inferential reading, 7+ analytical reading and 7++ critical reading (these were regarded as advance reading). The non-reading category had substantially decreased, 46% were in the advance category and 40% of learners were within the middle category. Provincial performance and trends were described on slides 22 and 23.

The same scale was applied to the mathematics ability of learners from a pre numeracy skill level to an abstract problem-solving skill level. Here, the majority of learners fell into levels three, four and five. An estimated 22% of learners were at the advanced level (see slide 25).

A comparison was then done of the advanced levels. There was a movement, between SACMEQ III and IV, in mathematics from 8.4% in SACMEQ III to 22% in SACMEQ IV. There had been an improvement from 26% to 46% in reading. The increase in the advanced category was observed across all provinces.

Achievements for those who were assessed as non-readers and non-numerate, in the years between SACMEQ III and IV, was given in slide 26. This was one of the most significant achievements in the study. In SACMEQ III, 47% of learners were non numerate, but this figure declined dramatically to  4.7% in SACMEQ IV. 27.2% of Grade 6 learners in SACMEQ III were regarded as non-readers, but this had declined to 2.7% in SACMEQ IV. There has also been significant improvements in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

A comparison of achievements by sub-groups was given in slide 28. Comparisons were made between boys and girls, rural and urban, low socio-economic status and high socio-economic status. For reading there had been an improvement in all sub-groups from 2013 to 2014.  The only exception was the socio-economic status, where the performance had dropped by 2007. The DBE would investigate the reasons behind this drop. In mathematics there had been an improvement shown by SACMEQ IV across all sub-groups.

Some of the factors affecting learning performance were then analysed in slide 29 and 30. The quality of teaching determined the quality of learning. The SACMEQ study had permitted teachers to write the same tests as learners. This provided a comparison, and linked teacher knowledge to learner performance. They wrote language, mathematics, HIV and AIDS and TB knowledge tests (and learners also took the health knowledge test).

Dr Poliah admitted that the results were discouraging, as the performance of teachers in reading had dropped across all provinces, from 758 to 652, between SACMEQ III and SACMEQ IV. This trend was observed also for mathematics. The drop was not significant, but was of concern and will be investigated. The exception was for mathematics in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, where teacher knowledge had increased. Comparisons were also done for teacher reading scores at levels 6 to 8, between the two studies and again there was a drop, as shown on slide 33, across all provinces. The highest “in service training” scores were found in the “reasonably effective” and “effective” categories. 

Schools were said to perform well where extra tuition was offered, but the percentage of learners not receiving tuition was higher than the percentage of learners receiving tuition. The exception was in the Free State, where more learners received tuition.

In 2013, there was a study done of learners in Grade 6, in all provinces, who had access to learning materials, and Dr Poliah pointed out that this was when the shortage was most acute, but had settled down, particularly in Limpopo. The DBE admitted that the Committee must be provided with the status of textbooks in the other two provinces.

The health knowledge of both learners and teachers has dropped since 2007. This decline had been noted within the different sub-groups as well.  Slide 38 set out the availability of textbooks containing health knowledge. In 2007, 54% of learners indicated that they would allow an HIV infected teacher to teach them, but in 2013 there had been a decrease to 40%, showing a change in the attitude towards HIV infected individuals. The DBE admitted that the programmes on individuals suffering with certain health conditions must be reviewed.

Slides 39 to 41 demonstrated South Africa’s performance in relation to other countries on TB knowledge, where South Africa ranked only eleventh out of the countries studied and showed a decrease in performance from SACMEQ III. Teacher knowledge scored higher than learners.

The DBE summarised the next steps that it would take in slide 43. The DBE realised the value of the data as it provided an indication of South Africa’s performance in the region. This information was used to improve the learning environment in reading and mathematics, to address issues of gender equality, infrastructure, resources as well as collaboration with other departments to improve teacher knowledge. The biggest concern was over the teacher development programmes to improve teaching knowledge on mathematics and language. Dr Poliah added that South Africa had participated in the Trends in Mathematics and Science (TIMS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) international studies. The results from the TIMS study would be released to the public on 29 November 2016. The PIRLS study focused on language, and will be released in February 2017.

Discussion       
The Chairperson highlighted the fact that the DBE had been wary of the results and had requested them to be double checked. 

Mr G Davis (DA) applauded the DBE on the comprehensive presentation. Mr Davis questioned when the full country report would be available. It was desirable to consider the entire report and compare it against other countries to form a holistic picture.

Mr Davis questioned the levels of achievement in reading and mathematics. He pointed out that the SACMEQ levels of competency were one measurement, but the South African internal systems required that all Grade 6 learners should achieve level 5 competency. However, these results showed that 34.1% of Grade 6 learners were still below the required standard for reading, and 54.6% of learners were below the required level for mathematics. He also added that the decline in teacher performance was disappointing. It was difficult to understand declining teacher performance on the one hand and increased learner performance on the other, as surely the better the quality of teaching, the higher the performance of learners would be.

Mr Davis then pointed out that previous SACMEQ studies covered teacher absenteeism, and in 2007  South Africa was significantly behind other countries, so he questioned the average number of days of teacher absenteeism. He also questioned whether the DBE had identified teacher training and on going development as a concern, given the decline in teacher performance, and what remedial measures the DBE will take.

Mr T Khoza (ANC) commended the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the Western Cape on their improvement. This demonstrated that the DBE’s interventions were taken seriously and implemented. However, he expressed concern over the drop in health knowledge and questioned what mechanisms DBE will put in place to address this. He asked if DBE could get a report from the Department of Health on this issue.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) congratulated the DBE on the improved performance. She highlighted the importance of reviewing the curriculum and added that the Committee has considered bringing back the Teacher Training Colleges. South Africa has invested sizeable funds in education, and in order to reap the benefits the focus must be correct, and more support provided to teacher training centres.  the focus must be in the right direction.

Noting that South Africa has moved up in the rankings from number eight to number six, Ms Mokoto asked what the five top countries were doing maintain a high ranking and urged the DBE to take lessons from these countries to improve the South African system.

Ms Mokoto questioned how the DBE rated the performance of rural schools and urban schools, particularly in relation to demographics and gender.

Ms Mokoto asked if subsequent studies would be done on the same sample of students to ensure continuity and consistency. She asked if DBE could overcome the learning gaps identified by the time the learners assessed reached Grade 12, for any shortcomings in skills impacted on the labour market and some learners may be left unemployed permanently due to the lack of skills. She also asked if DBE was able to balance the curriculum between academic and vocational subjects, to avoid the learners becoming demoralised. 

The Chairperson highlighted teacher and service training, pointing out that although there was in service training it did not seem to have actually benefitted the educators. This led to the conclusion that training had been conducted merely for the sake of having it, instead of actually working to improve the core issues. It was particularly interesting to note that there was little improvement among students from high socio-economic levels, and she asked what lesson may be learnt from this, and if it indicated that perhaps the DBE was placing more emphasis on learners from lower socio-economic levels?

Dr Poliah admitted that he would not be able to answer all questions now. This assessment reflected what happened with Grade 6 learners and their teachers; it was merely a sample of the whole system and did not reflect the whole system. He said that the DBE, having just received the results, did note some significant signs of improvement. While the DBE was not sceptical of good news, it did want to ensure that the reports were accurate and for that reason had requested the SACMEQ technical team to meet with the technical team from the DBE, to determine, for each assessment, what had brought about the improvement and how this could be applied in other grades. The DBE questioned the margin of improvement. SACMEQ informed the DBE that the period of 2007 to 2013 was being considered but in 2000 the levels were significantly lower. Over 16 years there had been more stability, which had fed into the increased improvement.

DBE was waiting still on SACMEQ to officially release the results for all countries, although it had made the data available to the 14 countries for consideration. Dr Poliah stated that once the DBE had assessed and was satisfied with the results, the official report would be released. The DBE was pushing for the release of the final report by mid-October. He further stated that the Minister will issue an official release and the full report will be available on the DBE’s website.

Dr Poliah said, in explaining the levels, that SACMEQ assessed level 4 achievement as basic numeracy, so levels 1 to 3 were problematic, with levels 1 and 2 being basically non-numerate. Under the South African grading 25% of learners fall within the levels 1 to 3, but SACMEQ assessment came up with the 2.7% non-numerate levels, because SACMEQ regarded level 3 as “emergent” readers, and level 4 demonstrated basic reading skills.

Mr Davis intervened at this point and said he wanted to avoid further confusion. Level 5 of SACMEQ is competent numeracy, and he asked whether by Grade 6 the learners should have achieved this level. If so, then 35% were below the required level for reading, and in the mathematics category around 54% were below the required level. Mr Davis noted that despite the improvements there was still a very long road ahead.

Dr Poliah agreed that this interpretation was fair, and that any level below 5 illustrated that the learner was not fully competent.

Dr Poliah agreed that addressing teacher performance is a priority, and will be further investigated once all the details have been collected. The teacher test was optional and perhaps that selective sampling had resulted in less competent teachers taking the test, which meant that it would not accurately reflect teacher knowledge across the board. A deeper analysis will be conducted and the DBE will return to the Committee with a more reliable outcome.

The DBE used the TIMS, PIRLS and SACMEQ studies; this broad spectrum warranted an integrated analysis to consider what the different studies revealed. This will provide a more holistic picture of the performance of the system.

Information regarding teacher absenteeism was not available today, but Dr Poliah assured the Committee that such information would be made available.

Dr Poliah stated that due to the drop in health knowledge identified, the DBE would work with the sister departments and consider their programmes. However, it would be inaccurate to make the generalisation that these results reflected the health knowledge of all learners. The information and programmes exposed to Grade 6 learners must be considered as these programmes contextualised the results. The focus on more senior learners in the system had resulted in the decrease of knowledge in junior learners. The issue would be further explored.

He stated that DBE fully agreed that interventions must be made and was prioritising those, but more intensive evaluation was required in order to illustrate where the DBE has been successful and where the shortfalls are.

Dr Poliah stated that he would be visiting Kenya next week, as that country will be releasing its annual assessment results, and this would allow the DBE to learn from these results and findings. Dr Poliah agreed that more sharing of knowledge and experiences with neighbouring countries would be of great benefit to the DBE, particularly since many neighbouring countries are ahead of South Africa.

In explaining the results, he noted that all schools results were pooled and a sample was selected based on various demographic and other factors. The same schools were not necessarily tested across both studies. A  further analysis will be conducted to compare rural and urban schools. The three-streams model was the strategy employed to move issues forward. He agreed that the focus of the DBE had been on low socio-economic schools so that little pressure was n high socio-economic schools, which had resulted in the decrease. The DBE will investigate the issue further.

Mr Bheki Mpanza, Chief Director, DBE, commented that increased monitoring would be conducted over the training programmes and the information would be shared with the responsible branch. He prompted a comprehensive study on neighbouring countries programmes to assist the South African system.

The Chairperson reiterated that the full report should be received before the end of October.

2016 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations: Preparations and systems readiness: DBE briefings
Ms Priscilla Ogunbanjo, Director: Examinations and Assessments DBE, dealt with systems readiness and Mr  Govender, Chief Director: Curriculum, DBE, dealt with learner readiness in the briefing.

Ms Ogunbanjo said the DBE had interacted with all provinces in preparation of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams. Registration had been completed, exam questions had been set and most provinces were busy with the trial examinations. The first set of moderations for the 2016 preparation exams had been completed.

The DBE conducted a review for all provinces, but paid articular attention to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Storage points, marking centres, marker appointments and district exam centres have been audited. The state of readiness was completed on Friday. Distinct features of the class were outlined in slide 4.

The numbers of enrolments had increased from 2015 to 2016,  by approximately 9 216. Enrolments significantly increased in Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. There had been a decline in the number of candidates in the Free State and Western Cape. The other provinces reflected very little difference in the number of enrolments. The overall national statistics for both part-time and full-time students had increased from 2015 to 2016.  Trends were illustrated from 2012 to 2016, and the enrolment had been highest in 2016.
There was a general increase in subject enrolment. The increased enrolment for mathematics in 2016 was highlighted, with a corresponding decline of mathematics literacy enrolments in this year, but overall more learners were enrolling for mathematics literacy than mathematics. There has been a decrease in the enrolment for business subjects, accounting, business studies and economics, as illustrated in slide 6.

Ms Ogunbanjo said that the Limpopo data was still being finalised therefore some small changes to the numbers may be expected. Mpumalanga had the highest increase in the number of progressed learners from 2015 to 2016.

Question papers settings had been subjected to a review and this had resulted in different intervention strategies to deal with issues that arose in last year’s examination administration. In 2015 there were a few questions that were problematic. This year, when the question papers were prepared, a special review session was held with examining panels and curriculum specialists. Interventions suggested during those meetings were implemented when finalising the papers. DBE had also reviewed some of the exam panels and some contracts had expired but others had been extended. Where the examiners performance was not up to standard their appointments were being reviewed. All examiner and moderator posts were being advertised in 2016, so by May 2017 there would be a new panel to commence setting the 2018 examinations. The current panel will set the 2017 exam papers.

The DBE also appointed a finance review team as an additional layer of quality assurance. The three experts appointed conducted a fairness review on the question papers. Out of the 132 question papers presented for the 2016 examination, at least 95 of the papers were reviewed in terms of language, difficulty, fairness and gender stereotype. This was to ensure that the language is at a level accessible to all candidates.

Pre-writing was another intervention in the development of question papers. Various subjects were pre-written by selected individuals. The comments received were fused into the finalisation of the papers.

In 2015, one of the problems  highlighted was adherence to the Umalusi time frames, and this year, by the time of the first moderation, at least 12% of the question papers were approved by Umalusi, with the 78% being approved in the second moderation. This was a significant improvement from previous years where papers were only approved after the fourth or fifth moderation. All approved papers were sent to provinces on 1 August 2016 for printing.  The DBE did not like to have papers kept in storage for long periods before the examination,  to reduce the risk of papers being leaked. 60 non-official language question papers were sourced from the Independent Examination Board (IEB), which had also been delivered to provinces for printing.

To combat irregularities, the DBE had taken measures in advance to ensure that storage points and exam centres were ready. To ensure that the 2016 question papers were not leaked, several measures were taken. The DBE has been conducting an audit on all storage points across the country, which was almost complete. Any storage points that do not comply with the security norms and standards will not be used to store question papers, and all exam centres across all provinces were categorised for their risk, with the assessments taking into account previous examination irregularities, whether these had previously been exam irregularities or whether it was a new exam centre. The individual dispensation measures had been distributed according to the assessed risk. High-risk centres would have resident monitors, with stricter invigilators. In certain cases the management of the exam centre may be taken over by the district officials or by the province itself. The DBE has specifically focused on independent schools where irregularities have been previously detected.

Another intervention was the comparative analysis report was released to provinces. This report, described on slides 10 to 12, compares the school based assessment (SBA) marks with the final examination marks, to assess whether the SBA marks may have been inflated. The schools may then take the appropriate measures. The reports were successfully mediated across all provinces, in a road show conducted by the Examinations and Curriculum Directorate. About 20 schools per province were sampled and audited. The shortcomings were identified and communicated to SBA monitors. A follow up would be done in the second round of moderation in October. The alternative assessment tasks were the main area of concern. Following this, a policy on the quality assurance of SBA had been developed and this will be presented in September. In the meantime, guidelines had been provided and would be used as a standard to guide the implementation of SBA across all provinces.

Provincial Education Department (PED) interventions were also important in an attempt to improve the SBA system and the quality of SBA. The Eastern Cape had increased its moderations to maintain a hands on approach to SBA in that province. In Gauteng, moderation was done at the second level across all districts for the Further Education Training (FET) and General Education and Training (GET) level, in line with the general approach to encourage interventions as GET and FET levels. Limpopo adopted a cross-district moderation, where a moderator from one district moderated the other, to reduce bias. North West had moved the co-ordination down to lower levels and conducted training on school management teams. Heads of Departments (HODs) and the Deputy Principals are custodians of curriculum delivery at the school level, and these teams are important as it provided them with the required knowledge to assist their schools. After the quarterly exams in KZN, there was a provincial marking standardisation meeting to ensure the same marking standards were applied. These were a few of the key interventions taken by provinces to ensure the quality of SBA.

The DBE introduced additional criteria for learners, such as
- at the minimum the learners should have regular attendance. The learners should not have missed more than 20 days of the school year and completed all SBAs.
- Progressed  learners have been allowed multiple opportunities after having satisfied certain criteria, which would include the completion of SBA tasks, attendance and actually writing the trial examinations
- If learners had not written the trial exam they would not be given the opportunity to write a few subjects at the end of the year
- The DBE had not stipulated the number of exams that had to be written at the end of the year but left this up to the discretion of the children and parents. Candidates who chose to write off a few of subjects in October / November will write the remaining subjects in June.

Ms Ogunbanjo then addressed the question of markers, saying that competency of  markers had always been an issue of public interest. A tolerance range was applied last year to enhance the quality of marking, but this showed little variation between the markers and moderators, as well as little variation in the marking between provinces.

She explained that each Chief Marker and Internal Moderator must mark at least 20 scripts before the marking guidelines standardisation meeting so that they were able to participate in the meetings. If the Chief Markers and Internal Moderators had not marked the sample of scripts that they were given they would not be allowed to lead the marking process in that province and DBE would supply another person to fill the role and assist. Before the marking standardisation meeting the Chief Markers and Internal Moderators would choose five key subjects for training, to strengthen the competency for marking and moderation. The structure and format of the meeting will be revised. SMS members from curriculum examination teacher development directorates from across provinces will be sourced to chair meetings. In 2015, centralised marking was piloted in four small enrolment subjects. In 2016, ten second additional languages will be marked centrally by the DBE. In the past, diagnostic subject reports had been provided to provinces for feedback and subject advisers mediated the diagnostic reports. The diagnostic report will assist with interventions in 2017.

The consolidated system evaluation and examination dashboard summary of different aspects of examination administration were set out on pages 15 and 16. Overall an evaluation was done on four aspects: examination administration, question papers, the marking process and the analysis and feedback.
Overall the DBE felt that the administration of the examinations was fair and well. All exam papers had been approved, reviewed by the fairness panel, pre-written and were ready to be written. Most provinces have completed the invigilator training. Marking selection had happened and provinces were consolidating the lists. The DBE and Umalusi have conducted audits, which demonstrated that that the DBE was ready to prepare the diagnostic report and comparative analysis.

However, there remained three areas of serious concern around three provinces which had vacancies, although the other provinces did demonstrate sufficient capacity to write the exams.

Registration of candidates was completed across all provinces, and here, Limpopo was flagged as of moderate concern as the province was still mobilising its marking data. Centres had been registered and categorized, except for the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the Western Cape that were still finalising the audit at their centres.

All provinces were ready to print. Most provinces had automated packing machines. The Free State was still of moderate concern as the province did not follow the step of pre-sealing papers as part of their processes.

DBE had audited the storage points of all provinces and where results were shown in amber on the presentation, this was because of Western Cape and Northern Cape having papers  stored at certain schools, whilst in Limpopo and Eastern Cape did have security concerns at some of the storage points.

The invigilator training desks had been attended to. Marker competency appointments have been made. Limpopo was still in the process of refining a few qualifications of their markers. In KwaZulu Natal, there were amber markings because some universities were being used as marking centres, instead of the schools, which was a risk because of the potential for further Fees Must Fall action. In Western Cape the amber markings highlighted the ratio of senior markers, which was higher than other provinces.

In terms of monitoring Eastern Cape and Limpopo had been flagged, due to inadequate transport.

All provinces had taken strong measures to ensure that any irregularities were handled in the best possible manner. SBA continued to raise concerns because of the variation across all provinces, between SBA and exam marks.

There were plans in place to deal with marks capturing and processing.

Although a generic risk matrix was set out on slides 23 to 25, Ms Ogunbanjo stated that she would not go through these  in detail, as this was a summary of the key risks highlighted whilst she was taking Members through the earlier parts of the presentation.

Discussion
The Chairperson questioned the overall evaluation. She felt that overall picture of all aspects being of no concern was misleading.

Ms Ogunbanjo  conceded that the assessment was difficult. In areas where the evaluation rendered results close to 100%, green markings were used. She agreed that although there were serious issues in the area of staff capacity only, this was not highlighted as a problem in the overall evaluation, as the” generic risks” slides had indicated what contingency measures the provinces had put in place. The DBE wanted the provinces with low staff capacity now to have established those posts by next year. Another example of the measures in place included the HOD hiring vehicles to ensure monitoring. The DBE hoped that interventions now would be incorporated as permanent measures in future examinations. Despite the areas of amber markings, there were no serious concerns on how the 2016 exams would pan out, and this then informed the overall evaluation.

Ms J Basson (ANC) thanked the DBE for the comprehensive report that covered all questions posed in the previous meeting. She noted the decline in the enrolment for business subjects, perhaps due to the large volume of work that learners had to study in order to write one three-hour exam. In science subjects, the work was divided between two papers and she mentioned that the DBE had previously promised to consider doing something similar for business studies. Therefore, she asked what measures had been taken to split the commercial subjects into two papers.

Ms Basson wanted assurance that DBE had taken all possible measures to ensure that no papers were leaked, pointing out that despite the measures put in place last year, papers had still been leaked.

Ms Basson said that when the Committee visited full service schools it had found that there were still learners with disabilities in mainstream schools, as their impairment was not severe enough for them to be placed in special schools. She wanted to know how the DBE had accommodated these learners in the 2016 examinations, particularly if the school principals had not applied for extra time to be allocated for them to finish the examinations.

Mr Khoza commended the DBE for addressing issues on progressed learners. Teachers experienced frustrations with demotivated progressed learners, who needed help but did not want to attend the sessions. He asked the DBE to give the numbers of the risk centres. He commented that the decline in mathematics literacy enrolments and concomitant increase in mathematics enrolments was encouraging, as mathematics literacy did not aid students at the university level. 

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) commended the progressive report, and wanted to add to comments on mathematics enrolments, asking if there had been an increase in teachers teaching mathematics, to ensure that classes were not over crowded.

Mr Mnguni asked if there was any alternative for tasks in SBA.

Mr Mnguni suggested that when considering progressed learners, there should not just be a focus on Grade 12 learners, as a holistic approach would help all Grade 12s to perform better. He also questioned the apparent inconsistency that a child would have to pass mathematics in order to progress right through. He also noted that DBE had stated it was removing the language compensation, and asked if this was an ongoing process.  Finally, he too asked if any measures were employed to ensure that learners with disabilities were able to complete the exams on time?

Mr Davis thanked the DBE for a comprehensive report. He asked if there would be any competency tests carried out for the markers, as was already done in the Western Cape, and asked if the audit was in fact the same as the competency test. He wanted to know more about the decrease in mathematics literacy, accounting and business studies enrolments.  He was seriously concerned about the staff vacancies for examination functions in the Eastern Cape, KZN and Limpopo, and asked how DBE ensured that these would be filled in these three key provinces – which had, incidentally, been the worst-performing provinces in the 2015 matric examinations. 

Mr Davis also noted the concerns around security of examination paper storage, and said that the Life Sciences examination had been leaked in Limpopo in the previous year. He questioned what the DBE had done to ensure the security of exam papers in Limpopo. He also noted that risks had been highlighted for examination marking at universities and suggested that marking should be moved now to a more appropriate location.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) highlighted that the presentation had omitted to mention blind and deaf learners. She questioned whether the moderators were on par with markers, as last year there were many problems surrounding these learners. She also was concerned that despite the DBE having promised, last year, to attend to storage and distribution in the Eastern Cape, which had been a problem in 2015, the position remained the same.

Ms Boshoff noted that in 2015, many learners complained that the Afrikaans question papers had been a direct translation from the English version and did not make sense, leaving the learners unable to answer the questions adequately. She asked for clarity on this issue. She also wanted to know if students were required to indicate what subjects they would write in November, and what in June, and what would happen if they did not write in June.

The Chairperson noted the comments of Ms Boshoff and added that another problem highlighted in 2015 was the style and format of the question papers. She questioned what the DBE had done to prepare teachers to educate learners at the same level at which questions are asked. She wanted more information also on the language papers sourced from IEB. She questioned how these papers were sourced and transported, and what risks were involved.

The Chairperson also saw the increase of learners in mathematics as a positive sign, but this did pose a challenge to the DBE, as it would have to be fully prepared to offer all training and support to mathematics and science teachers.

She requested more information on the methods used by provinces when selecting markers, and also asked whether the DBE did provide provinces with guidelines on how markers should be selected.

Ms Ogunbanjo thanked the Committee, and said that she would answer the questions to the best of her ability but may need to come back with further details. She agreed that the DBE had noted the decline in the enrolment of business subjects, and said that in 2015, the economics paper had been split into two to cover the syllabus more fairly, and the DBE was considering the workload and how papers could be split also for business studies and accounting and how it may be divided in future.

The security issue of storage points had prompted the DBE to conduct an audit of the storage points. The provinces had audited their storage according to security criteria, and the results were verified by DBE, who had provided minimum norms and standards. All provinces had until 30 September to remedy any facility that did not meet the minimum standard, and if a facility remained unsuitable it could not be used to store exam papers for 2016. 

Ms Ogunbanjo admitted that it was an oversight on the part of the DBE not to include special needs students in the presentation but assured the Committee that the DBE had not forgotten about special needs learners. The DBE had ensured that they are well accommodated in the 2016 examination period. The papers had been adapted to cater for blind and deaf learners. Teachers from schools for deaf learners were included in the teams that performed the adaptation of papers for deaf learners, and the papers covered a variety of dialects. South African Sign Language as a home language was implemented for the first time in Grade 10. This group of expertise would assist in this area in the future. The exam papers were also written in braille for blind learners. Principals had recorded the numbers of learners with special needs in mainstream schools and they were captured on the system, so DBE was aware of who they were and where they were located.  DBE had instructed the provinces to deal with these learners accordingly.

Centres had been audited and categorised as high, medium or low risk. She apologized for the total figures being left out but assured Members that in most cases no more than 10% of centres were high risk. She promised to provide the full statistics to the Committee later. High-risk centres may have a history of irregularity or be certain independent centres. The protocol would be for a resident monitor to permanently monitor these centres throughout the examination period, for every paper written. Furthermore the district officials would collect the papers and return the scripts. There would be additional monitoring deployed to these centres.

Ms Ogunbanjo noted that there had been an improvement in the development of SBA tasks.  The deficient area related to alternative tasks, such as research and projects, which teachers had found difficult to develop. The DBE had prepared exam templates for those tasks and had sent them to provinces for teachers to use as examples to develop their own tasks.

She asserted that the Personnel Administrative Measures (PAM) policy was clear on the criteria for the selection of markers. The appointed marker must hold a tertiary qualification, specialising in that subject at the second or third year level, and should have taught grade 12 in the past five years. This would ensure that the markers were familiar with the curriculum changes in the NSC and Curriculum and Policy Statement (CAPS). The DBE focused on the last two years when CAPS was introduced as a further step to ensure that  markers are adequately qualified. Learner performance had been used as a proxy for competency in most provinces, despite the requirement not being explicitly mentioned in the CAPS. The Chief Markers and Internal Moderators were put through a full day of training, where they were expected to mark within a tolerance range. If they marked outside this range, they would not be permitted to mark. This system had been taken to provinces, through Chief Markers, from the DBE. Ms Ogunbanjo stated that the competency test would not guarantee the quality of marking.

A comparison of the re-marking data was done over all provinces, and this revealed that there was no significant difference in the standard of marking across all provinces. The data included the markers who had completed competency tests as well as those who had not. The tolerance range test also applied to Chief Markers and Internal Moderators. This year, additional training was introduced to Chief Markers and Internal Moderators before they left for their provinces.

The quality assurance and final translation proofing included editors from all provinces, who were asked to read through the final papers and make comments on the translation. During these meeting it was discovered that the same language might be slightly nuanced in different provinces. This holistic approach sought to achieve a balance between these nuances. The DBE had considered a standard-setting process where all provinces could come to a consensus over the agreed glossary.

She assured the Committee that attendance was an issue taken seriously by the DBE. Learners who were absent for more than 20 days will not be permitted to progress.

Dr Poliah added that all these questions helped the DBE to improve its systems. He assured Members that the systems were continuously interrogated to deter irregularities, and extensive monitoring was intended to ensure all round security. The DBE had advised provinces that monitoring must start from the beginning to the end of the cycle to uncover all breaches.

He explained that progressed learners who did not write in June may register as part-time learners and write the examinations in subsequent years. The multiple examination opportunity came with a pre-condition that learner must write all six subjects by June of the following year. For example, if four were written in November, the remaining two must be written in June.

The DBE has noted the concern on language compensations and had raised this with Umalusi, which had been phasing out the language compensation, hoping that it would drop from the previous 3% to 2% in this year. However, DBE had requested that this be reconsidered, since the DBE believed that the problems that the language compensation was intended to address in fact persisted. It would be unfair for these learners to be denied this compensatory mechanism.

The DBE was in the process of reviewing PAM, having picked up the same issues highlighted by the Committee. The DBE had presented a document to senior management that will go through the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) process to get to a revised version of PAM, and hopefully then the variable application across provinces will be reduced.

He noted that, because of the sheer size of KZN, there were over 27 marking centres and that alone presented a logistical challenge. Larger  venues at universities were seen as easier to manage but the current risks at universities had escalated since that decision was made. Dr Poliah stated that the DBE would engage with the National Intelligence Agency on the safety of using universities as marking centres, and would make a final request to KZN based on those recommendations.

South Africa had committed itself to raising the standard of question papers to be internationally competent. The higher standard of national question papers raised the bar at which teachers and schools must work. Last year the DBE reviewed question papers where it was assumed that the cognitive level might have caused the decreased in results, but this demonstrated only marginal differences, so the DBE concluded that the decrease was probably due to the system acclimatising to the new standard. 2015 was only the second year of this approach and  as more materials became available and teachers became accustomed to the content, the adaptation to the new cognitive demands would become easier.

Dr Poliah noted that there were only very few non-official languages papers from the IEB, and in terms of the contractual agreement, IEB would set the question papers in a manner that complied with the conditions set by the DBE. The DBE then takes over the printing and distribution. The IEB had a greater capacity to deal with the international languages than the DBE.

The Chairperson requested that other questions be dealt with in the follow up meeting.

Improved Learner Outcomes
Mr Govender presented the second part of the briefing, on improving learner outcomes. The slides were very detailed and therefore he said that his presentation would highlight only the most important points. His presentation would cover the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA) and Evidence Based Reports (EBR). He said that  DBE and the provincial interventions were providing support to learners.


The release of results and dates were presented in slides 26 and 27. It was stressed that the National Development Plan (NDP) informed the DBE interventions. These interventions were to be progressive and focus on equality.

Mr Govender explained that the NSLA was a national strategy developed in conjunction with all provinces. It was based on nine pillars, each pillar was divided into different sections and within each section there were specific performance indicators. Each province created a Provincial Strategy for Leaner Attainment (PSLA) using the framework of the NSLA. The NSLA covered the entire spectrum from Grade R to 12. It was a critical monitoring tool to track learner performance in the system. It ensured that provinces were reporting to the DBE on a quarterly basis and that these reports were analysed and commented on. The DBE was under a duty to provide regular reports to the Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM), Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and the Portfolio Committee. The focus of these reports was described in slide 29, along with the deadline dates for reporting by the provinces and by DBE nationally.

The current report had covered quarters 1 and 2, and quarter 3 would be reported on in October. The executive summary contained in the presentation document outlined the achievements and key activities undertaken in each province. In quarter 1, all provinces conducted an analysis on the results of the previous year to identify weaknesses and areas of improvement. The provinces spent a sufficient amount of time setting targets, for provincial and district and by each school, but some of the programmes targeted teachers and others targeted learners.

Evidence Based Reports (EBR) were outlined in slides 30 and 31. Mr Govender explained that while the NSLA encompassed all grades from Grade R to 12, the EBR focused exclusively on Grades 10, 11 and 12, with a heavy focus on Grade 12. Umalusi mandated the DBE to compile a report indicating the programmes and interventions over and above the normal teaching in classrooms. Umalusi stipulated a list of information that must be presented, with the EBR, and this required the nature of the intervention, the purpose, the target group, attendance, duration,  impact and whether pre and post tests were conducted, and finally the results.

The key deliverables were drawn to Members' attention, on slide 1, and slide 32 outlined the provision, support and intervention by DBE. Learner /Teacher Support Material (LTSM) formed a large part, and in grades 10 and 11 the Siyavula Textbooks were provided, because they were crucial to the preparation and performance of learners as they moved on to Grade 12. DBE particularly provided large numbers of textbooks in mathematics and science. In addition LTSM was also provided for Grades 8 and 9 and a sample of the mathematics workbooks was given.

The Gap Study Guide Series focused on individual subjects for Grade 12 learners, and the total numbers of study guides provided in each province was set out. In addition, DBE was mindful of the importance of ICT and many learners accessed information using ICT. In addition, DBE had established its own educational TV channel, and gave numbers of the learners who had made use of online platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and the DBE website. Learners, parents and teachers had used the Mindset platform, and the mindset broadcasting and winter broadcasting schedules were illustrated. The Thutong Portal was also being used to good effect and frequently. The range of digital content provided, from study guides to textbooks, was set out. Further more, teacher training was being done on ICT platforms, and in ICT integration. There was a challenge in Limpopo but the training was happening in all other provinces, at 147 teacher resource centres, of which 110 had been equipped with ICT labs.

The Ukufunda Virtual School (UVS) was described on slide 39 and illustrative figures for its enrolments were given on slide 40.

Mr Govender also then discussed the SBAs, saying that in 2016, workshops had been held in all nine provinces, and had a focus on all learners, from Grade R to 12.  At the Grade 12 level there was a particular focus on the levels of difficulty, cognitive taxonomies, higher cognitive demand and exemplar SBA tasks. There had been 1 506 advisors involved across all provinces and it was hoped that information in these sessions would cascade down to all teachers.

FET subject committee meetings were launched two years ago, had matured very well and were helping in specialisation at FET level. They had analysed the diagnostic reports, identified subject frameworks for improvement, produced tools to ensure the curriculum was adequately covered and determined how the curriculum will be monitored.

The oversight visits had looked specifically at all the above-mentioned issues to determine whether the measures have actually been applied practically. It was highlighted that 1 582 subject advisors served in the national committees.

The DBE has spent a considerable time improving language proficiency across the whole  educational system. A separate programme has been developed for English Across the Curriculum (EAC), which has been delivered to provinces. Attention was also drawn to English First Additional Language (EFAL) support as a large number of learners are not English first language speakers.

DBE recognised the need for giving curriculum support to principals and also giving support to struggling provinces and districts, and as a result, teaching development training was put in place, and it would need to be managed at various levels.

Mr Govender also spoke to the extra tuition mentioned by his colleague, and said this had been implemented in all provinces, with DBE monitoring it regularly. All provinces hosted Winter Camps, which benefitted large numbers of learners.

Details were also given of provincial interventions and support programmes to improve Grade 12 learner performance, in quarters 1 and 2, in slide 47. 

Mr Govender then said that the last part of the presentation was deemed the most important part for it detailed what had actually been implemented at district and school level. In Grade 12, there was a focus on the eleven  high-enrolment subjects in each province, and that focus was directed to both learners and teachers; in the last year there had been an intense focus on progressed learners. Best practices were isolated in quarters 1 and 2 and these would be shared between the provinces to achieve a holistic improvement. Although Mr Govender did not present all the following slides, from slide 48 to 53, he pointed out that they contained details of provinces and subjects. Using Accounting as one example, he noted the focus of training, the duration, the involvement and number of teachers and learners, all of which was in line with Umalusi criteria. He picked different subjects in each of the provinces and gave similar information.

Mr Govender conceded, following on from the previous presentation, that in the past, the DBE had struggled to correctly identify the progressed learners. It had now gathered data on progressed learners in each province and the subjects. DBE was now requiring each province to specify what support it was providing to these learners. DBE had faced some challenges in trying to implement a culture of tracking performance and linking it to improved learning outcomes, but had managed to improve this in 2016, with tracking at Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. He cited the Eastern Cape as one example of how the tracking worked in quarters 1 and 2. It started at school level, and fed into district, then provincial tracking. The pass rates in two quarters were compared and they were then tracked, which helped to show where more interventions would be needed. At the end of the year, DBE would present a composite report on tracking. Similar reports were set out in the slides for provinces between slides 57 and 75

Pre and Post Tests were held for teachers, and although they had shown some resistance to attending pre-testing before attending full programmes, DBE was now insisting in this. The Winter Schools for Borderline Learners were used to illustrate the comparison between the 2015 and 2016 years, in different subjects and different provinces. The slides gave the pre and post test averages as well as the variance.

The Last Push Campaign was another intervention with four components. The Minister would visit all provinces to engage with MECs and senior officials on learner performance. The Director General and officials then embarked on road shows, focusing partially on learner performance. Eight provinces would have finalised their curriculum by the following day but the Eastern Cape requested a carry over to the follow up visit on 19 and 20 September 2016. Performance was assessed firstly through provincial reports, then DBE would visit the districts and ask them for progress reports and physical evidence, and this would then be fed through to primary and high schools, to assess later whether the planning was translating into implementation at school level. It had been pleased to see this year that there was such synergy. All provinces were currently holding this campaign for their Grade 12 learners, having already had Spring revision classes and preparation of trial examinations in all provinces. After that trial exam session, an analysis of exam results and weaknesses would inform any remedial measures needed for the final push. 

Mr Govender concluded that the DBE was satisfied, despite the current challenges, that the 2016 exam session would run successfully. The DBE had focused exam administration attention on the three weakest provinces, was encouraged by the improvements in the Eastern Cape and KZN, and had planned a follow up visit to Limpopo, where additional support was required.

He noted that some of the programmes to improve learner performance were implemented for the first time this year but others were enhanced for the first time this year. The programmes included the Start up Campaign, Last Push Campaign, monitoring of progressed learners, learner tracking and accountability and oversight interaction with provinces.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked Mr Govender for the presentation, but expressed her concern about stigmatising  progressed learners.

Ms Basson commented on linking SAB with exam readiness, and asked at what point a learner would be  notified if s/he had an outstanding SBA in a certain subject.

Ms Basson noted the comment on the phasing out of language compensation, but said that the majority of schools were now teaching in English and not in the mother-tongue of the students.

Ms Basson was pleased that DBE had implemented many promising strategies, including extra classes, but the results were  still disappointing and she asked why the efforts had not impacted the results. She pointed out that the Eastern Cape seemed to be well-resourced with officials but some schools had never been visited by any learning areas managers.

Mr Khoza questioned whether the DBE was inundating students with extra classes, as some schools no longer closed between terms, and noted that there had sometimes been no notable improvement in learner performance despite the learners attending these extra classes.

The Chairperson asked how effectively teachers had been utilising ordinary school hours.

Mr Mnguni questioned the progression requirements in relation to the lack of teachers, especially in mathematics. He asked if the notion of progressed learners was effective and whether neighbouring countries were following the same mechanism.

Mr Mnguni pointed out that in reality, teachers and not subject advisors headed up the subject committees. He advised the DBE to urge provinces to consider the role of the subject advisors as they had often not been performing their duties adequately. He said that previously, teachers had helped in extra classes to try to assist the learners but when they were compelled to do so, and were not being paid, they felt demotivated.

Ms Mokoto wanted more information on the additional criteria as well as the impact of these criteria on progressed learners. She questioned the causes behind the rejected SBAs and whether schools corrected this. She wanted more detail on any interventions made by universities. Finally, she questioned if DBE thought that all schools had effectively covered the curriculum to prepare learners adequately for the exams.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said that some parents from a government school had complained that not only were their children expected to attend school on Saturdays and Sundays, but the parents were being expected to pay almost half the annual school fees in addition to these extra classes. She asked if this was what the DBE had been anticipating when introducing the system.

Mr H Khosa (ANC) highlighted that in certain schools teachers were meant to cover the syllabus on a Saturday and submit a sick note if they were not present. They were effectively being forced to provide classes, but they were not covered for transport to the schools. He felt the system of extra classes must be reviewed. If teachers were not covering enough in the stipulated school hours and were doing overtime in order to be paid extra, then there was a problem.

Mr Govender agreed with the Chairperson over the stigmatisation around the term “progressed learners” and conceded that it might be demoralising to the learners, although he did want to point out that in the visits to provinces it was evident that learners were not being branded with the terms; they were used merely for reporting purposes. Mr Govender had visited a functional school in the Free State that was struggling to increase the pass rate, and had a significant number of learners, although they were not referred to as progressed learners. Here, the school was grouping learners together by levels of performance so that they could be given customised support according to their needs. In other provinces where learners required support of differing intensities, support programmes were holistically designed to give extra attention where most needed without ostracising students. DBE was aware of the risk areas but tried to balance competing interests.

SBAs were included as part of curriculum coverage, and these tools had been managed at various levels. The provincial visits revealed that curriculum coverage was being monitored on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. DBE aimed to ensure that every learner completed every task, to achieve the highest possible SBA. The better students performed in SBA, the higher their end of year results.

If schools were functional and adhered to the full school day, there would be no need for extra classes. Even if the school scored full attendance, the fact remained that teachers currently did not have the necessary knowledge and skill to impart the high level content for each subject. Accountability and oversight by school management teams had been very weak, partially because of the unions. DBE would not like to encourage extra classes but had been employing these as a temporary measure because it was mindful that the results of certain schools and districts would not improve without these extra classes, some of which were conducted by qualified teachers from other schools who would visit the schools that did not have qualified teachers of their own. Teachers had gone through education that did not actually equip them to teacher and newly qualified teachers had neither the content knowledge nor the right practical experience, because universities had continued to use old curricula despite the fact that the school curriculum had changed, and the problem was perpetuated by the closure of teacher colleges, which increased the burden on universities.

He agreed that the Eastern Cape did have a large number of subject advisors, but there remained a problem in the lack of norms and standards for the advisory services. The norms and standards should contain contextual factors, such as being in urban areas with close proximity to schools or remote rural areas. It was difficult to provide the individual on-site support, as there was difficulty in travelling to schools. If a subject advisor could not provide support to schools, their purpose would be lost. He stated that there would be some individual school visits while in other cases schools would be clustered and meet at a common venue.

Mr Govender noted the change of attitude and lack of commitment among teachers, citing problems with abuse of children and lack of motivation, and noting that this was a huge systemic problem.

Mr Govender clarified that subject advisors from provinces and national teacher unions served on subject committees. The subject committees at the provincial level comprised of provincial and district officials in that subject. It was difficult to have localised cluster committees and circuit committees that were chaired by one subject advisor at the district level, and in such instances, teachers would be asked to chair the clusters. He agreed that some subject advisors did not have as much knowledge as teachers and did not enjoy their respect, and he knew that they would be merely agents convening the meetings, as the presentations were done by the teachers from the district. When the teacher training colleges were closed the DBE was forced to absorb these employees as subject advisors, despite them not having the required expertise.

The Chairperson urged the DBE to find a solution to this ongoing problem.

Mr Govender stated that the DBE had various partnerships in relation to teacher training, had held collaboration with teacher unions and Higher Education Institutions, as well as with universities. He agreed that curriculum coverage has not been implemented at the same level of effectiveness across every level and in every school in the system. Theoretically, the coverage tools were there to assist schools, and this was now regarded as a top priority, as by monitoring curriculum, teaching and learning monitoring would also be covered.

Mr Govender said that another reason for the extra classes was to address teachers who could not cover the curriculum. DBE was under extreme pressure to produce results in line with the targets of the NDP, despite the fact that the National Development Commission had admitted that some of its targets were too high. This placed huge pressure on provinces and districts to deliver and they would exert the same pressure on schools. DBE questioned the implementation strategy and improvement plan of each level in the system. Extra classes were a common mechanism, and they were sometimes fuelled also by competition because the Minister would reward district directors for good performance. DBE repeated that at the moment, extra classes were unavoidable until other systematic issues such as time on tasks and commitment have been addresses.

Dr Poliah conceded that the issue of progressed learners was one of the most difficult decisions the Minister had to take, but had needed to do that because without the programme the drop-out rate would be higher. In the last year, 58 656 learners were progressed, and 22 060 learners passed. Rather than being left in Grade 10 or 11 as failures they could at least obtain their certificate and obtain employment. In fact, 3 297 of those progressed learners actually achieved a Bachelors pass, and could attend university. International practice warranted progression, but the problem in South Africa is the lack of support accompanying progression. Dr Poliah agreed that perhaps more attention should be placed on progressed learners, who might have a knowledge or content deficit, and less attention on extra classes. He acknowledged that any term used might be construed in a negative manner and teachers and principals had to be discreet.

Dr Poliah said that the decision to phase out language compensation lay with Umalusi. The Minister did not wish to override the independent responsibility of this quality assurance board. The DBE presented the facts to Umalusi and allowed it to make that decision independently.

He said that all provinces were notified that every learner must obtain a result and no learner should be marked as incomplete. SBA marks must be captured by 15 September 2016, and reports would be sent to all provinces where there were indications of learners with incomplete SBAs, for the provinces to ensure that these learners submitted their SBA marks before schools close.

He noted that at present every learner in the senior phase must pass maths with 40%, and agreed that this policy needed to be reviewed as it did work to the detriment of the learners. However, a  legislative process must be followed before that dispensation can be altered.

Ms Mokoto questioned whether the DBE had planned an intervention to assist learners who did not have textbooks in Grade 12.

Dr Poliah highlighted that the lack of textbooks was one of the reasons why extra classes were needed, and the provision of textbooks was being monitored closely, although it is too late, unfortunately, to assist learners this year.

The Chairperson said that the presentations provided a clear picture and she was grateful to see improvements in the SACMEQ.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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