20 Jan 2021
In a joint virtual meeting, the Deputy Minister reported to the Portfolio and Select Committees that the 2021 academic year had begun successfully in terms of receiving workbooks, food parcels and the overall school preparedness during COVID-19. Learners will start on 15 February 2021.
The Department of Basic Education presented an update on writing, marking and the mark capture process of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) November 2020 Combined Examinations. The examinations were well managed across all provinces with the exception of a few unforeseeable irregularities such as the leakage of Mathematics Paper 2 and Physical Sciences Paper 2, power outages and protest action. In January 2021 the DBE employed 45 272 markers, of which 94.6% reported for marking and only 0.7% of markers tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival or after commencement, including seven fatalities. Mark capturing closed on the 26 and 27 January to allow the data sets to be submitted to Umalusi for approval. On 31 January 2021, the DBE presented an Evidence Based Report to Umalusi which found that this cohort is particularly strong compared to previous classes. All learner results will be made available by 23 February 2021, with the exception of candidates with extensive irregularities where the investigation must be completed by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) prior to the release of their marks.
DBE also reported on TIMSS as a sound methodology into understanding the performance and achievement levels of South African Grade 5 and 9 learners in Mathematics and Science compared to global norms. South Africa scored 374 points in Mathematics and 324 points in Science for Grade 5 learners. A similar trend was noticed in the Grade 9 level where South Africa scored 389 points for Mathematics and 370 points for Science. Over 25 years, achievement has improved by 100 points, though the rate of improvement has slowed down significantly. The Department plans to create interventions at primary school level to further improve performance. It plans to reinforce existing interventions such as:
- Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT)
- Early Learning Activities
- Educator Preparation and Professional Development
- Educational Resources in Schools.
Members expressed their condolences to the families of educational staff who passed on in their line of duty. Members noted the importance of closing socio-economic gaps between provinces to ensure that barriers such as access to resources and language would not impair student performance. Members asked what the budget is for the private investigators involved in the leaked examination papers and what would be done to ensure that these irregularities do not reoccur.
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister of Basic Education. He thanked the Department of Basic Education and Director General for their outstanding efforts under the COVID-19 circumstances.
Deputy Minister introductory remarks
Deputy Minister, Ms Reginah Mhaule, indicated that schools reopened on 25 January 2021 with school management teams and teachers returning on 1 February. Learners have started to collect books and nutrition parcels from the schools. Generally schools are running without complications and have not received challenges in terms of school readiness as of yet. COVID-19 circumstances are being carried over into this new academic year for learners and staff. DBE is “graduating in managing the virus” with system responsiveness adapting and improving itself after each challenge.
On the two leaked examination papers, DBE will breakdown the methodology used to investigate these incidents and to ascertain if the status of the examinations were compromised by the leaks.
National Senior Certificate Examinations 2020 progress report
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director General, said DBE would provide a progress report on the exams as well as the investigation into leaked examination papers. He appreciated the leadership of the Minister and Deputy Minister guiding the Department through an unprecedented year. He thanked the Portfolio and Select Committees on Basic Education for holding the Department accountable and functioning as a sounding board when challenges arose.
2020 was a difficult year for the Department filled with great loss, including the lives of teachers, school principals and markers. Mr Mweli expressed gratitude for the dedicated individuals who pushed to complete the academic year in spite of the threat of poor health or even imminent death. Chief markers, internal and external moderators were lost last year, creating gaps of skilled or experienced professionals in the system that would take a long time to replace. The Department would still be reliant on the guidance and leadership in 2021 as previously offered.
Dr Rufus Poliah, DBE Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, said the NSC examinations commenced on 5 November and terminated on 15 December 2020. The 2020 examinations were exceptional due to over 1 million learners that had to accommodated according to COVID-19 protocols. The examination period was particularly tumultuous with learners and teachers contracting the virus. He commended the Minister for allowing the candidates who tested positive for COVID-19 to write their examinations in private rooms.
Marking was regarded as a mammoth task for the Department which required over 45 000 markers in 179 confined venues over the course of 12 days. He reported that marking was completed successfully.
The examinations were well managed across all provinces. The leakage of Mathematics Paper 2 and Physical Science Paper 2 created a blemish on the entire examination period’s success. DBE reported few incidents of protest action and power outages that caused a delay, although it did not impact the overall examination.
Marking commenced on 4 January to 22 January 2021, unlike previous years where marking periods ran from November to December. DBE employed 45 272 markers, of which 94.6% reported for marking. Of that turnout, only 0.7% of markers tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival or after commencement. Markers who did not report for marking were replaced from a list of extended reserve markers who offered assistance. Overall, marking was completed successfully at the 179 centres across the provinces, each of which were visited by the DG during this period.
There were a total of 2463 withdrawals from the marking programme. Where DBE could not find enough reserve markers as replacements, the number of marking days were extended to give markers sufficient time to complete all marking. 315 markers tested positive with seven fatalities during the marking process. DBE extended sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones as “educational martyrs trying to accomplish a national assignment”.
DBE employed a double capture system to record every mark twice. This system allows for differentiations in reported marks to be highlighted. This mechanism ensured that marks were corrected where necessary for accurate capture. DBE employed 611 capturers across the provinces at 34 different centres. Only two mark capturers tested positive for COVID-19.
Umalusi requires a threshold of 95% of the marks to be captured for standardisation. 99% of NSC and Senior Certificate marks were captured, with the few remainder attributing to problems with mark sheets. These inconsistencies will be dealt with during this revision period until the 22 February when marks are to be released. Mark capturing closed on 26 and 27 January to allow the data sets to be submitted to Umalusi for approval. The data sets were approved by Umalusi based on the processing of data sets per subject.
Preparation for Standardisation
Standardisation ensures that no learner is disadvantaged due to the year in which their exam was written. All exams must be of an equivalent standard. The standard of the exam only becomes apparent after the examination has been written and marks have been processed. DBE used qualitative data for standardisation. The DG has prioritised this process through convening meetings with provinces with subject specialists and the examination panel.
On 31 January 2021, DBE presented a 614 page Evidence Based Report to Umalusi which detailed all that learners had experienced during the year from Grade 10 upwards. The analysis by DBE found that this cohort is particularly strong compared to previous classes. A Technical Task Team examined all of the numbers while putting together the qualitative data to present in proposals in a pre-standardisation meeting. This meeting was held with all provinces over two days to prepare individual subjects for proposals which were presented to HEDCOM on 2 February before being presented to Umalusi.
Management of irregularities
Dr Poliah said that irregularities are internationally inevitable, though the importance is on how these irregularities are handled. DBE had a vigilant system to detect irregularities on a daily basis to allow investigations to commence with immediate effect. All learner results will be made available by 23 February 2021, with the exception of candidates with extensive irregularities where the investigation must be completed prior to the release of their marks. The National Examinations Irregularities Committee (NEIC) established by the Minister met on 29 and 30 January to ensure that provinces handled regulations appropriately and with uniformity across provinces.
Approval of Results
The Umalusi Approval meeting of results has been scheduled for 12 February. In this meeting, the DG is expected to present a comprehensive report on all examination irregularities per province to Umalusi. This final report will include the findings from the investigation into the leakage of Mathematics Paper 2 and Physical Science Paper 2.
The investigation examined the source and extent of the leakage to establish if the examinations in Mathematics and Physical Sciences were compromised as a whole. DBE must identify specific candidates implicated and make recommendations for the improvement of the examination system in the final report.
The matter was immediately reported to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) which has prioritised this. DBE conducted an audit of the distribution chain to identify weaknesses in the system where the leak could have occurred. Officials and staff members in key functions were interviewed by DPCI to obtain additional information to pinpoint the source of the leak as well as the implicated candidates. Investigative marking was used where markers were trained as auditors to scan through the papers looking for clues and irregularities. Statistical analysis was used to compare the performance in Paper 1 to reveal learners who performed significantly irregularly in the two papers. Though this was not grounds for implication, it did provide insight on which learners to further investigate. DBE appointed a private forensic investigation company to work in conjunction with DPCI to conduct an investigation of cell phones.
Release of Results
After receiving Umalusi approval, the Minister will make an official announcement on 22 February about the release of results. The Minister will do this through a virtual broadcast from Pretoria to the nine satellite centres in the nine Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) accompanied by Members of Executive Council (MEC) and selected guests. To minimise contact and travel, the MEC will function as a representative of the Minister to award top achievers based at the provincial venues.
DBE felt that the successful administration of the 2020 Combined Exam was a major achievement given the challenges of COVID-19. Dr Poliah offered a sincere appreciation to everyone involved in the writing, marking and capturing process for their sacrificial service and boldness, in making the 2020 academic year a reality. The Department felt confident that the recovery programmes implemented by the Department together with the initiatives to insulate the Class of 2020 from the negative effects of COVID-19, will be reflected in the performance of the Class of 2020.
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019
Dr Mark Chetty, Chief Education Specialist, DBE, said that the 2019 TIMSS study could relieve some of the pressures on Mathematics and Science learners as reported by DBE. As an international study, TIMSS offers sound methodology into understanding the performance and achievement levels of South African Grade 5 and 9 learners in these subjects.
TIMSS allows South Africa to benchmark our performance against other countries and during critical time points in these grades to show how students are performing against international norms. This allows DBE to link performance levels and interventions from a national and provincial perspective. Studies such as TIMSS, in conjunction with other sets of data, provides an indication to DBE on areas that should be strengthened in Maths and Science.
TIMSS Research Questions:
- What is the Mathematics and Science achievement and achievement gaps in TIMSS 2019?
- What is the Maths and Science achievement trend from 2011 to 2019?
- What influences Maths and Science achievement in South Africa?
The TIMSS process is a rigorous one that has to be approved by the International Association for Evaluation and Assessment (IEA). This happened successfully for South Africa allowing it to form part of the international TIMSS data set.
South Africa participated with 64 other countries in the TIMSS study at a Grade 5 level in 297 schools among 11 903 learners. At a Grade 9 level 519 schools with 20 829 learners participated in the study along with 46 other countries. This allowed DBE to obtain an accurate data set to make estimates for the entire population at a Grade 5 and 9 level.
Achievement and Ability
South Africa scored 374 points in Mathematics and 324 points in Science for Grade 5 learners against the 500 TIMSS Scale Centrepoint. A similar trend was noticed in the Grade 9 level where South Africa scored 389 points for Mathematics and 370 points for Science. This showed a notable improvement in performance from the Grade 5 level to Grade 9. Dr Chetty reported that the Asian countries performed particularly well in these subjects.
South Africa noted the greatest improvement from 2011 to 2019 by almost 40 points in Maths and Science. In terms of diagnostic data, South Africa had a mixed performance. DBE noted that at least 52% of learners get full credit for answering data extraction questions. DBE will focus attention on other skills levels that are packaged in a way that speaks to the teacher in the classroom so that they ascertain a sense of the kind of questions they need to strengthen our learners' performance, such as application-based questions.
At a Grade 9 level 27% of learners were able to answer application-based questions and obtain full credit. DBE found that learners and teachers required extra assistance when learning reason based questions to arrive at a conclusion in the classroom. 20% of Grade 9 learners were able to do this for biology. DBE will issue a full report on these findings to educators at a later point.
Dr Chetty highlighted distribution trends among Grade 5 and 9 learners in which DBE noted that Science had a wider distribution and starts at much lower scores than Mathematics. These results indicate that Science should have more attention in terms of interventions. DBE hopes to see a distribution which is located more towards the higher scores for the future. Grade 9 achievement from 2003 to 2019 increased by 17 points in Mathematics and 12 points in Science. This reflected a positive growth in learner performance, though indicated that the rate of improvement is slowing down. Over 25 years, achievement has improved by 100 points, or one standard deviation.
At a Grade 5 level, DBE noted an improvement with the exception of a decrease in Mpumalanga and independent schools. The Department has to investigate further into interventions in specific provinces to find causes for this decrease outside of the TIMSS report. Dr Chetty highlighted an increased performance in secondary schools. This indicated that more interventions need to occur at a primary school level.
Most Grade 5 and 9 learners clustered around the low and intermediate level benchmarks which indicates some or basic knowledge of Mathematics and Science. Interventions and training sessions need to be put in place to promote learners to achieve within the high to advanced benchmark to compete at an international level.
Learnings based on the achievements made in Mathematics indicated that there is room for improvement in the system. Learners in previous cycles at the lower end of the distribution curve have shown significant improvement. In 2019, four in ten learners compared to 2003 when one in ten learners demonstrated they had acquired basic mathematical and science knowledge. The rate of annual Mathematics improvement has decreased significantly, and DBE has to evaluate how to improve these rates so that the target goal of 420 points by 2023 can be realised.
Dr Chetty explained that the Grade 5 learners of 2015 became the Grade 9 learners of 2019. This allowed DBE to examine these learners' performance when working through the system and generally there has been a slight upward trajectory. This emphasised the need for the Department to strengthen the achievement levels and interventions at a Grade 5 level or earlier as to best benefit the learners as they go through the schooling system.
Science achievement was recorded lower than mathematics and a higher variance which indicates that more energy and resources need to be focussed on this subject. It was evident that the Science gaps were higher than the Mathematics gaps, this could be on account of the language of instruction being different from home language.
He highlighted the correlation between fee paying and no-fee paying students. The gap between Maths achievements for fee paying or non-fee paying is 75 points at a Grade 9 level, whereas at a Grade 5 level the gap is more significant at 105 points. This reiterated the need for no-fee paying schools and lower grades to receive the most reinforcement to help close the gaps. A similar trend is noticeable in Science where Grade 9 learners have a 107 point gap between achievement and Grade 5 learners have a 150 point gap. Quintile 5 schools have indicated the best academic achievement among Grade 9 students, with the exception of independent schools. Similarly, Grade 5 learners in Quintile 5 schools scored the highest achievement in points, including independent schools.
Dr Chetty recognised the trend that girls tend to achieve significantly higher in Mathematics and Science than boys. It was most notable at a Grade 5 level and less so at a Grade 9 level due to numerous factors such as maturity, they have been socialised into schooling and are more motivated at an older age. DBE found it important to keep boys in school for longer on account of their performance improving with age.
Learners displayed better in multiple choice questions than constructed response answers which could be attributed to poor reading and writing skills. Learners struggled with questions that required more reading and writing to answer them.
DBE has attempted to match TIMSS to the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) to assure that South African students are not at a disadvantage. For Grade 9 learners, the Department will investigate how to make data and probability content in Mathematics a closer match to the TIMSS curriculum. DBE will present a report at a later stage to the Portfolio and Select Committees on specific topics within the Maths syllabus that Grade 5 and 9 learners are struggling in.
More rural provinces have displayed a trend of performing much lower than other more resourced and well-supported provinces. The government has planned to institute interventions in these struggling provinces at a Grade 5 level. TIMSS data displayed that students in less resourced provinces had a bigger difference in achievement between Mathematics and Science for Grade 5 learners. A similar trend was apparent among Grade 9 learners, where factors like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), population and historical factors influence achievement levels of provinces. In 2011 the achievement gap between the lowest and highest achieving provinces was 89 points for mathematics and 127 points for science. While in 2019, this decreased to 77 and 108 points, respectively.
Factors influencing achievement
DBE has already implemented these interventions but hopes to strengthen them in the future:
- Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT)
- Early Learning Activities
- Educator Preparation and Professional Development
- Educational Resources in Schools.
TIMMS provided plenty of contextual data of home resources available to students, highlighting gaps between fee paying and no-fee paying schools. LoLT is strongly associated with performance of learners. In terms of school readiness, TIMSS indicated that there was a lag between numeracy and literacy levels. DBE must provide more curriculum support before learners enter schooling in order to show benefit in later TIMSS cycles. Grade 9 performance was significantly better in Maths and Science compared to Grade 5 due to teachers having a bachelor’s degree or specialisation within those specific subjects. Teachers require systems that can improve learners critical problem-solving skills. On Educational Resources in Schools, where learners had their own textbooks and workbooks they generally performed far better.
Going forward DBE will extract the data from the TIMSS analysis at Grade 5 and 9 levels to be infused in Maths and Science curriculums. Reports will be made available through publications and road shows with district officials and principals during the first quarter of 2021. In February, the international database will be made available by the IEA and DBE will be participating in workshops for the TIMSS 2023 cycle.
The Chairperson said that he found the breakdown of the individual steps taken by DBE to be very empowering. On improving Mathematics performance, this would only be possible if Early Childhood Development (ECD) had greater investment in it. He attributed the high performance levels of Asian countries in Maths, Science and Technology to the amount of investments the countries were putting into these subjects.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) thanked DBE for their clear, thought-provoking presentations. The Committee offered their heartfelt condolences to all the families of students and staff who died in their line of duty.
On the leaked examinations, Mr Moroatshehla appreciated the progress report. This approach adopted by DBE shows a hands-on methodology towards rectifying the situation. He commended Umalusi as well.
The socio-economic factors that inform the inequalities in poorer communities is a cause of concern, especially after DBE highlighted the relation between socio-economic factors and performance. Mr Moroatshehla asked the Department how they plan to close the gaps to access these resources. Access to resources, such as workbooks and textbooks, is pivotal in the ultimate performance of the learner.
Learner performance is also influenced by language barriers. Learner taught in languages other than their home language are often at a disadvantage when it comes to learning, especially in Maths and Science. He asked how the students are impacted in cases where they are not taught in their home language and what DBE plans to do as a solution to this problem.
On ECD migrating to DBE, Mr Moroatshehla asked what DBE planned to do to improve outcomes from the existing skillsets among teachers and staff responsible for teaching these children. He felt that there was a gap between teaching available at an ECD and Basic Education level.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked what DBE has done to ensure improved vetting of the people responsible for handling the question papers. It came to light that the leak originated from the company contracted to print the question papers. The Department must prioritise a better vetting system for people involved with question paper processes at a national and provincial level. Is the Department satisfied with the current storage and delivery methods?
Ms Christians agreed with the DBE goal of increasing South Africa’s TIMSS score at a Grade 9 level to 420 by 2023. Although she felt concern for the reality of this considering the rate of improvement has stagnated. She asked what interventions were put in place for schools and educators to speed up the rate of improvement, especially in light of COVID-19? South Africa is far from reaching the 400 points needed to be considered to possess basic Maths and Science knowledge on the TIMSS scale due to socio-economic constraints. What is the linkage between DBE and Department of Social Development to ensure this improvement in schools and the home conditions of learners?
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked what the remuneration is for the private investigation company employed to investigate the leakage of Maths and Physical Science Paper 2. The leakage of question papers occurs every couple of years as a result of poor and leaderless examination systems in South Africa. She asked DBE and DG to account for this reoccurring problem. What happened to those found to have leaked the papers and the students involved?
Deputy Minister’s response
The Deputy Minister appreciated the condolences offered by Mr Moroatshehla. DBE has mourned the loss of many important staff, educators and students in such a short period of time due to COVID-19. She appreciated the contributions offered by the Members of their expectations of the Department.
On leaked examinations, Deputy Minister Mhaule said that leakages do not arise every year. This leakage occurred after a 10 year period of examinations conducted without leakages. Irregularities are often unforeseeable and difficult to avoid. Some learners tried to write answers in their masks, which DBE prioritised managing. The leak was brought to the Department's attention by the stakeholders and students who wanted to ensure fair writing conditions.
Director General response
On leaked examination papers, Mr Mweli replied that there has not been any instances of papers being leaked every year. The last instance of a confined leak for the NSC examinations was in 2016 involving a private school. DBE took appropriate measures in this instance through criminal proceedings for the principal. He highlighted that the administration of writing exams involving over one million candidates was an extraordinary event. The amalgamation of these factors resulted in a very high-stakes exam period.
The human element involved in examinations brings potential risks with it. DBE does go through rigorous vetting for everyone involved in the examination process. Recently the national intelligence service has been working with DBE to heighten security systems. Globally leakages are always a potential risk when writing exams. In circumstances where the extent of the leak cannot be identified, it necessitated the rewriting of the exam.
Mr Mweli said that DBE has been working with the Department of Health to mitigate socio-economic factors. South Africa has made significant progress, in spite of the slow rate of improvement, when compared to countries with longer histories of independence. The TIMSS report provides some indication of how to close the gap between Quintile 3 and 5 schools, though a more thorough report can be presented at a later date.
On scoring less than 400, the TIMSS report also provided a longitudinal analysis of the performance and the progress that has been made. Mr Mweli felt extremely optimistic that the Department will reach a score of 400 sooner than expected. Investing in human capital is a timeous process. He agreed that for progress to be made, assistance needs to be given to learners from the ECD phase focusing on the foundation phase. Experts from universities in the country have been called in to invest in interventions starting from lower grades. He said that this was visible in the resilience of the Class of 2020.
The Department will try to speed up the rate of improvement, though this is not a quick fix in education. DBE must demonstrate the investment that they have made and how it has shown an improvement. School readiness and a promise to provide quality education from the foundation phase have been prioritised to promote an improvement in the next round of TIMSS.
DBE involved law enforcement agencies or security services when question papers were transported to ensure the safe-keeping of the question papers. The preliminary investigation has not shown any lapses in the storage units or the transfer of question papers. Storage units require many people colluding together in order to penetrate them. Security measures have been greatly increased. Companies contracted by DBE must go through the process of the necessary vetting.
Mr Mweli said that the Department has a comprehensive teacher development programme that has been in place since ECD was under the Department of Social Development. DBE will continue to strengthen this teacher development programme. Previously, many teachers from this programme did not have NQF Level 4 although now many ECD practitioners have NQF Level 5 or 6.
On language barriers, Mr Mweli said that majority of the learners in South Africa are taught in a language that is not their home language. Interventions have been established at the lower levels ranging all the way up to Grade 12. Grade 12 question papers are being piloted to include Xhosa during preparatory exams in the Eastern Cape along with the option of English or Afrikaans. The results of this pilot will be shared with the Committee at a later stage. He agreed that language is a massive barrier in teaching and education especially when it is not the learner’s mother tongue.
The DG said that socio-economic factors impeding performance stems from a lack of available funding. The Department is trying to provide workbooks to all 23 000 schools to mediate this. He encouraged the Committees to share these concerns with the Finance and Fiscal Commission (FFC) to investigate what progress has been made to reduce inequality between provinces.
A full report would be made to the Committees on the measures taken to deal with examination leakages. The Department is dealing with adults involved in the matter, while matric learners have clear regulations that bar them from rewriting the exam for three years.
Mr Mweli appreciated the sacrifices made by the martyrs who died in the course of duty.
Responses by Department officials
Dr Poliah replied that storage rooms cannot be accessed by one individual. The Department has employed a double-locking system where two keys responsible for the storage room are locked in respective safes with a code that is only accessible to the key holders. In addition, on an annual basis DBE conducts an audit of every storage point in the country based on specific criteria. The storage rooms, nodal points and distribution points which each house the exam papers for a specific period of time are all evaluated by DBE.
He shared that the private investigator has a focused responsibility to collect cellphones from learners which will be analysed according to protocols before compiling a report for DBE. The value of the tender was R449 000.
Dr Chetty replied that DBE will conduct research on data specific to the provinces. This will allow for specific remedies within different provinces to further empower provincial coordinators and districts. On ECD, later in 2021 DBE will be conducting an early learning national assessment that looks at the transitional period between ECD and Grade 1. This data will be able to serve as evidence to consider the emerging numeracy and literacy in the language of the learner and that will inform the upscaling of the practitioners to create focused interventions.
Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) thanked the Department for assisting the parents of learners at Quintile 4 and 5 schools as well during the pandemic. She requested that DBE release a media report that the parents of learners at Quintile 1 to 3 schools are not obligated to buy their own stationery and for children to pay a fee before acceptance at the school.
The Chairperson requested that DBE communicate on this and provide clarity to those potentially affected.
The Chairperson called for a moment of silence for all the lives lost due to COVID-19 in the education sector.
The Deputy Minister expressed gratitude to the Select and Portfolio Committees for bringing issues from within the provinces to the attention of the Department. In reply to Ms Gillion, she replied that this is not the case unless the majority of parents under the leadership of the school governing body agreed to pay a stationery fee before acceptance at school.
The Committee adopted the minutes of the 20 January 2021 meeting and the meeting was adjourned.
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