Senior Certificate 2003 Results Report, Committee Minutes and Annual Budget 2004/2005: adoption

Basic Education

24 February 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


24 February 2004

Chairpersons: Mr Kgware and Professor S Mayatula

Documents handed out:
Minister's Senior Certificate Examination Report 2003
Original Budget for the Portfolio Committee on Education 2004/2005
Final Revised Budget of the Portfolio Committee on Education 2004/2005

The Minister of Education, Dr Kader Asmal, briefed the Committee on the Department's progress on various initiatives in the past decade. He cited the many challenges the Department had inherited from the former government in the form of a racist, sexist department, inconsistencies in higher education institutions, under-qualified teachers, inappropriate and unworkable curricula, corruption and exclusion. There had been a dramatic improvement in the performance of black students and girls, particularly in subjects such as maths and science.
The Department informed the Committee of the strides it had made in improving the process, integrity and security of the matric examinations and the continued improvement in nationwide performance. Transformation remained a challenge on many levels and needed more thorough research. The Committee discussed and adopted the budget for 2004/2005, noting the need for greater participation in the process. The minutes of previous meetings in February were also adopted.

While achieving comparable success in improving the quality, standard and security of the Senior Certificate examinations, the Department still faced a challenge in presenting candidates with realistically challenging question papers. For the first time, the Department had compiled a matric exam report that detailed the performance of students nationwide.

Another challenge was the transformation of the languages of instruction, as many students were still taught and tested in mediums other than their mother-tongue.

Other initiatives featured the introduction of the Further Education Training Certificate, which would provide academic, vocational and occupational education to learners of varying abilities and talents, unlike the present system that catered predominantly to academic study. Only 10% of learners under the present system went on to higher education. The Department was also working with the Department of Labour on introducing learnerships. The question of standardisation also remained a challenge for the Department.

Ms Vytjie Mentor (ANC) asked about systems to address the problems of professionalism in drawing up matric examination papers. What was being done in order to provide standardisation of examinations with continuous assessment?

Mr T Abrahams asked who set question papers provincially and nationally.

Minister Asmal replied that greater comprehensiveness, uniformity and objectivity was required in the setting of question papers, but this was not easily achieved. The Department was in the process of investigating alternatives that would justly test the competence of Matric candidates. He cited the finding that the 2003 Matric History paper was too difficult for this level.

Mrs M Ockers (NNP) and Mr W Doman (DA) thanked the Department for its efforts in producing the senior certificate report of 2003.

Mr van Niekerk (NNP) sought clarity on the use of English in examinations in the light of a statement the Minister had made on TV on upgrading English by teachers.

The Minister responded that governing bodies chose the language of instruction. In provinces like Gauteng four or five different languages were spoken; in Limpopo three or four. It was necessary to select a language that was shared by most, which was often English. One required a fair proficiency in a language to be able to interpret questions in examinations. Dual language teaching was being considered so that students could understand the nuances of what they were taught in their own language.

The televised statement to which Mr van Niekerk referred was inaccurate as the Minister had been discussing the low standard of instruction of English as a second language. The Department, with the aid of the British and Canadian governments, was looking at retraining teachers in this regard.

Minister Asmal pointed to how the Department had reformed the education system. It was not possible to have quality education within a physical environment where there was inadequate water and sanitation, and the Department was working in conjunction with the Public Works Department to provide these.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) mentioned his concern about damaging, critical media reports about the 2003 matric results, and asked whether the Minister was considering a formal rebuttal. In the reports it was alleged the Minister was encouraging learners to take examinations on the Lower Grade.

The Minister said students had to do subjects at the level they felt was appropriate. He compared township schools where students achieved quality distinctions on the higher grade with a lower overall pass rate, to ex Model-C schools where 100% pass rates were achieved, yet no one had written on the Higher Grade. They were 'culling students' at Grade 11 if principals could predict they would not deliver a 100% matric pass rate. Subjects on the Lower Grade compromised students' chances of admittance to university, and this was of particular concern.

Mr Asmal said it was impossible for him to reply to everything the newspapers said as the press tended to make allegations without providing analyses and due response. This was due to the poor standard of journalism in South Africa.

The Minister thanked the Committee for engaging for the last five years and departed, leaving the Director General of Education, Mr Thami Mseleku, to field further questions. Mr Mseleku informed the Committee that he was awaiting a document on standardisation for further discussion.

Professor Mayatula suggested the Committee consider their Annual Budget. The budget proposed by the Committee suggested a total figure of R767 000, while the final budget was R253 780. Allowances for travel abroad, office equipment, telephone and stationery had not been granted.

Ms V Mentor (ANC) felt the Committee had been forced to adopt the budget without actively participating in the process of budgeting, which had a top-down approach. She moved the budget be adopted. Mr T Abrahams (ANC), urged this procedure be questioned in the future, and seconded Ms Mentor's motion.

Mr W Doman (DA) questioned the allocation of R10 000 for research consultants. The Chairman responded that the Committee at times required input from impartial consultants.

Ms M Olckers (NNP), asked whether the Subsistence and Transport (S&T) allowance was for provincial visits, and whether delegates to the Forum of African Parliamentarians for Education was on a rotation basis, or for the Minister or Chairperson.

Ms D Nhlengethwa (ANC) asked whether the S&T allowance applied to local or overseas visits, mentioning an occasion of not being refunded money she had paid in. Was the practice of reimbursement being implemented? Ms Mentor (ANC) replied that it was being done.

The Chairperson urged that the matter be investigated, and moved to adopt the annual budget, and the Committee agreed. The minutes of 4 and 17 February and the meeting with the UNICEF delegation were also adopted.

At this point, the Committee returned its attention to the Director General of Education, Mr Thami Mseleku.

Mr T Abrahams (ANC) asked if it were true that some of the matric examination markers were teaching their first year.

Mr M Steele (DA) wondered if it were possible for the Department to make a memorandum of norms and standards available to the public in order to create a benchmark for some subjects,

Mr Mseleku said the Minister referred to attempts at benchmarking. The Scottish Board of Education had found that the Mathematics taught in South Africa was too abstract for the particular circumstances of this country.

Ms Nhlengethwa (ANC) felt the admissions criteria of higher education institutions was too high, and asked whether there was a monitoring mechanism in place to check that it was fair. There was a need for students who achieved exemptions to upgrade their marks in order to study certain courses. This created unnecessary difficulties.

Mr D Kgware questioned the success in transformation of some tertiary institutions where students had been refused admission.

Mr Mseleku said the Department was in discussions on how to introduce the FETC in terms of entrance and exit examinations. While there was no selection process for entry, it was necessary to develop academic programmes for disciplines such as medicine. The restructuring of degree courses from three to four years was part of this transformation. The Department was looking at introducing bridging programmes and alternative forms of admission.

Mr Mseleku further stated that he Department was in the process of looking at the qualifications of matric examination markers, and transforming the custom where among others, primary school teachers were marking matric Zulu papers. The Department had eliminated the phenomenon of people tasked with marking having no idea of what they were doing, and improved the rigour of the process.

Ms V Mentor (ANC) emphasised the need for standardisation with continuous assessment, and wanted the Department to ensure that internal moderation was put in place. She congratulated the Department on the validity and credibility of the matric exams for 2003.

Mr T Abrahams (ANC) suggested that any outstanding issues be carried over to the next Committee.

Professor Mayatula wished Members well for the forthcoming elections and adjourned the meeting.


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