Umalusi on International Benchmarking & Subject Analysis of National Senior Certificate

Basic Education

13 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education received a presentation from Umalusi on international benchmarking and subject analysis of the South African National Senior Certificate (NSC) study. The purpose of the current study is to understand the standing of the NSC in relation to similar qualifications from five other jurisdictions, 12 years after similar research was conducted in 2010. South Africa has its own history and context. This means what may flourish in another educational context may not flourish in the South African context.

The Committee was worried about the low percentage of learners who make it through the system. This means there are not enough students who are able to use the NSC qualification to access further education and training. Members asked if the lack of depth and breadth of the qualification was one of the factors contributing to students’ poor adaptation at university level; Members noted there are considerable similarities between the NSC’s aims, learning outcomes, assessment objectives, and those of the other systems; and said the pass rate in South Africa is 33%, but wanted to understand the meaning of this compared to other systems. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed members of Umalusi Council to the Portfolio Committee meeting and congratulated Umalusi on its 20th anniversary. She also welcomed Mr Yunus Ballim as the new Chairperson of Umalusi Council and said she knew he would handle Umalusi well, based on his background. She also noted the Chief Executive Officer of Umalusi, Mr Mafu Rakometsi has carried Umalusi with dignity and no scandals.

Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, Dr Rufus Poliah, said the country depends on Umalusi for the quality and integrity of the National Senior Certificate (NSC), and it has done a sterling job over the last 20 years. These are the sentiments shared by the Minister, Deputy Minister, and the whole Department of Education (DBE).
The report being presented to the Committee on the present day would once again attest to the standards, credibility, and international comparability of the NSC. South Africa is part of a global society, and the standards must be internationally comparable and relevant. Umalusi has done the job well. The external evaluation of the NSC was compared to five other countries and the report will assist with looking at areas for improvement, so the NSC can keep up with new developments which are taking place internationally, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He thanked the Committee for the continued guidance and support.

Umalusi Presentation
Mr Ballim introduced the delegation of Umalusi and said Umalusi was grateful to present to the Portfolio Committee the findings of a study Umalusi had concluded titled, “International Benchmarking of the NSC against qualifications”. The research report coincides with the 20th anniversary of Umalusi, which was celebrated on 6 September 2022. He said the matter at hand in the current meeting was the General Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act 58 of 2001, as amended, which assigns to Umalusi the responsibility to conduct and commission research on issues which are important to the development and implementation of its qualifications sub-framework. Research-based evidence must underpin the advice given to the Minister of Basic Education, this is important to Umalusi. It is equally important to Umalusi for the confidence of all South Africans to be sustained, as far as the quality and standing of the qualifications falling within the purview of the Umalusi mandate goes. Through the benchmarking study shared with the Portfolio Committee, Umalusi aims to fulfil both its research mandate and its commitment to ensuring citizens receive internationally comparable levels of education with the NSC.

Mr Rakometsi gave the Umalusi presentation under the following structure:

Who is Ecctis?
provides official UK national agency services on behalf of the UK Government in qualifications, skills, and migration
is a gold-standard provider of solutions and services in international education, training, and skills, and in the development and recognition of globally portable qualifications
an internationally trusted and respected reference point for qualifications and skills standards
works with universities, organisations, employers
has access to the world’s largest databank of information on international education

The purpose of the current study is to understand the standing of the NSC in relation to similar qualifications from five other jurisdictions, 12 years after similar research was conducted in 2010.

Framing questions
To what degree is the NSC comparable to five selected qualifications regarding specific dimensions?
What differences and similarities are noticeable at the level of subject curriculum?
In relation to assessment methods, what similarities and differences are there between the NSC and other qualifications?

Selected Qualifications and Subjects
The NSC is benchmarked against five international qualifications:
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB DP)
The Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE)
The New South Wales (NSW) Higher School Certificate (HSC) – replaced
Ghana Senior Secondary School Certificate
The Zimbabwean Forms five-six advanced level (ZIMSEC)
The Cambridge Assessment International Education AS & A Levels

The following five subjects were selected:
English FAL: Most learners take it in South Africa
Life Sciences (Biology)
Physical Sciences

Mr B Lepota, Senior Manager for Statistical Information and Research cant verify this internet says Ms Nthabeleng Lepota; Umalusi, said the reason behind the selection was benchmarking in both well-established countries, and countries of comparable economic status in the region and abroad.

The study method employed a 3-step approach:

1) Qualification review
Identifying and critically analysing qualification’s core components, and the underpinning quality assurance mechanisms.

2) Comparative analysis
Detailed comparative analysis of the qualification’s core components against suitable specific dimensions.

3) Evaluation and benchmarking
Drawing together the key findings of steps one and two above, to determine the overall comparability of the qualification in the context of the selected comparison points.

Qualification and Subject Aspects Compared
Qualification comparison aspects
- Entry requirements
- Duration of the qualification
- Structure and content
- Modes of learning
- Methods of assessment
- Associated outcomes

Subject comparison aspects
- Structural features: subject-specific requirements; expected prior learning; duration of study; progression routes
- Subject aims: intentions and purpose of the subject
- Learning outcomes: key knowledge, skills and competencies to be demonstrated by candidates
- Content areas: themes and topics to be taught and learned
- Assessment objectives: used to identify the knowledge, skills, and competencies which students are assessed on
- Assessment methods: methods through which both internal and external assessment takes place – weighting of different exam components and question type

All analysed qualifications aim to enable students to progress to either higher/further education or the world of work

NSC is the strictest regarding prescribing what is taught, in what sequence, and within exactly what time frame.
There are some indications of greater depth and complexity regarding subject content, in some aspects of other programmes, as compared to the NSC.
Life Sciences has less emphasis on mathematical skills.
It is only the Physical Sciences which combine Chemistry & Physics

There is some scope for standardisation regarding:
the articulation of aims, learning outcomes, and the relationship between these and the key skills (literacy and numeracy, appreciation of lifelong learning, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills, flexibility and adaptability, and research and project skills) which students should develop.
the structure of how the areas of cognitive demand are presented may be helpful to certain stakeholders who teach or learn more than one subject, and therefore use multiple subject guides to understand the NSC curriculum.
while the following are some of the features of the NSC, there should be a way to connect the high-level aims and outcomes articulated in the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS).
Literacy and numeracy of a stated level.
ICT skills of a stated leve.l
Student commitment to lifelong learning.
Flexibility and adaptability as key competences.
Research and project skills which prepare students for higher/further education and workplaces.
These are currently not explicitly described as outcomes.

Mr Rakometsi concluded the presentation by saying South Africa has its own history and context. This means what may flourish in another educational context may not flourish in the South African context. At university, he did a module called “Comparative Education”. It warned against comparing education systems, one must not believe what applies and thrives in another jurisdiction will necessarily do the same in one’s jurisdiction. He made a flower analogy, saying some flowers are beautiful where they are, for example, Kenya, but given the different soil and weather in South Africa, the same flower may not flourish.

Having done the comparative study, the qualification and curriculum experts need to look at the study and see if what is in the other jurisdictions would work in South Africa.

There are historical and contextual differences across the systems. Some of the comparison points are qualifications whereas others are programmes. There are differences regarding the purpose the qualifications / programmes serve. The NSC is not only leading students to university, but it also leads students to the world of work. It is also used by people who want to understand how the country operates. It has a multifaceted purpose.

The systems differ with regards to the number of schooling years.

The qualifications / programmes differ in relation to the number of subjects and its packaging, for example, in some jurisdictions, Mathematics has Technology and Mechanics. In South Africa, this is not the case because Technology is covered in ICT as a stand-alone subject.  Based on these, some aspects which may have been found to be lacking in some of the NSC subjects considered in this study, may be covered in other subjects which were not part of the study.

(for full presentation see attachment)

Mr B Nodada (DA) said the presentation from Umalusi was interesting as he had just done a benchmarking with 17 other countries in Germany, and found the South African education system is not as bad as South Africans might think. The NSC was intended to prepare learners for university entry, and it was important to establish this. Mr Rakometsi said it was also intended to prepare learners for the workplace. In South Africa, seven out of every 10 young people are unemployed, some with NSC and some with university level qualifications. Looking at the matric examinations and how many learners actually get a bachelors or national diploma entry, there is a low percentage of learners who make it through the system to be able to use the NSC qualification to access further education and training. He thought there was a failure and a need to ask questions about where the problem was.

He was glad the NSC was comparable with the other qualifications, but then the outcomes were questionable. He asked if the main purpose of the NSC was being achieved; and what could be done to improve the outcomes of the percentage of learners who go through the NSC. He thought it had to do with the quality of teaching, as the curriculum as it is currently set out is not a bad one. It would be a failure if the studies and recommendations did not translate into practical action which will tangibly change outcomes. He asked what the possible reason could be for the bachelors pass rate being so low. It was about 13% the last time he checked. He asked if it was the foundation levels which make learners unable to comprehend the level of understanding needed in the NSC; if it was the quality of teaching; what the elements were; and what the intended outcomes for university entry and access to the job market were, which had to be achieved.

There was an effectiveness in having compulsory subjects. Life Orientation was meant to equip learners to get by in South Africa by teaching soft skills, as this might make learners better able to adapt to the environment. He asked if there was a need to decentralise the manner in which the subjects are taught, to respond to the needs of different environments; and if there was a need for flexibility and decentralisation regarding the teaching, as well as assessment methods. There is a need to decentralise and go into depth to look at the different assessments, to see if there are professional, knowledge and personal skills being developed by the learners, and to see if there is enough flexibility in the curriculum to achieve the outcomes. If this is done the wrong assessments will not be analysed.

The study has now shown the NSC is comparable, which raises the question why it is not reflected in the results. Many people who come from Kenya and Zimbabwe easily enter and participate in the South African economy, but South Africans have a high unemployment rate. He asked what the contributing factors were; what the possible reasons were for learners not being university ready; what the Department of Basic Education intends to use this report for; and he asked about the recommendations. It would be useful to follow up because it speaks to the core of the purpose of the NSC, and the core of the education system. Unless the study is followed by effective and efficient action then it is simply a waste of money.

He said he had commended the Minister on the three-stream curriculum model, and he asked how far it is. He also asked what enhancements it is going to bring to the NSC; and said perhaps it is time to rethink some of the subjects. He asked if Chemistry and Physical Science are still put together, and asked if there was not a need to make Mathematics more ICT related, as Coding and Robotics exist as an element. He asked if there was not a need for it to be on its own; if it was not time to trim the curriculum in terms of depth; and what Umalusi advises about going about this practically.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) asked if, regarding the implications in the federal education space, the higher education students from the other system will have more depth of knowledge than the students in this system. He asked if the lack of depth and breadth of qualification was one of the factors contributing to poor adaptation at the university level; and he asked if this failure was at a higher education level. He also asked if the prescribed approach resulted in a difference of context in South Africa, as South Africa was limited to the creativity of the teacher and learners had to adapt to the teacher’s pace to be able to grasp the content, instead of galloping based on the prescribed approach.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) appreciated the work which was done so far. The role of mathematics in the education system can never be undermined. It is about time, that without overlooking the role of other subjects, the importance of mathematics is realised. There is less emphasis on mechanics and the use of technology as subjects, and more emphasis on traditional skills. He asked if something like this would require a curriculum to keep it in balance. There needs to be a review on the gaps identified in the subjects. This is a way to address the dynamic and changing world. The Committee accepted the recommendations set out in the presentation because it is taking steps forward which will remain in position. The Committee will continue to assess the implementation of this stream model, as South Africa undertakes a comparison with other global models.

The Chairperson said there are considerable similarities between the NSC’s aims, learning outcomes and assessment objectives, and those of the other systems. The pass rate in South Africa is 33%, and the Chairperson asked how this fared compared to the other two other systems; and asked how this relates to the depth of the content on the NFC or the curriculum and coverage, months later. The Chairperson asked if Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) offered English as an additional language, or if it offered it as a home language. She raised a concern about all the acronyms in the presentation, which the Committee did not understand. This needs to be revised, along with statistical methods. As a teacher one needs to deal with the issues of data and statistics. People with research experience know how complicated this can get, especially for people who do not have a high school level background in statistics. Something like this needs to be formulated and included in the NSC. She asked where the technical maths fitted into the whole picture. No reference to this was made. It was stated there are historical differences and contextual differences, yet earlier, similarities were alluded to. She asked if this could be explained, because it seemed contradictory. There is a perception a Zimbabwean education offers better skills than a South African one, but it was also said South Africa is placed well internationally. She asked how learners can be better placed. There has been an issue with foreign nationals entering the country, and in most high schools there was a perception these persons were the ones teaching mathematics and physical science. She asked why it was continuously perceived Zimbabwe offered a better education than South Africa; what value the NSC has for the growth of the South African economy; and history as a subject is excluded in this study, and she asked why.

Mr M Mwela this person is not identified cant find him on net thanked the Committee for affording Umalusi the opportunity to participate in this discussion. He congratulated Umalusi for its excellent work. He said the real value of this is a great question. In many countries it was an established curriculum change and transformation. There is no information available regarding who will come into power. There is a policy which regulates curriculum change, which was driven by an empirical exercise such as the one received from Umalusi. These exercises inform the ongoing work of curriculum development and curriculum change. The studies which have been done confirmed the correctness of changing the curriculum. In the year 2018, 18 new subjects were included, such as technical mathematics and science, which is precisely informed by exercises of this nature.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has been developing other changes which are not necessarily going to be informed by political developments. The DBE is also in the process of developing a framework for curriculum change, so the framework can inform the DBE when changes should be made. This includes which changes should be made, followed by researched. Whichever decision is taken would be based on empirical evidence. The curriculum offerings have to be narrowed, because currently it is too wide. In many countries, subjects such as physical science have been split into two, namely chemistry and physics. This allows students to specialise early. The context and the history might be different in our system. Curriculum change is driven by experts from universities, practitioners from the classroom, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), and other role players. Learners are not all coping at universities, and this is due to a number of factors. These factors can be curriculum change, external factors such as learning, or factors which are covered in other studies. The factors inform structural changes in the education and training system, some of which are split in the curriculum, for instance countries which experience a much better placement in employment and much better economic growth seem to have a larger number of learners following the vocational and occupational stream, around 60%. These countries include Singapore, China, and India. South Africa is trying to really offer the majority of learners vocational and occupational programmes, and academic streams. The majority of any population must get into streams which can result in self-employment, the capability to create jobs rather than to look for jobs. The three-story model is going to try to answer this problem. Schools of skills embed this notion in its restream curriculum. These options are very expensive for technical high schools to establish. This study is important so people do not get on the bandwagon of 30%, but look at broader, complex issues. One cannot say one qualification is better than the other or do comparisons, because there are different contexts addressing issues emanating from different histories. For this reason, many countries are not always willing to open up to exercises of this nature. Few countries would look at the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s education system.

Mr Poliah agreed with Mr Nodada’s statement about South Africa’s education system not being as bad as one would think. South Africa as a nation is extremely critical of what is being done within the country which can be beneficial. However, South Africans must not criticise the system by undermining the gains, but must reflect on where the country is coming from and where it is now. It has been a long journey and the education system is not where it should be. This report came at an appropriate time post COVID-19. In January, the DBE presented a draft plan for the strengthening and the modernisation of the curriculum. In the last few months, the DBE and its key stakeholders have been reflecting very deeply on the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms. The DBE has been reviewing the curriculum in the context of COVID and one of the criticisms which has been leveled against the South African curriculum over the last few years is the whole curriculum is too broad and it lacks depth. The curriculum is said to be mile wide, but only an inch deep. A content map has surfaced from all the reviews over the last two years, where the DBE looked at what was core for a learner in Grade Four to move to Grade Five, and so on. It looks at what is core regarding the concepts, the content, and the skills the learner needs to develop, as these all need to be looked at. Although COVID-19 has been negative in more than one way it has allowed the DBE a process to move away from content and knowledge coverage to focusing more on skills development. The DBE is focusing on reducing content, but more importantly, strengthening the curriculum by looking at competencies. There has been engagement with Kenya and Zimbabwe, these countries are already making use of a competency-based framework. South Africa is being cautious and doing the necessary research. This process has started and hopefully it will be completed in the next six months. The CEO of Umalusi said when looking at all the good practices and admiring all the beautiful flowers, one needs to understand the conditions of the soil, climatic and environmental conditions, so the curriculum being produced can flourish in the environment. After this, the draft competency-based framework for South Africa can be shared with the Committee.

Previous evaluations have shown the curriculum of South Africa is certainly of a world-class standard. The preamble to the curriculum statement shows these competencies and desirable learning outcomes. The problem lies in the implementation of the curriculum. However, one needs to be mindful that South Africa has top, mediocre, and low performing schools. The schooling context and the diversity has to be considered, and therefore the implementation of the curriculum varies. This is the type of divides which need to be implemented. There needs to be a consideration of differentiation regarding the South African context and the stigmatisation of schools. This differentiation should be from a support perspective rather than wanting to categorise schools.

Regarding the plan, the focus is on recovery for 2023-2024. In the year 2025, the DBE is hoping to begin with elements of modernising and strengthening the curriculum, which will be competency-based and which will move the focus away from knowledge acquisition for the sake of knowledge to looking at knowledge application. The current curriculum looks at knowledge, but not at other aspects which are sometimes regarded as soft skills which relates to attitudes, values, and character development. The new framework will focus on how to develop the individual holistically and not measure performance in relation to examinations and how much knowledge the person has gained. There are exciting assessments happening, for example, how does one use project based assessments to assess other skills which cannot be assessed through a typical controlled three hour examination. The capacity of teachers is also important, so other forms of assessments, which are critical, will not come to fault. During COVID-19 the weighing of examinations was reduced. This had to be done because examinations could not be administered. Now greater focus is on teachers in the classroom. The teacher spends most of his or her time with the learner in the classroom, the teacher knows the learner the best, for example, how the learner is progressing with outcomes, instead of depending on an external examination which is conducted under extremely strict and high stakes conditions, which creates a lot of stress. Learners do not always perform best under examination conditions, and therefore continuous assessments should be done. The term hurting various assessment circles is the “assessment for learning” rather than “assessment of learning”.  There are training programmes now where the learner is assessed continuously and the teacher must assist and restructure the lessons based on if outcomes are being achieved, to move away from the previous approach of focusing on covering topics in the curriculum, to rather looking at what the outcomes a learner must be able to demonstrate at the end of each grade, and if the learner cannot demonstrate the grade-specific outcomes, then DBE must go back. This will allow the DBE to come back to the Committee with some paradigm changes regarding assessments, how the academic year is managed, and the progress from one grade to the other.
He asked for clarity regarding if Mr Nodada said there was a low level of bachelor achievement, at 13%. Last year the figure was 36.4% admission to bachelor studies for Grade 12 learners. In fact, the year prior it was also 36.4% in 2020, and in 2019 it was 36.9%. These figures are not something to celebrate but it is not as low as 13%. He asked Mr Nodada to correct him if he was wrong. Progress is being made, 20 years ago it was at 15% but now DBE has moved to above 30%.
The DBE is on the right trajectory, but there has to be greater speed with improving performance of learners at higher education institutions. There is certainly a lack of synergy between basic education and higher education. In a meeting with senior management 15 implementable suggestions were made on how to strengthen and develop a seamless system between basic education and higher education.

Higher education should be involved in the curriculum changes but higher education does not amend its assessment programmes and requirements. There has to be a complete overall for education, both at the basic and the at higher level. Although many changes have been made, Grades 11-12 have been left untouched. A trustee has been appointed to see how amendments can be made, if necessary, without altering the standard. There are ways in which DBE could still review the curriculum, but maintain integrity, credibility, and standard of the NSC.

There are currently a number of occupational and vocational subjects in Grades Eight to Nine to give students exposure. A standardised assessment will be implemented to prepare learners for Grade 10. Every learner will then be assessed according to his/her inclination towards the academic, the vocational or the occupational. This will allow students to decide which stream to consider. A part of the problem is, all learners are being squeezed into an academic stream, whereas these learners will flourish either in a vocational or occupational stream. The curriculum will be strengthened by implementing occupational and vocational streams by 2025, from Grades 10-12. It is indeed critical to upscale teachers. The DBE has to work closely with higher education to develop teachers and ensure teachers have the right skills-set after leaving university. This will enable teachers to be absorbed into schools and to promote the three streams. National norms and standards are set through the curriculum, but it does not mean there is no room to accommodate certain provincial priorities or imperatives at district or provincial level. The current curriculum does allow this. However, there needs to be closer scrutiny as the curriculum is being reviewed and strengthened. The curriculum has to become relevant to the environment in which the learners find themselves. The curriculum is now focusing on core concepts. Even if there are less topics, it drills learners more intensively to develop application skills, skills of synthesis, and evaluation. It does this using limited knowledge, rather than being concerned with covering knowledge over a number of topics and not developing the appropriate skills required. It a lack of depth which is contributing to mediocre performance at university. There will be a focus on deeper learning rather than curriculum coverage. There is a prescriptive approach, which is there to ensure learners stick with mathematics or maths literacy, or life orientation is not an optional subject, and languages are promoted, especially home languages. However, this will be reviewed to see if the level of prescription can be reduced. There are clear entry requirements which others do not have, for instance, an adult learner must be the age of 21, completed Grade Nine or an equivalent of Grade Nine. These are provisions which are made for adults who may not meet the entry requirements which school learners must comply with. Mathematics is a critical subject. Technical mathematics indicates vocational and occupational streams have been researched and technical mathematics will be able to support these streams, but this is still early in the process. It is being monitored very closely. Amendments will be made based on what the reports indicate. Umalusi has made a report available to the DBE and it is under embargo conditions with some subject specialists. The subject specialists were asked to look at issues raised regarding geography and life sciences being outdated. This will be evaluated. The DBE has looked at international research, but different countries have different approaches to passing and failing, for example, in the UK there is a statement presented which indicates the performance level without indicating if the learner has passed or failed. Furthermore, there is a seven-point scale where a learner can even get a score as low as one on the scale, but the report only makes visible if the learner received 30 points out of 45 points. This indicates if the learner has satisfied the requirements of a particular diploma.

Mr Ballim said the national senior certificate is an assessment instrument reflecting the particular performance of a system. There is a greater burden on the national senior certificate than what it is able to bear. South Africa should not become overly pessimistic about what is being done in the country. It must be cautious of the view that the NSC is primarily an instrument which allows access to education. It certainly is an important part of what the NSC is meant to do, but it is not the entire story. There is meaning in the NSC which goes beyond what it means or its utility value for the education sector. It is irrational for the university sector to say Umalusi and DBE must give it students who are guaranteed to pass. This is not only irrational but also ridiculous. However, what the education system can do is say Umalusi should produce students who have a NSC which is meaningful and understands the difference between a B or a C. This should be sustained, meaning a B from this year will mean the same or similar to a B next year. The way the education system, NSC, and university works might the reason certain students fail. Certain universities do not have bridging courses but continue to produce high passing rates.
South Africa might not be where it wants to be but what is being done is comparable to what is happening in other parts of the world. Only 22-23% of students who take mathematics or physics in the NSC system will achieve at least 50%, and this is a criticism. There should a focus on how these students are prepared. The NSC represents an assessment of 12 years of schooling, including for many young people who come from township schools and rural schools. The decision regarding if the student gets access to a university education is actually made in Grade One, not in Grade 12. These are the realities DBE needs to face and be mindful of. Yes, there are reasons to be pessimistic, but if this pessimism is aligned with a nostalgia of inactivity, it creates a piece which eats itself. The education system in this country is one of the best and most rigorous dictation systems, but this statement is not a reality for the education system in this country if there is not a fairly competent national team finding opportunities to improve and continuously reflect positive development. It is often said a medical doctor does not need to be given geometry because medical doctors almost never measure angles or concern themselves with spatial relations between different points.
Mr Ballim spoke about his experience as a civil engineer and how computational mathematics is applied, but differently and distinct from mathematics as a pure science discipline. So, geometry is not about angles. Geometry is about teaching young people the competence to understand the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. If you are not able to tell the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning you are not able to be a competent medical doctor.

Diagnosis is outside of your range of skills if you are not able to tell the difference between those forms of reasoning. Mathematics is a branch of philosophy, not science. There is an examination system which does not allow a calculator in a mathematics examination. This is the way mathematics should be taught, as a logical form of reasoning, and when mathematics is seen as an instrument, it is about applied mathematics, where mathematics and technology are combined. It is important to differentiate between these two forms of mathematics, one as developing competence in reasoning and the other as developing the application of mathematical methods to solve real world problems, which is what engineers do. There needs to be a meeting where these subjects can be discussed. There needs to be a time for a deep conversation on this, for example, the square hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. A student must know the difference between past and future tense in a sentence, and then the same student cannot tell what the difference is between a past and future pluperfect. If students are exposed to a proof of the pythagorean theorem, the question is if the student will be able to understand it. Yes, the student will, because the mathematics system is producing competent students. The same with pluperfects, students will understand how it fits into a sentence. DBE needs to think differently about competence, the content of the curriculum, and the skills being developed. Competence is more important because content knowledge will shift with time. There is a lot of talk about the fourth industrial revolution. Students should be prepared for competencies in the world of robotics, astronomy, data analytics, and so forth. It is true people who complete high school in Zimbabwe appear to be better prepared than students from the southern system. South African students are better prepared for postgraduate studies than some of the Zimbabweans.

Mr Rakometsi said the NSC is not only intended for university entrance. It prepares people for the world of work and for being good citizens. Students have to achieve bachelor passes at various levels to be admitted into different faculties at universities, such as medicine and engineering. There is the Admission Points Score (APS) point system as well. The high unemployment rate cannot be blamed on the NSC, it has to be blamed on the skills match. He said he gave students career guidance and advised students to check Skill Strategies in South Africa when choosing a career. The Department of Home Affairs makes this available from time to time, and offers special permits and visas to people from outside the country who have skills in this specific area. It is better not to blame this on the NSC, but on the choices people make when choosing careers.

In Kenya, the certificate does not state Bachelor or Diploma pass, it reflects the symbols of the subjects and the universities will decide if the student is admitted to university based on those symbols. Students who are gifted in certain areas should be considered. The NSC is the best qualification in the world for the people in South Africa in the same way Kenya has its best qualification for the people of Kenya. If you bring the Kenya qualification into South Africa it will fail because of context and history. He referred to the flower method, and said it will fail if one plants a flower in South African soil without considering weather conditions and the context of pressure.

The same applies in regards to the qualifications of Zimbabwe.

The Department and its stakeholders are trying to mitigate this through moderation of question papers and by removing what is not easily understandable. There is a certain level of understanding between students from an urban and rural context. Some things are easily understood while others are not. He spoke about how things were before 1994 and said he was part of the transition of a National Examination after 1994.
It is an achievement for everyone in the nine provinces to be writing the same examination, as it was different before. One of the reasons students perform poorly at university could be the teaching style which students are not used to. There are many factors coupled with independence, and it is not easy. A study has found the NSC is a good predictor of success at university. If a student did well in the NSC, he or she would do well at university level. This study is not going to end up on the shelves but has to be mentioned.

The study done in 2010 was sent to the DBE and the Minister did a review of the curriculum. This was how the CAPS curriculum came into effect, the input of the 2010 report led to the CAPS report. The DBE and its stakeholders will take a deep five into the subject-specific issues which have been raised in this report, and will make recommendations to the Minister on what could be changed, for instance, if physical science will remain as it is or if it will be separated, as in other countries.

The 2010 report shows this was taken into consideration. The scope of any research report is constrained by a number of factors, including the budget. This is the reason why only certain subjects were covered, and not all subjects.

South Africa has been commended for making mathematics compulsory for students in one form or the other. If one does not take pure mathematics, one takes technical mathematics. Back in the day, students did not even have mathematics. Making mathematics compulsory is an indication of how well the DBE is doing.

Currently, qualifications are being suited to the conditions in South Africa. Research methodologies are presented at university level, which is something which is not taught at school. Some students might cope and some might not. There are similarities, but also diverse differences. It is adding value to South Africa because there are medical doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists, and nurses. Not everyone passes with a bachelor pass. The study done however, did not include history, but the opportunity exists for other researchers to do a comparative study.

Mr B Lepota said a previous study was done in the UK and indicated the NSC is a modern fit for its intended purpose, and is compatible internationally. A similar study was done here and the outcome was the same. This presentation to the Committee confirms the previous findings made in this area. It can be agreed that the NSC provides learners in this country with an internationally comparable level of education. The NSC serves multiple purposes, as seen by the National Development Plan (NDP) in conjunction with the White Paper on post-school education and training. There is an aim of a little over 4.5 million people participating in the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) system and this number includes 1.5 million from the university sector. This is saying the NSC has multiple purposes, and by the time students complete, students can participate meaningfully in building the economy of the country.

Mr Nodada said he agreed with how the curriculum is structured and how the systems are set out in relation to the framework. He said what is expected to be implemented should be explained to the Committee to equip the Committee to follow the different developments within the DBE. He asked for a full presentation on this to be made, mentioned the role the Committee has to play in relation to oversight responsibilities, and noted the contributions which can be made to improve things. It is important to preserve the pockets of excellence in the system and in the NSC. Research is conducted to see where improvements can be made.

The DBE should emphasise the occupational and vocational systems, because it is not too late if a student is in Grade Eight or Nine. He said there was benchmarking with 17 countries, and in the South African context, a child would be channeled to a certain pathway or stream. It is unsure if it would be the occupational, vocational, or academic stream, but the child would be channeled based on the child’s capabilities. Even if personal development skills and knowledge are created, people must be able to utilise it to survive and to participate in the economy.

If a student is in Grade Eight-Nine, it is not too late according to the three streams curriculum model. It would be great to give learners the opportunity to channel these streams. Technical schools are expensive and this comes back to the requirement for collaboration with schools, and how to finance education.
Answering the question about people receiving vouchers to access goals, and questioning if DBE and its stakeholders will be forced to build these schools even when there is a shrinking budget, he said, financing mechanisms should be in place to ensure the implementation of the curriculum.  Different mechanisms must be looked at to implement the curriculum, and many other factors have to be looked at, such as bad public schools, poor quality teaching, and not understanding the work.

Everyone should be able to access the curriculum, irrespective of where the person is coming from. In this way skills can be attained and utilised. He referred to the question regarding which other mechanisms or solutions there are, and if there was no money to build technical schools, and said the 13% he referred to earlier was in relation to 36.4% of people getting bachelor passes, but only 13% of this 36.4% will be able to access a university, based on the APS points and entry requirements of said university. Some cannot enter the industry despite getting a Bachelor pass, not because the student does not satisfy the APS points which are required. There is some sort of misalignment which needs to be fixed, however, it will be interesting to see if there is an alignment there, so people are not given false hope when receiving a bachelor pass.

It is not too late to implement the three-stream curriculum model to help learners pursue a university qualification, and to be able to access opportunities at a later stage. The NSC should not be overpopulated, where citizens are sitting at home and cannot find work. Reports should be able to identify the problems to find solutions to better situations on the ground. There are various models which can be used to assess if the qualifications, such as professional development, and skills acquired by the learner is usable for further studying or getting employment. The development of teachers should also be evaluated. There must be a national framework, and there must be guidance regarding this. Decentralisation only speaks to flexibility.
South Africa’s education system is not as bad as people think. It is simply a matter of when it is implemented on the ground, when it actually becomes impactful and outcomes are achieved.

Closing Remarks
The Chairperson said during the presentation, she was asking herself how this information could be disseminated to the people of South Africa. On a personal level, she learned a lot from the meeting. People need to understand what this senior certificate is about to be able to understand the work Umalusi does.

She suggested there be colloquiums to educate the country on the systems. This can be made easy with the technology of today, but particular attention should be given to those in rural areas. The presentation was an eye-opener regarding many issues. There can be many debates on the issues raised. When oversight was done one could see South Africa was losing learners where it came to mathematics. There are however many people who have made it through the system, and succeeded.

She thanked everyone for being part of the meeting, and said that because of the Education sector, it was evident there were experts, and people who understand this line of work.

The minutes of 6 September 2022 were adopted with the amendment indicating Ms Van Zyl (DA) was present.

The meeting was adjourned.


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