2023 NSC Examination: DBE & Umalusi briefing; with Minister

Basic Education

06 February 2024
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


In its first meeting for 2024, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education met on a virtual platform with the Minister, a delegation from Umalusi, and the Department of Basic Education to discuss the 2023 National Senior Certificate (NSC) Matric results. The Chairperson voiced her satisfaction with the outcome of the results, which she attributed to the efforts of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Umalusi.

In her opening remarks, the Minister commented on the Matric results and how they represented the growth and improvement within the education system. However, she also acknowledged that there were still challenges within the system, such as a weak foundation for learning and matters of concern, such as the throughput rates.

In the discussion on the 2023 NSC Matric results, Members asked if quality was being sacrificed to achieve quantity outcomes; what the reason was for more than 400 000 learners dropping out of the school system between Grades 10 and 12; whether the criteria for achieving a bachelor pass were adequate; what could be done to encourage more learners to study maths and science subjects; how the Department was going to prevent group copying in future; and what steps were being taken to deal with under-performing teachers.

Meeting report

 Minister’s overview 

Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education (DBE), presented the results of the 2023 Matric examinations, and thanked the Chairperson and her team for their guidance and counsel to the DBE. She also expressed appreciation to the Chairperson for her leadership, and the Portfolio Committee for their support at departmental events.

The Minister said that the Department had already presented the findings of the report. Both the DBE and Umalusi would go through the report in detail.

She commented that the past five years had been encouraging in the sense that the DBE was witnessing stability within the basic education system. The most dangerous thing was when an education system was experiencing fluctuations and was unable to determine where the problems were. The past five years have indicated holistic growth within the education system, with “no perfect centres or weak centres”.

The Minister reported that the Northern Cape, about which the Chairperson had expressed concern, was above 70%, which the DBE considered a healthy development. The difference between the Western Cape, the Free State and North West provinces demonstrated no significant difference, because they were separated by very small margins. This was a very encouraging trend as it showed that the system was stabilising across the board. The improvements reflected the DBE’s interventions in areas which were underperforming.

The Minister commented that the presentation highlighted one of the worrying factors which correctly bothered South Africans. These were throughput rates of the number of students who enter Grade 1, compared to those reaching Grade 12. The DBE was aware of the difficulties, as evidenced by a dip after Grade 3, a dip after Grade 6, a deeper dip after Grade 9, and those other identified factors resulting in higher dropout rates. Fortunately, in some instances, students went to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

The Department had committed itself to a tracer/tracking method which helped to compare data. It would help to determine that in Grade 9, 20 000 students had left, and the DBE could trace them scientifically with identity documents (IDs) to confirm that they were at the different TVET colleges. This was another weakness that had been uncovered within the system.

Another challenge was the weak foundation of learning, which made the basic education system very fragile. For example, teachers had to work overtime and even on weekends. Although Covid had had an impact, the trends extended beyond the pandemic, illustrating that what made the system fragile were the weaknesses at the foundation level.

The Minister said the Department was pushing to resolve the challenges of early childhood development (ECD), to ensure that students arrived early for stimulation, and could deal with the language of learning in education. It had been shown that children could not write by the age of ten if they could not write by the time they were five. This was why there was a focus on ECD and the need for a conversation around the language of learners.

She commented that it was a legacy of apartheid that people rightly or wrongly believed that English was a sign of knowledge and intelligence. People forgot that one’s mother tongue helped with cognitive development, because language was not knowledge. She knew, for example, that she could stay in Japan for six months without speaking Japanese. It was easy to learn a language, but it was not easy to develop cognitive ability, which was what the mother tongue assisted with. This was a matter that the DBE would begin to examine. 

Although the DBE was very comfortable that the education system had stabilised, it was still fragile. For the basic education system to be strong, the foundations of learning would have to be stronger.

DBE & Umalusi on 2023 National Senior Certificate examinations

Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, DBE, along with Dr Mafu Rakometsi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Umalusi, and Mr Doctor Phokwane, Acting Senior Manager: Quality Assurance and Assessment, Umalusi, presented the briefing on the November 2023 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations.

The presentation provided background information on the Umalusi mandate and regulatory framework.
The Umalusi Council ensured that quality assurance of assessment was conducted to ensure that assessment leading to the award of certificates in schools, adult education centres and TVET colleges was of the required standard. This was also to ensure the certificates issued by Umalusi were credible.

The quality assurance of assessments was achieved through various means, such as the standardisation of assessment outcomes and the audit of the state of readiness to conduct examinations. There was also monitoring of the conduct, administration and management of assessment and examination processes.

The quality assurance processes undertaken in 2023 by Umalusi featured various highlights. The organisation had sampled 11 NSC subjects for Phase 1 school-based assessment (SBA) moderation, and nine NSC subjects for Phase 2 SBA moderation across the nine provincial education departments (PEDs). The presentation also reported that Umalusi had monitored a sample of 275 examination centres and 21 marking centres.

There had been recurring areas of non-compliance involving the verification of marking. These areas included non–adherence to the 1:5 ratio for appointing deputy chief markers to senior markers. Additionally, there was poor quality of marking and internal moderation, especially in the South African Sign Language (SASL) HL Paper 2 and Paper 3. 

On standardisation, there were a number of serious challenges that had been observed and resolved. The first were printing errors, and errors in question papers. The impact of these errors had been mitigated during the marking guideline standardisation meetings held in preparation for marking.

The second challenge was group copying. This challenge had been resolved, as the results of the affected/implicated candidates were blocked pending the DBE investigations.

The third challenge was the loss of candidates' scripts that could not be traced. This was resolved with the missing script principle, which was used to calculate marks for the lost scripts for qualifying candidates in line with the applications for assessment concessions received from the DBE.
See the Umalusi presentation for further details


Mr B Nodada (DA) said that he wanted to express appreciation for Dr Poliah’s presentation for the first time in a while. This was because the presentation spoke on issues about which he had a lot of questions, and they had been dealt with with a degree of honesty, and some of the questions he was planning to pose had indirectly been answered.

However, he still wanted to point out a few things. The reason why Members of the Portfolio Committee sat as representatives of the people was that they were very honest and robust with the departments and entities they dealt with, and could determine what interventions these organisations needed to take into consideration through the Committee’s input as an oversight body.  

The first point was that South Africa had a massive problem in terms of a dropout /failure rate in Grade 10. This specifically resulted in a poor throughput rate in matric, which translated into a low real Matric pass rate. He thought this had been misconstrued for reasons unknown. The Portfolio Committee was always concerned at whether the education system had enough retention between Grade 10 and Matric. This was because learners who entered grade 10 intended to complete their matric, and the high dropout rate translated into a very low throughput rate in that particular phase of study. The Committee also needed to look at mitigating the situation and making the necessary interventions.

Mr Nodada said he wanted to take the issue further. There had been comments that 187 484 learners had either dropped out or failed between Grades 11 and Grade 12. He felt that the Department needed to analyse what the problem was with Grades 3, 4, 7 and 8. Grades 11 and 12 were also important, and needed to be linked to the Grade 10 high failure rate. 

He asked if learners went to TVET colleges when they failed Grade 10, because there was a very high failure rate. For example, the Northwest province was one of the provinces with a high failure or dropout rate between Grade 10 and Matric. He commented that upon visiting the province, one would find that they had improved outcomes, yet fewer learners needed to make it to Grade 12. Had the Department taken this into consideration as part of their analysis, strategies and plans to mitigate the challenges of dropouts, and the high failure rate between Grades 10 and 12? This was a massive concern for the Portfolio Committee.

Mr Nodada said his second issue was around quantity versus quality outcomes. He raised this issue because currently he was still involved in basic education. He had spent eight years in higher education, and still received queries from parents, students and learners. They were people who argued that despite obtaining a bachelor’s pass, they could not access a course at an institution of higher learning. This was despite no capacity issues within the higher education system, which made this an issue about the quality of outcomes. 

He said 40% of this cohort of learners had achieved a bachelor pass, as per the criteria presented to te Committee. This meant that one achieved four subjects at 50%, one subject at 40%, and two subjects at 30%. The criteria provided had illustrated the breakdown of how one obtained a bachelor’s pass. He asked if the DBE, with assistance from Umalusi, could comment on the criteria set for a bachelor pass. 

How did South Africa compare against other developed and developing countries? South Africa was in a situation where a bachelors pass was at the lower end of the scale. This would mean that the majority of the learners did not have access to an institution of higher learning, nor to a bachelor course or diploma course. Despite this, hope was given that if one could obtain a bachelor pass, one would be able to access a university or an institution of higher learning. The Portfolio Committee regarded this as a big problem. The learners' pass rate was based on those criteria, but only 13% to 16% would be able to access a university. This was not because of capacity, but because of the quality of the outcomes. This was something that they needed to look at. Maybe a conversation was needed about the quality of the pass, or the criteria for a bachelor pass that was used. He added that maybe “we need five subjects at 50%, one at 40%, and the other one at 30%”. 

Mr Nodada asked what must be done to ensure the quality of the pass would translate into a child actually accessing an institution of higher learning. The main issue for him was the quality of the outcomes, while the capacity issue was secondary. The problem was that there was a perception that South Africa was promoting quantity over quality. 

He wanted to comment on the TVET colleges that offered a route to acquiring a skills qualification, and he said that only 40% of learners from TVET colleges got absorbed into the market. There therefore needed to be a very high link between what was taught in basic education and higher education, so that the education system prepares learners for the future world of work, and the ability to participate in the economy and ultimately live prosperous lives. Otherwise, these learners would be pushed to join the unemployment queues.

The third point he wanted to make was that there was a massive failure rate in mathematics and science, despite the participation of learners being very low. Had the DBE investigated what the problem was? Was the problem the teachers in the classroom, or the model used to allocate learners to teachers? How best should one intervene to ensure learners have quality passes in the two subjects? He acknowledged that there had been an improvement within the system, as the Minister had said, but the system was still plagued with the challenge of quality outcomes.

He asked what measures the Department had put in place to stop learners from being held back, or forced to opt out. This happened due to fears that their failure would influence the Matric pass rate of individual schools or provinces.

He said the province with the highest Matric pass rate was the Free State, but grade 8 and grade 10 learners were failing, and almost half of them did not make it into matric. This was a massive concern for the Portfolio Committee. He commended the Free State for doing very well, adding that the Committee had conducted an oversight visit there and observed that the teaching quality was amazing. 

Mr Nodada asked how often the DBE engaged with the Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET) to determine how many students graduate from their courses within the designated amount of time allocated to that course. This was so the Committee could also examine the success of those learners who received bachelor passes at the institutions of higher learning.

He wanted to know if there had been an outcome from the investigation into group cheating, and said it applied to both the DBE and Umalusi.

He said he did not often have questions for Umalusi, but today, he had two bones to pick with them -- and needed very firm responses. 

The first bone was that there were issues with the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI). He had been receiving many emails and WhatsApp messages from parents. These parents took their learners to the SACAI, which was also responsible for examinations and oversight responsibilities, to approve and do quality checking for those particular learners. One of the concerns of thousands of learners and parents was that the final marks received by SACAI differed significantly from students' marks from terms 1-3, in that they were much lower. 

The second issue was the calculations of formal marks released by SACAI, as they refused to provide parents and teachers with an explanation of how the final marks were calculated. When viewing the scripts, students and parents were not provided with copies of examinations or memos containing the answers. How did they ascertain those particular outcomes? He also commented that no other assessment body discussed the school-based assessment marks, while students assessed by SACAI were disadvantaged. 

He said the Committee had received a report from Umalusi explaining the interventions they had made with the issues raised by students and teachers about the SACAI process. He commented that Umalusi should provide instances where those issues had been resolved.

The second bone he had to pick with Umalusi involved the Matric results. Was there no way to set a firm timeline for when the results would be released? Was it possible to return to a norm where results were released by 6 January, as this would allow people enough time to prepare and make the necessary applications to universities or institutions of higher learning? He was aware that there was a reason for the current situation, but at the end of the day, there were implications for learners and parents. For example, the recent Matric results were released a day after the schools had reopened. A learner in matric who has not done well may want to go back to school and not join the second chance programme or other programmes. They might have been denied the opportunity. 

His last question was to get information from Umalusi about the consequences for the three provinces that had not submitted their marks to the Marker Selection Committee. He also asked if the Department had made the necessary interventions in terms of senior markers and deputy markers, as Umalusi had raised with them.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) thanked the Chairperson for his patience and generosity with the almost 25 minutes given to Mr Nodada- he would take only a quarter of that time. He commented that Mr Nodada must not start a war that he could not finish, telling him that the President and the Minister were surely coming back to Parliament after the elections.

He said that credit must be given for the wonderful work done by the Department of Basic Education and all stakeholders involved in education. It was normally said that education was a societal matter, and several stakeholders had been involved in bringing the country to where it was. 

The most important credit had to go to Umalusi for the sterling job they continued to do on the quality assurance of the Matric performance. The reason he was saying this was that it was limiting the unnecessary criticism that would keep on “coming our way" and that the results or performance were of low quality.

He welcomed the Minister's reference to the stability of the basic education system as a whole, and
congratulated Umalusi and the DBE for “keeping this Titanic afloat despite several icebergs we often encounter”.

He commented that a significant number of bachelor performances had come from quantile 4 and quantile 5 schools, which told a big story to take home. The story was that government's investment in pro-poor communities was adding up. The long and anticipated dream for equal and quality public education was finally paying dividends. The DBE was on course and must keep up the good work. The Minister could pass the message to the entire Cabinet and government of the day, that the vision and the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 was on course. 

Mr B Madlingozi (EFF) asked Umalusi, being the body that oversees and assures the quality of the examinations, whether they believed the quality assurance procedures they used were keeping up with the required standards of education. Did they provide access to the right working environment to all the young and old people entering the tertiary education world? Did Umalusi believe that the examinations were serving the needs of the country?

He said that the two subjects of mathematics, and all the science subjects, seemed to be problematic for numerous candidates, especially black children. There was a need to look at that carefully. There seemed to be no answer to the problem, and some were trying very hard, so he could not understand why there were no improvements. How long did it take the Department to rectify a problem when it realised that the objectives were not being met? What interventions had they put in place for progress to be made in this regard?

He asked if there was a way the Department could devise a change in the curriculum and the concept of teaching children to think and solve problems, instead of allowing learning by heart without questioning and thinking about what they were learning. He said it had been proved that "our kids cannot think outside the normal schooling box” when presented with problems to solve. Some of those problems had to do with how the education system was devised and designed. Some methods that were used were "oppression methods", where a teacher provided information and allowed no questioning, as students were supposed to listen and follow the teacher's instructions or orders.

Was there a way of changing the way teachers teach, if the teaching was so predictable and had nothing that resembled everyday realities? Children were too clever for that, and they knew when the lessons were detached from them and their realities.

Mr Madlingozi commented that it was time for the Department to look at how to fundamentally change the education system. The education system should be revolutionised to benefit the whole of South African society. It was up to the Department to ensure that the education given to the children was the whole truth about themselves, and not the half-truth that was told about them.

He wanted confirmation that Umalusi quality assurance would ensure that children were given tools that could allow them to excel in their lives, and not be channelled in only one direction of the human labour supply. He commented that in the art world, radio personalities knew more about the American and British people than they knew about South Africans.

Ms M van Zyl (DA) said her concerns were about the quality of marking and standardisation. It was a question based on the reports that had come out that low marks had been recorded for Home Language Afrikaans, History, Geography and Business Studies. Was Umalasi aware of that issue, as learners had asked for re-marks?

She would like to see a slide or slides that addressed re-marking, with a breakdown per province of which subjects were the ones that were being asked for re-marks. She would like that to be linked to the quality of marking. Could the Portfolio Committee get an answer on how many applications had been received for re-marking? The closing date for re-marking was 2 February. It was important for the Committee to be able to see where the issues were, and which subjects or areas warranted that re-marking.

Ms M Moroane (ANC) asked how the DBE and Umalusi were planning to deal with the underperforming teachers. How would perpetually underperforming teachers be held accountable while the schools that faced similar challenges performed better? Some teachers were neglecting their tasks at their schools to provide private tutoring to make money and neglecting the learners they were supposed to teach. What plans were there to deal with those teachers? 

Referring to the identified bottlenecks featured in the presentation, she said more than a million learners started from grade 1, but only around 740 000 managed to make it to grade 12. What happened to over 400 000 learners? She had heard the explanations, but what were the plans for ensuring such attrition rates were curbed?

Ms N Adoons (ANC) said she joins millions of South Africans in congratulating the Matric of Class 2023, which had reached new heights of performance as the education system attained stability, with an overall performance of 82.9% and an increase of bachelor passes to 49%. Critical was the success of those from historically disadvantaged communities and the poor. Supported learners and learners from no-fee-paying schools had performed well and attained their National Senior Certificates. It was also significant to note that most of those who achieved distinctions were female candidates.

The Portfolio Committee must also appreciate the work done by the educators -- those who had been with the learners at the school level daily. The Committee may criticise and judge as much as they want, but there were those learners who appreciated the existence of the educators and teachers who were with them daily.

Ms Adoons said that the education outcomes of the 2023 class symbolised the improvement in the basic education system, as provinces had performed above 75%. The Committee welcomed the improved pass rate in mathematics, from 55% to 63.5%, and in physical science, from 74% to 76.2%. This was good for building the country's science and technology skills and capabilities.

The Free State, as a relatively rural province, had demonstrated the transformation of the democratic government. The outcomes highlighted the significant improvement in the Eastern Cape, at 81.24%, KwaZulu Natal at 86.3%, Northwest at 81.3%, and Limpopo at 79.4%. 

She acknowledged that rural provinces such as KZN had improved drastically, and had beaten provinces like Gauteng and the "so-called perfect province" of the Western Cape.

She appreciated the quality assurance and monitoring work that Umalusi had done.

The Chairperson said she had only a few issues to raise. One issue was about the learners who did not make it, and who were now going to go in May and June for the second chance programmes. She was aware that they were now partly the DBE's responsibility, and asked if there were programmes that assisted those students in ensuring they passed their examinations.
Her second point was the issue of grade 10. It looked like there were bottlenecks, and most were repeating -- perhaps that was where they disappeared. She asked how the Department planned to support the grade 10s in the future. She felt there should be a programme that guided the students from a career point of view, as they often "got stuck" as they did not know which stream to follow.

The Chairperson reported that there were 433 underperforming schools. What was the Department going to do to assist them, since they had already been identified?

She said the Committee sought to understand the strategies based on the comments made in the previous year to improve performances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. These included strategies to address systemic issues, like training to teach mathematics and physical science from the foundation phase up to matric. 

The Chairperson commended the DG for the work he was doing, visiting the provinces, and  acknowledged the support being provided to those provinces by the Department. 

She commented that the basic education system was stable, even in terms of percentages. The provinces did not differ that much from each other, and one could see that they were in the same range. With mathematics and science, in terms of percentages, there had been growth. However, there was concern that learners did not have an interest in mathematics in particular, and she believed there needed to be a focus on that area. 

Department’s response

Minister Motshekga said she would only make short remarks on comments and points the Portfolio Committee Members raised. 

She had noted the concerns about throughput and repetition rates. In her opening remarks, she mentioned the throughput rates, as she was aware that this was a major concern for many South Africans. However, she cautioned about considering throughput rates in isolation. It must be considered in line with international trends about people starting in Grade 1 and finishing, as South Africa was not doing badly internationally, so the country should not take it too seriously. 

Her Department continued to track throughput rates by monitoring each phase to identify the causes when learners went through from Grade 4 to high school, to identify performance issues, harm and other challenges. The Department monitors, intervenes and deals with the issues and ensures it tailors its responses to the underlying causes, which change from time to time. There were a lot of issues that affected young people at different phases, especially when they became teenagers. There were issues of juvenile delinquency, and there were social pressures around them. They started experimenting with all sorts of things, such as alcohol and all sorts of degenerating matters. 

The Minister noted that the higher and more complex the curriculum became, the more challenges were picked up. There was therefore a need to strengthen the foundations for learning. Throughput was a matter of concern, and the Department was taking it seriously. 

Another issue that had been raised about the quality of passes based on university admissions was separate from throughput. One Member had said it was not a capacity issue but a capacity issue. If a university had 100 places for medicine, the candidates with “A” symbols would be selected. This did not mean something was wrong with “B” symbols -- it was just a situation of limited space available. The limited numbers of students were going to be accepted through the use of “the highest points and other criteria”. This did not reflect anything on the quality, but was also a way of dealing with the competitive environment. It was not an issue of the quality of passes if a learner had a 60% pass. There was nothing wrong with getting 60%. However, the medical school may not accept a learner with 60%, because it may receive lots of applications from candidates with 100%.

The other issue that the Department was dealing with in higher education was the landscape of the education system, which had been inherited. The country had not moved with speed to address the economy of the future. The economy of the future did not need every child to go to university. She acknowledged that there was a need to open vocational and technical education pathways. It was not only a question of talents and skills, but also of variety, as not every child had to pass medicine or science. Not every child must pass history. However, the children who were talented in soccer must be supported in their careers and the talents that they had, so not every child needed to go to university. There was therefore a big push for the three-stream curriculum to be able to give young people an opportunity through a varied curriculum. 

The Minister said that the future of education must be able to de-emphasise a Matric pass as the only pathway. Education should encourage children to get a Matric pass, or should also encourage or assist those with the skills that are needed by the economy. The children must also be equipped with the skills that could support them in their choices. The DBE had introduced a Grade 9 certificate so children could go in various directions.

According to the education system, basic education ended in Grade 9, whereas Grades 10,11 and 12 were further education and training. There was a need to strengthen the system so that when learners were going to further education and training, they could pursue a strong vocational and technical pathway. The 40% that had not come through should be able to be encouraged and supported if they wanted to move to the other paths. The Department was supporting them to go into Further Education and Training (FET), and was also motivating them to go to vocational and technical colleges.

The Minister acknowledged that there were lots of pressures, and felt that the South African nation, rather than asking “where have you taken the 40%”, should ask “What do we do with the children?” This was because they were at the age of 16, and to ensure that they had further education and training to proceed to university. Alternatively, it would also ensure that these students had the skills to enable them to join the workforce.

Dr Hubert Mweli, Director-General (DG), DBE, indicated that the Minister had covered quite a lot in terms of the questions that needed to be responded to. He remarked that the improvements had been made possible under the leadership of the Minister, the Deputy Minister and Members of Executive Councils (MECs) in the provinces. He expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Portfolio Committee to exercise oversight over the Department and hold it to account. 

Dr Mweli expressed his satisfaction that the discussion had shifted from the Matric pass rates to the throughput rates. He was also satisfied that the Committee was no longer talking about throughput rates from Grade 1 to Grade 12, but from Grade 10 to Grade 12. This meant that DBE's engagements had worked. This was because the true, authentic grade throughput rate could be determined from Grade 10 for the reasons explained by the Minister, which were understood by all the people. When learners finish in Grade 9, they go to TVET colleges. 

He agreed with Mr Nodada when he said there was an indication that there was no seamless progression from Grade 10 to 12. That had been highlighted even in a presentation by Dr Poliah, and also by the Minister. The DBE suspected that there was "gatekeeping" in Grade 10, and they also see that profoundly in Grade 11. In other words, when schools decide that learners are not going to give them good passes, they do not let them proceed to Grade 12.

Dr Mweli said they were investigating, and research on the dropout rates was currently underway, conducted by Dr Steven Taylor. The research would help synchronise the number of learners who went to TVET colleges versus learners who proceeded through Grades 10, and eventually 11 and 12. The research outcomes were expected early next year. It was hoped that this issue would finally be concluded. He was convinced that the major problem was not dropout rates, but that the major problems were the failure and repetition rates. He felt that the research would settle the matter.

Dr Mweli stated that the Minister had answered the question about the quality of the bachelors' passes --  the quality was beyond reproach. South African learners were even admitted to universities outside the country. There was something called the Admission Point Score (APS) system that universities were using. The APS depended on the field of study that learners wanted to pursue if the learners met the APS required by universities for different faculties or different fields of study. But the fact that a learner had obtained a bachelor's pass meant they could study, depending on the field which they wished to pursue. 

He provided an example of what the Minister referred to, particularly this year, when universities realised they were “spoilt for choice”. The Department had met with the provinces to support the class of 2024. It had been approached by officials in the Free State who presented the cases of learners who had achieved Level 7 in all seven subjects, but were not admitted to the field of medicine. Those were distinctions, but they were not admitted into the field of medicine because the universities were now spoiled for choice. There were so many learners who did extremely well that even if they had obtained Level 7, they would have to seek percentages beyond Level 7.

Dr Mweli reported that the DBE regularly met with the DHET to look at a number of things, one of which was the architecture of the system. because both departments were two sectors of one system. The synchronisation of the two sectors was important so that there was harmony in the system. An example was the vocational programmes offered by TVET colleges versus the subject specialisation offered by the DBE's technical high schools, so the Department was looking into that matter. 

Regarding the throughput rate,  the province currently leading from the class of 2023 was Mpumalanga, followed by the Western Cape. The Free State and other provinces were not doing so well. 

On the issue of performance in mathematics in the Western Cape, he said that the province was doing well in mathematics and science, but their participation rate was very low. It was obvious that the fewer learners, the better the chances for those learners to do well. Limpopo was a province that was doing exceptionally well in mathematics. If one went to any faculty in any mathematics-related university, it would be dominated by learners from Limpopo. These learners were mostly from historically disadvantaged communities.

Regarding the release of the results to be done earlier, Umalusi would state that they required more time to quality assure the work. The Department was in discussions on how to respond to the public outcry. The Department had met with the university Vice Chancellors, and they declared that the results were needed only from the first week of February. They also felt that nobody needed the results for anything before then. 

Dr Mweli addressed the topic of group copying. What was not indicated in the report of Umalusi was that group copying had been drastically reduced. He speculated that behavioural irregularities had increased, which Umalusi was also attempting to deal with. He commented that what was not reflected in the report of Umalusi was that in the context of diminishing financial resources, provinces had moved to compliance of one senior marker to five markers. 

The Department could provide details of the progress made on the implementation of Umalusi's recommendations or directives. This was so that there would be a link between the DBE and the various higher education forums and universities. The universities were involved even in the Department’s curriculum changes.

Commenting on the DBE's interventions to improve, Dr Mweli reported that it had a very comprehensive learner support programme called the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA). With that framework, every province developed its provincial improvement plans yearly. The Department called on them to report quarterly, and on a semester basis. The Department reported to Umalusi every six months, which was how it continued its improvement. However, it took a system-wide approach from Grade 1 to Grade 12 by not focusing only on Grade 12.

He said the Department reviewed the curricula on an ongoing basis. It now had an exercise called curriculum strengthening and review, and its curriculum was deemed to be world-class curriculum. If one looked at the question papers, he doubted if many of those who had written Grade 12 exams many years ago would be able to obtain maximum marks today. This was because of the nature of the questions in those question papers. They were no longer just to recall questions -- they were about critical thinking and problem-solving, and therefore contextually relevant. They would be about things that were happening now. Although it was asked a bit awkwardly, there had been a question about Palestine in 2023, when Palestine was a hot issue.

The Department attempted to decolonise the curriculum to focus on the mother tongue. It also strengthened the currency of history as a subject but also looked at making it more attractive to learners. It attempted to ensure that the curriculum and examination papers were contextually relevant to the education system of South Africa, Africa, the Southern African region and the globe.

Dr Mweli confirmed that the Department conducted re-marks. Prospects for success for re-marks had reduced, which was also attributable to the quality of marking. Quality assurance of making was done at almost five levels -- the marker, the senior marker, the deputy chief marker, the chief marker and the internal moderator. There were external moderators from Umalusi and the DBE. He was extremely satisfied with the Department's improvement to upgrade its quality in the marking process. 

He said that the learners who failed would be provided a second chance, if it was available. The Department was not happy with the performance of its part-time candidates. It did not believe they had made the improvement they had planned. It was going to focus on improving the performance of part-time candidates through the second chance Matric programme. 

He reported that the number of underperforming schools had been reduced. However, the Department was going to continue supporting those schools to ensure that their numbers were reduced almost to zero.

He said the country's 26 000 school principals had been motivated to improve mathematics. He thought that the teachers and subject advisers had done exceptionally well as they rallied behind the 60% target in mathematics, and had managed to achieve it. This year, the teachers and subject advisers were now aiming for 70% and above in mathematics. 

The strategy focused not only on Grade 12, but Grade 4 and Grade 9 were to participate in an international mathematics and science study. The Department expected to see an improvement there as well. 

Dr Mweli reported that he had travelled to KZN, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo for observation and training, because the majority of South Africa’s pathology in terms of inappropriate sanitation structures was located there. Coincidentally, he also happened to monitor learners' support programmes during his travelling. When he visited all nine provinces, he tried to give them all equal attention. He had been to all 75 districts in the country, together with the departmental team, to try to support them. The Department was going to work very hard with the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and all the other provinces to respond to the calls of the Portfolio Committee. This would help to ensure the Department’s improvement. 

Dr Barney Mthembu, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Curriculum, DBE, indicated that he wanted to discuss the issue of how the Department dealt with teachers who were not doing justice to the delivery of service in education. He said some provinces which had improved had taken the Department’s advice on how to conduct accountability sessions. KZN and Limpopo were the two provinces which had started doing that upon receiving the Department’s advice. He explained that the accountability sessions were where all the principals of schools which had performed at 40% and below were summoned. Every principal came with a circuit manager and a district director. The intention was not to harass people, but to get an idea as to what was wrong, and what was happening. This was so that the principal would inform the Department what was happening and where the challenges were. The district director and the circuit manager would also provide the Department with an indication. Since the accountability process was initiated, those who had come to the accountability sessions had not returned the following year to account.

The other issue that he wanted to talk about was mathematics. The Department had organised a sector plan to improve the performance in mathematics and the level of participation. It was more focused on Grade 8 and 9 students, because they wanted to ensure that those learners performed well in mathematics. The Department also wanted the students to develop a love of the subject and select mathematics in great numbers when provided opportunities to make subject choices.

Although 17% of failures were within the system, those were not outright failures. The second chance Matric programme took care of them, because some of them needed to have one subject to make it. Some of them had two or three subjects to make it, so they were not outright failures. Therefore, by June, when the supplementary examinations were written, some of them would have completed 2024 with a matric qualification. 

Dr Mthembu referred to the strategy to assist underperforming schools. As the Department moved from one province to another, it received plans to improve its performance. The main point of guidance being provided was that they must be specific about their plans to improve the performance of those underperforming schools. The schools that had been visited already had presented their plans.

The Department was moving away from this concept, or label, of "under-performing." It was now coming up with new concepts that were going to encourage them so that they would not complain and say they were labelled "under-performing." The Department was doing exactly what the United Nations had done when they did away with the term "under-developed countries." Instead, it started referring to them as developing countries to encourage them.

Dr Poliah commented on one of two minor points, just to strengthen the responses. He felt that Mr Nodada’s concern about throughput did not warrant any further discussion, as the Minister and DG had covered that very well. 

He recalled that one of the questions asked by Mr Nodada was what the Department was doing to possibly improve retention. He commented on what it was doing to improve throughput. If one examines the policy on progression, it was certainly a bold response the Minister took. This was to improve learner retention, because the learners who had now failed Grade 10 and Grade 11 more than once would have dropped out of the system. However, with the policy on progression, the Department was now retaining those students within the system. This provided them with a chance in the next grade, with the appropriate support to produce the desired results.

In terms of throughput, Dr Poliah said that during Covid, the Department had to increase and amend the programme of assessment. This was so that there was an increase in the school-based assessment weighting. Through this, the Department found that when more learners were moving from Grade 10 into Grades 11 and 12, it contributed to the throughput. Learning from the experience that came out of Covid, the Department has now extended or increased the school-based assessment component in Grade 11 from 25% to 40%. 

Another important point was that the Department may not have the desired throughput at the moment. This was simply because it was squeezing all learners into an academic stream if the learner was vocationally or occupational inclined. It was now forcing these learners into an academic stream, and as a result, that was not going to produce the desired throughput rate. The Department was convinced that as they extended their occupational and vocational streams, the throughput rate would improve significantly. 

Dr Poliah acknowledged the other point raised by Mr Nodada, which was the issue of the 30% pass mark. He did not want to dwell on that, but wanted to indicate that the Department had conducted some work in terms of comparative studies in other countries. He quoted a researcher who had conducted extensive research in this area in 2018, and his closing statement was that a pass mark between 30% to 40% was by no means unusual. There were very few school systems that set a pass mark of 50% for subjects. This was an independent and reputable researcher who had examined various systems. Moving to 50% was not a common feature even in well-advanced systems.

He said that stakeholders must understand that South Africa had what was referred to as a "group certificate." This group certificate was where the Department examined criteria that learners had to satisfy to be issued a certificate. Meanwhile, in some European countries such as the UK, one found that they just listed the subjects with the mark obtained by the learner. Universities and the workplace would then determine whether, based on the mark obtained by the learner, the learner was accepted into higher education studies or the “world of work.” 

Dr Poliah addressed the question about what the DBE was doing regarding principals who were holding back the learners. He answered that the Department had identified them, and disciplinary action would be taken against them. It would monitor schools more closely, together with the provincial departments, to ensure that this practice of holding back learners did not become a practice in some schools.

As the DG mentioned, group copying was reduced significantly. Currently, the teacher in Mpumalanga, responsible for group copying and posting answers on a chat group, has terminated his services after he went through a disciplinary process. Action was also being taken in all other cases where teachers had been implicated in irregularities. This was so that the Department sent the right kind of message that those irregularities would not be tolerated.

Responding to the question on the non-submission of reports about chief markers, he said the DBE had identified provinces and chief markers. It also identified internal moderators who would not submit the reports that were required in terms of its marking standardisation meeting. The Department was going to deal with those provinces and individuals to improve that particular submission. 

He felt that the Department needed to clarify the 1:5 ratio. There were only a few provinces involving a few subjects where there was non-compliance to this ratio. This was because the 1:5 would certainly bring up a higher level of quality assurance quality control, and the Department was certainly moving in that direction.

Dr Poliah responded to the query about what the DBE was doing about the Umalusi directives. It had already started with the improvement plan, and by 15 March, it would be able to present a detailed plan to Umalusi.

Responding to the question raised about the quality of marking, he said the Department had a tolerance range. That tolerance range was determined per question, and also for the final mark. If a marker deviated from the tolerance rate, they were then expected to go back and re-mark the entire batch. 

The Department followed a question-marking approach, where one marker marked a particular question, or maybe two or three questions. This was so that he or she became an expert, which helped to maintain quality in the marking. 

Dr Moses Simelane, Chief Director, DBE, responded to Mr Malingozi's question about whether Umalusi and the DBE were not looking at changing the assessment approaches that had been used over the years. These approaches would inadvertently expect learners to sort of regurgitate what they had learned. He said that what had already been done by the DBE, in cooperation with Umalusi, was the introduction of practical assessment tasks in a handful of subjects. The marks obtained from those practical assessment tasks were included in the final mark, which determined the overall performance in the subject. So this was one change or innovation. 

The second innovation came with the qualification that was called the General Education Certificate. It was a qualification at the end of Grade 9, which was the end of the general education and training phase. This qualification has been piloted over the past two years. This was the final year of piloting how the qualification was going to be assessed. The innovations that came with this qualification were that three assessment dimensions would be considered. First would be the usual assessment of the curriculum content. Second would be the assessment of competencies, which was what a learner could practically do or demonstrate in terms of the skills and knowledge they had acquired. Practically, to demonstrate that, was the assessment of competencies.

More importantly, the added dimension to this was the assessment of inclination. This was so that the Department and teachers could look at the inclination of each learner at the end of the Grade 9 year in terms of what future career options were suited to their interests and abilities. This would therefore guide them into the three streams that the Department was also introducing. 

Those were some of the innovations currently being explored by both Umalusi and the DBE. As indicated, this was the final year in which the General Education Certificate (GEC) assessment would be piloted in 3 000 schools. This was because the plan was to introduce, implement or roll out the qualification from 2025. 

Dr Rakometsi said that the students who qualified through the schooling system and obtained a Grade 12 certificate, could go anywhere in the world to further their studies or enter the world of work. 

He responded to some of the questions raised by Mr Nodada. He assured the Committee that Umalusi verified qualifications from all jurisdictions in the world to check if the certificates were authentic or not. He said several benchmarking exercises were done with the qualifications in other jurisdictions, such as the UK, Kenya, Zimbabwe and New South Wales (NSW). Benchmarking exercises were also conducted with the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Cambridge International Education group. He added that there were areas of strength, as well as areas of weakness. Those reports were available on the Umalusi website. The reports which Umalusi commissioned were shared with the DBE.

On the topic of the comparability of qualifications, Dr Rakometsi stated that Umalusi was a member of numerous associations that dealt with qualifications internationally, from the subject level, to Africa and internationally. The organisation also continuously compared notes with others to check if qualifications were pitched at the right levels. 

Dr Rakometsi cautioned Committee Members on the 30% pass rate debate, that South Africa could tomorrow decide to have a 50% pass rate to satisfy the psyche of people, by lowering the levels of difficulty in the different question papers. However, nothing would be achieved by doing that other than undermining the integrity of the system. 

Investigations were continuing into the group copying, and the leadership of the DBE and Umalusi would report on the investigations once concluded. The students whose results had been blocked would remain blocked until the investigations were completed. Methods had been introduced that would ensure that it did not happen again. Umalusi awaited the report from the Department. What was frustrating with group copying was that educators had been involved as invigilators in some instances. This had to be corrected as soon as possible. 

Dr Rakometsi said Umalusi had indicated that they were aware of the current problems that SACAI was facing. Umalusi had highlighted that in their presentation. It had received complaints and called a meeting with the leadership of SACAI on 24 January, where the issues were discussed. It was critical to note that before the problems experienced by SACAI, Umalusi quality assured their data. Umalusi also quality assured the data of all assessment bodies before announcing or uploading the results. The data of SACAI was quality assured by Umalusi. 

On the question of the school-based assessment (SBA) marks, he said that no other assessment body discarded the SBA mark. It was not only SACAI, because the directives were from Umalusi that if the SBA marks were either too low or too high compared to the written component, they would be discarded in the manner described in the Umalusi presentation. 

On re-marking examination papers, Dr Rakometsi commented that the view of scripts had happened in Pretoria. This was because that was the headquarters of SACAI. Umalusi could not give a directive that they should write somewhere else. There was a fee payable for the re-marking of the scripts. The parents had chosen to register their children with SACAI, so they had to deal with the payments and all the protocols that SACAI prescribed. Umalusi would continue to monitor and be vigilant.

Besides re-marking, Umalusi also verified that re-marking was checked for authenticity. Therefore, the parents could be assured that Umalusi was monitoring and conducting quality assurance. 

Upon review of the release of the matric results, Dr Rakometsi said that Umalusi had confirmed that they were always brought on board by the DBE, together with the University of South Africa. Umalusi agreed with the DG that Umalusi also needed time for its quality assurance processes, because the country could not risk the result of not being quality assured. Umalusi had to standardise and quality assured, as well as to verify, as illustrated with the data from SACAI. Only then could the Chairperson of the Umalusi Council address the South African public and state that he could vouch for the results. 

Regarding the non-submission of the minutes for the selection of markers, like any other area of non-compliance, Umalusi had written directives to the Department. The Department was going to mention what they planned to do with the situation in their actual plan. 

The benchmarking reports were available on the Umalusi website, and Portfolio Committee Members were invited to read, download and study them.

On the quality assurance of marking, Dr Rakometsi said that Umalusi was also featured there. The organisation verified marking and sent officials to all the marking centres to do the verification and help with all the necessary checks and balances.

As the DG had indicated, group copying had declined. The reason why Umalusi had flagged it was because, as the quality assurance body, there had to be zero tolerance for group copying. Copying should not have happened in a controlled environment. However, Umalusi's dream was to administer an examination that was free from copying.

Dr Rakometsi remarked that standardisation does not affect the whole exam; it applies to the written component, which was 75%. The SBA was standardised by comparing the SBA and the British component. 

Dr Rakometsi expressed his appreciation and thanked members of the Portfolio Committee and the DBE for helping Umalusi in its efforts to bring about improvements. 

Prof Thabo Msibi, Deputy Chairperson, Umalusi Council, reaffirmed what Dr Rakometsi had said, and noted the commitment to delivery. Ensuring the quality of examinations and the integrity of the process was safeguarded. Being a new member in the process, he had observed the same spirit of commitment to safeguarding the integrity of the examination process in engagements with DBE.

He expressed his gratitude and said how wonderful it was to observe the incredible openness and the level of commitment that the Committee Members had towards the improvement of education. 

Closing Remarks

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and her team from the DBE. She also thanked Prof Msibi, Dr Rakometsi and the rest of the team from Umalusi.

She commented that South Africa was a happier country thanks to the work done by Umalusi. She acknowledged how hard Umalusi worked, as evidenced by the fact they worked through the Christmas season to ensure the delivery of the Matric results.

The Chairperson then released the delegations from the DBE and Umalusi so that the Portfolio Committee could focus on committee matters.

Committee matters

The Chairperson commented that since so much time had elapsed, she wanted to schedule the adoption of the draft minutes and reports for the following week.

First term programme

The Chairperson asked Members to look at the first term programme of 2024 so that it could be adopted.

She announced that the following week, which was Week Three, the meeting would cover the updated status report on ECD migration.

In Week 4, on 20 February, the Committee meeting would feature a presentation of the draft strategic plan 2019-2023. The presentation would be conducted by the parliamentary staff.

The Chairperson announced that Week 5 on 27 February 2024 would feature a briefing by the DBE on the analysis, Implications and Impact of the President’s SONA address.

During Week 6, on 5 March, the Portfolio Committee would have an engagement with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). That meeting would feature the investigation and inquiry into school uniforms and the over-regulation of appearance, which was an Eastern Cape report from 2022.

During Week 7, on 12 March, the Committee would tackle its legacy report. The report would have to be adopted and left for the seventh administration to take over.

In Week 8, on 19 March, the Portfolio Committee would deal with the budget review for the Department of Basic Education.

In Week 9 on 25 March, the Portfolio Committee would deal with budget review of entities. This would signal the end of the sixth parliamentary term, and would be followed by a constituency period from 2 April 2.

The Chairperson then requested the Members to adopt the first term programme.

Mr Moroatshehla proposed the adoption of the programme, and Mr Madlingozi seconded.

The programme was adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.


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