Senior Certificate Exam Results: Department briefing

Basic Education

07 February 2005
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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 FEBRUARY 2005
SENIOR CERTIFICATE EXAM RESULTS: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
General Education and Training Report (not presented – available on www.education.gov.za)
Department Report on the 2004 Senior Certificate Irregularities
Further Education and Training Colleges (not presented – available on www.education.gov.za)
Senior Certificate Examination Results
Committee Correspondence with Vista University Task Team at University of Orange Free State

SUMMARY
Mr D Hindle, acting Department Director-General, gave the Committee an overview of the Senior Certificate results for 2004. The pass rate was 70.7%, a slight decline from 2003. There was a slight increase in the number of learners who wrote the exam.

Mr Hindle also provided a report on the Senior Certificate exam irregularities in Mpumalanga province. The ten exam centres had been investigated by teams appointed on Umalusi’s recommendations in accordance with the national policy on management of the Senior Certificate. These teams had completed the investigation and most of the results had now been released. Some learners and Department officials would be invited to disciplinary hearings and a full report would be released later in February. Most Members felt that some irregularities were to be expected and had been experienced in most provinces. The fact that the Provincial Education Department had delayed bringing these irregularities to the attention of the national Department was of more concern. Mrs H Zille (DA) felt that the Committee was failing to meet its oversight responsibilities by not calling the province’s officials and MEC to report to the Committee in person.

MINUTES

Director-General’s briefing
Mr D Hindle, acting Director-General of Education, gave an overview of the 2004 Senior Certificate examination results. There had been a slight decline in results and number of national entrants, but an overall increase over the last three years. The Department was looking into reducing the number of set papers. Most learners wrote most of the six subjects (mathematics, accounting, biology, English, history and physical science) on the higher or standard grade and these papers were set at national level. At provincial level, a further 1 434 papers were set, a situation which Mr Hindle described as "crazy". Fewer girls than boys entered the examination, although again the number has increased over the last three years. Irregularities in the exam in Mpumalanga were briefly covered. The matter was being investigated by the South African Police Services, among other bodies, and a report was due at the end of February.

Discussion
Ms H Zille (DA) noted an overall decrease in the number of learners passing English as a second language on the higher grade, and a decline in the mathematics results overall. She asked for comment on the findings of a recent Human Sciences Research Council colloquium that the Senior Certificate had, over the past five to six years, lost its ‘predictive value’ i.e. Senior Certificate results did not indicate how well a student was likely to perform at a tertiary institution.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) urged the Committee not to evaluate improvements in the quality of education by looking at Senior Certificate results only. The Mpumalanga Education Department should have heeded its whistle-blower earlier – this was an important lesson for education and government.

Mr Hindle said that the declines were probably due to the Department’s success in developing nationally agreed standards of assessment. All of the papers set nationally were more difficult than the ones set locally. The Senior Certificate’s predictive value was inadequate and questions about its validity had been raised ten years ago. However, nothing better had yet been developed. Senior Certificate results were not the only important indicator of success in the education; retention of learners and flow-through rates were also essential. It was important to react speedily to allegations of irregularities in the Senior Certificate exam - the investigating teams had been appointed partly to make recommendations on how to prevent its recurrence. If the province had reacted speedily, the police need not have been involved and the matter could have been resolved more easily.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked what interventions strategies were used in schools with pass rates below 20%. He favoured encouragement and support instead of condemnation. Also, if schools were closed, communities would be disadvantaged.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that a recent opinion poll showed that more than half of the respondents believed that education was in crisis. He noted that the MEC for Education in Mpumalanga had first said that Department officials had been cleared of any suspicion of wrongdoing, but his later statements said that arrests were imminent. Did Umalusi and the Provincial Education Department have a difference of opinion?

Mr A Gaum (ANC) noted that girls performed less well than boys in the Senior Certificate exam - was this a general trend throughout the education system? He knew that schools had specific intervention strategies for schools with a pass rate of below 20%. If, for instance, a school had a 0% Senior Certificate pass rate for three years, what was the Department’s response? Would the Mpumalanga results that had been withheld affect the overall percentage?

Mr L Greyling (ID) said that Zulu learners at Zulu-medium schools in KwaZulu-Natal had struggled with the mathematics, science and biology papers. How did their results compare with those of learners at English-medium schools?

Mr Hindle and other Members corrected Mr Greyling that there were no Zulu-medium schools. During moderation, however, learners writing in languages other than their mother tongue were compensated. These learners possibly struggled with ‘the language of examination papers" and might benefit from getting used to old exam papers in earlier grades. In response to the issue of under-performing schools, Mr Hindle said that many factors contributed to a school’s performance. School leadership, for instance, was important. For instance, a principal had been appointed in June 2004 at a school where the Senior Certificate pass rate was below 20%. This school had achieved a 60% pass rate. Language was also an important factor. He agreed that interventions should seek to develop and not condemn, but questioned the value of an under-performing school to a community. Closure was a last resort and a hard decision. He questioned the validity of the findings of the poll referred to by Mr Mpontshane, and said it was a telephone survey with less than 500 respondents.

The MEC’s initial claim that Department officials were not involved in irregularities was a result of his preliminary investigations, but he now concurred with Umalusi and the Department. The number of results being withheld was so small that it would not affect the overall national percentage.

Mr R Van den Heever (ANC) said that the nation could now acknowledge consistency of excellence in Senior Certificate performance, although he agreed with Ms Mentor that the Senior Certificate was not the only indicator of performance. Isolated problems, however, did not indicate a drop in standards.

Ms Mentor asked the Committee, as custodian of education, "not to play politics" with education. The Committee’s role was not only to ask the Department to account to it, but to ask themselves whether they had taken time to check system quality.

Ms Zille said that the meeting had been billed as being about results in Mpumalanga. The National Council of Provinces meeting with the same focus, had been cancelled at short notice and she was disturbed not to find Members of the Mpumalanga Education Department present. The Chairperson said that the meeting had been announced as a briefing by the national Department and it had not been envisaged that any Provincial Education Department would attend.

Ms Zille then proposed that the Mpumalanga Education Department be invited to a meeting that the Committee should convene. She disagreed with Mr Hindle’s statement that the MEC concurred with the national Department and also, unlike Mr Hindle, she welcomed the police’s role in the investigation as they were independent. She alluded to "prima facie evidence of corruption". She had compiled a file of evidence which she would happily make available to the Committee and which underscored the need for the Provincial Education Department to be present. As an example of the evidence, she said that police had found examination papers were missing. The Chair then interrupted her, saying that she was changing the focus of the meeting. After some discussion, the Committee decided that they would wait for the report on the irregularities in Mpumalanga before deciding whether to ask the Mpumalanga Education Department to appear before the Committee. Ms Zille objected to this decision, saying that the Committee was failing in its independent oversight function by not conducting its own independent investigation.

Mr Hindle thanked Mr van Den Heever for his remark that excellence had now been achieved but did not agree with it. He was thanked for his presentation.

The Chair then drew the Committee’s attention to correspondence from various stakeholders regarding problems with the merging of higher education institutions at the University of the Orange Free State. He proposed that the Committee visit the University but as the Members had not read the correspondence, agreed to defer the decision to the next week’s meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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