National Senior Certificate 2008 Results: Department of Education briefing

Basic Education

27 January 2009
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education briefed the Committee on its technical report on the national senior certificate results of 2008. The report looked at the examination cycle, the milestones reached, the National Curriculum Statement, National Senior Certificate requirements and the types of interventions that took place in 2008.

Of the 533 561 students that wrote the exam, 37.25% had failed or qualified for a supplementary exam. The national average pass rate was 62.5%. Provinces that achieved below the national average were the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

Accounting, agricultural science, math and physical science were the lowest scoring subjects. Results also showed that females fared better than males in most of the exams. The National Achievement rate per quintile showed that the less resourced a school was, the poorer they performed. Quintile 1 schools, which were the poorest schools, only achieved an average pass rate of 50.10% while quintile 5 schools received an average pass rate of 84.94%. The Minister had initiated an investigation into the reasons why about 50 000 results were outstanding on the 30 December 2008.

Members were concerned that there were 200 000 learners who did not have a place in higher education due to their poor matric results. They were also concerned that so many students left school before their matric year. The Committee noted that the math literacy results were higher than the physical science results. The Department would conduct an investigation on this.

A question was raised that there had been reports that the Mathematics paper had been below standard requirements. The Department stated that the paper had been approved by Umalusi and was not too easy.  Another allegation was raised that examination markers had been told to inflate certain marks. The Department assured the Committee that this allegation had proved to be groundless.

The late submission of cumulative marks by schools was also discussed and the Department agreed that this had been very disappointing. The poor performance in certain subjects such as agricultural science would be investigated by the Department to find out where learners went wrong. Those 24 schools that produced 0% matric results would no longer be allowed to offer Grade 11 and 12. The matter of certain “no fee” schools not receiving timely funding from the Department was also discussed.

Meeting report

The Department of Education Director General, Mr Duncan Hindle, explained that the examination cycle was not a once-off event. The Department’s clean up work on the 2008 examination would impact on 2009’s examination [see document].

The examinations were completed on 4 December 2008 without any leaks or problems. Marking was completed on 12 December 2008, the standardization process took place from the 19 to 22 December and results were released to schools, the public and media on the 30 December.

In terms of the National Curriculum Statement, all 29 subjects on offer were modern, updated and more demanding versions of previous subjects. All subjects were infused with the values of the Constitution and demanded extensive reading and writing. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) was a three-year programme from Grade 10-12. All candidates had to do seven subjects; these consisted of two languages, mathematics or math literacy, life orientation and three other subjects of their choice. The NSC requires three subjects passed with a minimum 40% and three other subjects with a minimum 30%. Umalusi provided external quality assurance. It stated that the exams were “conducted in a manner that renders them fair, valid and reliable”.

The Department noted a few interventions in 2008 that included a National Strategy for Learner Attainment, systemic interventions, private sector interventions, curriculum interventions, and assessment interventions.

Mr Hindle explained that learners had to pass all six subjects. In previous years, learners only had to pass four subjects well in order to receive a NSC. There were 533 561 students that wrote the exam. Of these, 26% had qualified for supplementary exams. Many of these students had failed certain subjects by just a few points. A large number of students should pass the supplementary exams and this would make a great difference to the overall results. Only 11.25% had failed to achieve at all and therefore had failed, 19.2% achieved an ordinary pass, 23.3% passed at a level that qualified them for a diploma and 20.2% passed at a level that qualified them for university admission.

The Department looked at the number of candidates who wrote and passed per province in 2008. The national average was 62.5%. Five provinces exceeded the national average. These provinces included Gauteng, Free State, North West, Northern Cape and Western Cape [see document].

Mr Hindle warned that there were still some schools that had achieved a 0% pass rate. The Department had decided that these schools would not be offering Grades 10-12 anymore. The schools would only go up to Grade 9. After completion of Grade 9 learners would be transferred to better performing schools. Under-performing schools were defined as any school that achieved a pass rate below that of the national average (62.5%).

In terms of subject results, the poorest results were accounting, agricultural sciences, math and physical science. The national achievement rate for selected subjects per gender for 2008 showed that women achieved higher marks for everything except agricultural science, geography, history, math and physical science [see document].

There were 3070 schools in the country that achieved below the national average of 62.5%. Many of these schools were located in Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo and Eastern Cape. Of the 3070 schools that under achieved, 24 schools received a 0% pass rate, 475 schools received 1-19.9% pass rate, 1227 received a 20-40% pass rate and 1344 received a 41-59.9% pass rate.

The national achievement rate per quintile showed that many schools in the lower quintiles were under-resourced and therefore under-achieving. The Department had to ensure that quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools, which were the poorest schools, had more resources. It was disappointing that there were more schools in quintile 3 under-performing than in quintile two [see document].

Mr Hindle concluded by saying that he was aware that there had been about 50 000 results outstanding on the 30 December 2008. The Minister had already initiated an investigation in to the matter. He did not want to speculate on why this had happened until he knew the results of the investigation.         

The Chairperson said that there were reports that even now there were still some results outstanding. He also noted that there were some students that did not write the exam. He wondered if these students were included in the 533 561 learners on which the report was based on.

Mr Hindle replied that the students that did not write the exam were not included in the 533 561 learners upon which the report was based. He explained that results were now processed at a national level instead of at a provincial level. Now that results were processed at a national level, many issues were exposed such as the fact that there were learners that did not receive their results. This also happened in the past. However, provinces “got away with it” before. The difficulties that the Department faced now in the education system were already there in the past, it had just not been exposed before.

The Chairperson stated that he was uncomfortable with how the quintiles were defined, as there was barely any difference between them. He asked if the Department had confidence in the quintile differentiation.

Mr Hindle answered that he understood the Chairperson’s concern and that the Minister was looking into the matter. The difference between the first three quintiles, particularly in the poorer provinces was miniscule. Eventually, the first three quintiles would be grouped as only one.

The Chairperson stated that he was under the impression that the results were released to schools on the 29 December 200. However, their report showed that the results were released on the 30 December. He asked the Department to clarify the matter.

Mr Hindle replied that the results were released to schools on the 29 December so they could be checked. The intention was to check if the students’ results were consistent. The results were then only made public on the 30 December.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) commented that the report looked “a little sad”, as it showed that there were about 200 000 students who did not have any higher education to look forward to. Of these students, 60 000 had failed their senior year, while 142 000 had qualified for supplementary exams. He also pointed out that there were many students that left school before their matric year. He wondered why this happened and commented that this was a challenge that could not be solved immediately.

Ms Penny Vinjevold, Deputy Director-General: Further Education and Training, replied that it was a tragedy but the issue needed to be looked at historically. There was greater retention in schools up to the end of Grade 11. Many learners were then lost after Grade 11. Historically, about ten years ago, very few learners attended Grade 12. There had, however, been dramatic progress. There were 200 000 more learners writing the matric exam than there were in 2003.

Mr Ntuli noted that learners had received higher marks for math literacy than for physical science. He wondered if the math literacy paper was too easy or if the physical science exam was too difficult. Usually, learners received higher marks for physical science than they did for math.

Ms Vinjevold stated that it was unclear  whether the mathematics exam was easier or if the physical science exam more difficult. The Department would only know after an investigation was done. She added that most students received extra tuition for math and that could explain why they had received higher marks for math than for physical science.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) stated that the Department had said that results were released to the public on the 30 December. However, there were schools in Kwazulu Natal that had released the results on the 29th. He asked the Department to comment on this.

Mr Boinamo asked the Department to comment on the reports that the mathematics exam was below required standards.

Ms Vinjevold stated that it was important that the Department know who it was that said the mathematics exam was too easy.

Mr Hindle added that Umalusi did not think that the standard of the mathematics paper was too low; they thought it was of standard quality.

Mr Boinamo said that there were a few teachers that had reported that they were told to inflate certain marks. This discrepancy had to be looked in to.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) commented that this issue had already been considered and a thorough investigation was already made in to the claim that certain marks were inflated. The Democratic Alliance had received reports that the marks were inflated. However, when the DA’s source was questioned, he/she stated that they had never stated that they were told to inflate the marks. This person was not even a marker. He warned that if there was no substance to the allegations, that it should not be put in the political arena just to score a few points.

Mr Boinamo asked why students only needed 30% to pass certain subjects.

Ms Vinjevold answered that the pass mark was lower in the past. The Department could raise the pass mark to 50% but then the exams would have to be made easier. This was a difficult situation. Before, students only needed 25% to pass certain subjects. Now, the pass mark had been raised to 30%. 

Mr van den Heever urged the Department to take more seriously the gross negligence of schools submitting cumulative marks on time.

Ms Vinjevold stated that it was disappointing that some of the results were not released on time. She wanted a list of those learners who were disadvantaged by the late submission. 

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked the Department if serious thought had been given to the fact that many schools did not have nutritional programmes for grade 10, 11 and 12 learners and how this could impact on their results.

Mr Hindle answered that most of the poorest schools in the country would be involved in nutrition programmes from April 2009.

The Chairperson pointed out that most of the schools that under-performed in the Eastern Cape were located in the former Transkei area.

Mr Hindle stated that the Department would see what they could do for those schools.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) said that she appreciated the Department’s response to the nation during a difficult time when the nation needed answers about the matric results. She wondered when the Committee could expect the completion of outstanding matric results. She asked if any support had been given to these students.

Mr Hindle stated that he was cautious about putting a deadline on when the outstanding results would be completed. He added that provinces were working night and day to release the outstanding results.

Ms Mashangoane asked the Department to comment on the learners’ poor performance in agricultural science.

Ms Vinjevold replied that the Department would have to look at individual provincial and district results as well as exam papers to see where learners went wrong. The Department would be putting up many exam exemplars.

Mr Boinamo commented that the Committee had visited schools in the first week of reopening to check on their readiness. There were two schools that had opened last year that were classified as “no fee” schools. However, these schools had not received any funding from the Department yet. He wondered what the Department could do to help these schools.

Mr Hindle replied that he would appreciate it if the honorable Member could give him the names of all the two schools so they could look at giving them funding. The schools obviously had to get their share of funds. Schools usually received funding by November.

The Chairperson asked what formula was used to define what “no fee” schools were.

Mr Hindle stated that all quintile 1 and 2 schools were “no fee” schools. Quintile 1 and 2 schools made up 58% of all the schools in South Africa.  

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted minutes of 18 and 19 November 2008 meetings.

The meeting was adjourned.     


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