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International benchmarking of the NSC against selected qualifications

The Department of Basic Education and Umalusi presented their research findings and recommendations on the International benchmarking of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualifications to the Portfolio Committee (PC) on Basic Education on 13 September 2022. The report will be shared with the Council for Education Ministers (CEM) ahead of its launch on 23 September at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The PC on Basic Education Chairperson, Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, used the opportunity to congratulate Umalusi on its recent 20th anniversary and the strides made in improving the quality of education in South Africa since its inception in 2002. In addition, the new Chairperson of Umalusi, Prof Yunus Ballim, was congratulated on his recent appointment. The sixth Umalusi Council, appointed by Basic Education Minister Mrs Angie Motshekga, will be serving a four-year term until 7 June 2026.

In general, it was agreed that the SA curriculum is indeed of a world-class standard when compared to other countries, but that there is a need to look at the condition of the soil, as well as the climatic and environmental conditions for our curriculum to flourish as there are historical and socioeconomic differences across systems and countries. The CEO of Umalusi, Dr Mafu Rakometsi, presented the report. Ecctis, formerly known as the UK NARIC, was commissioned to undertake the study on behalf of Umalusi. Ecctis is an internationally trusted and respected reference point for qualifications and skills standards, working with universities, organisations and employers with access to the world’s largest databank of information on international education. 

The NSC was benchmarked against five international qualifications in well-established countries of comparable economic status in the region and abroad. In summary, the NSC has entry requirements and a longer duration than other qualifications or programmes, and the most compulsory subjects. The NSC is the strictest in terms of prescribing what is taught, the sequence and timeframes. Whilst other studies are criterion-referenced, the NSC has a norm-reference approach. There is some scope for standardisation in terms of the articulation of aims, learning outcomes, and the relationship between these and the key skills that students should develop. The qualifications or programmes differ in relation to the number of subjects and their packaging. Mathematics has less emphasis on the topics, mechanics and technology. Life Sciences has less emphasis on mathematical skills; and the NSC combines Chemistry and Physics, whilst these are generally distinct subjects in other systems. 

Dr Rufus Poliah, DBE Chief Director for National Assessment and Public Examinations, said that, “As we reflect on the system, we must not undermine the gains and acknowledge the strides that we have made. The report arrived at an appropriate time after the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2022 Basic Education Sector Lekgotla, a draft plan was presented for the strengthening of the curriculum after the learning losses suffered, with a focus on recovery for 2023/24 and for a modernised and strengthened curriculum, which is competency-based to be implemented in 2025, and away from knowledge to knowledge application. We need to focus on soft skills such as attitudes, values and character development to develop the individuals holistically. In respect of assessment, we will be looking at inclinations assessment where every learner will be assessed in terms of whether his/her inclination is towards the Academic, Technical or Vocational stream. In addition, we need to look at the upskilling of our teachers to effectively deliver on this curriculum and work closely with Higher Education for teachers to have the correct skills set to promote the Three Stream Model”. Dr Poliah added that the SA curriculum is certainly of a world-class standard; however, too broad, and lacking in depth. During the past two years, a review of CAPS produced a content map to establish what is core in the skills that learners need to develop. Engagements with Kenya and Zimbabwe indicated that they are also moving into the direction of a Competency-Based Framework and engagements are underway for the establishment of a South African Competency-Based Framework. The consultation phase will be taking place for six months and thereafter, we will be able to share the draft with the PC on Basic Education. The challenges lie in the implementation of the curriculum and we need to consider differentiation more closely within the SA context to provide schools with intervention and support.

Director-General for Basic Education, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, explained that, “policies regulate curriculum change, driven by empirical evidence such as the report received from Umalusi, and these inform our ongoing work in curriculum development and change. The study has confirmed our shift in curriculum change since 2018 when Technical Mathematics and Technical Science were introduced. We are also in the process of developing a Framework for Curriculum Change, with a move towards the Three Stream Model. Many countries seem to be able to tackle unemployment directing their learners towards the Vocational and Technical Streams for them to become self-employed and self-sufficient”. Mr Mweli also advised that the report must be workshopped in further detail to discuss its implementation after the launch.

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