On the occasion of the 2013/14 basic education budget debate I thanked our people for embracing President Jacob Zuma’s clarion call to make education a societal issue. It worries me when disconcerting perceptions on quality and requirements for passing matric still unduly pervert public discourse in South Africa today.
This is in spite of our nation’s collective effort to work together to sustain improvements in education quality while inspiring and motivating children to learn and teachers to teach, seriously.
This again we must clarify precisely because the National Senior Certificate (NSC) Grade 12 (matric) exam is the ultimate measure of achievements of twelve years of schooling for children.
NSC exam results rank among important performance indicators of the schooling system. Quality, in addition to quantity of passes, matter. We leave nothing to chance as shown by results over the past four years, showing progress in education.
I believe passing matric should afford our children occasion to celebrate while with pride and high morale they start preparing for further advancement, through post-matric studies, self-employment, exploring work opportunities and the world of business. Many have done so, in various fields, exceptionally well.
Fully aware of the meaning of matric for both our children and the education system, over the last five years we’ve introduced significant improvements in the examination system and processes.
For instance to ensure exam papers are pitched at an international standard, we’ve embarked on an international evaluation of question papers in 2002, 2007 and 2010. Question papers for selected subjects were evaluated by reputable international assessment bodies, among others, Cambridge International Examinations, Scottish Qualification Authority and Board of Studies New South Wales.
This we must reiterate. Recent improvements in matric results are not a product of a numbers’ game. Far from it. They’re driven by systemic interventions for strengthening performance in all levels and have been reinforced by hard-work of education stakeholders and partners as well as individual members of society.
Public exams in South Africa have attained a high level of stability and in many respects their practices have been entrenched in all provinces.
Since curriculum reforms beginning with a ministerial review in 2009, we’ve provided teachers with clear, concise and unambiguous curriculum and assessment statements. In 2014 we complete the rollout of the new CAPS, in Senior Phase and Grade 12. Feedback from parents and educators show changes to our core business are making a difference.
We’ve prioritised teacher development with the support of teacher unions and non-profit organisations that run capacity-building programmes for teachers in districts and schools. Last year our teacher development programmes with provinces reached over 184 207 teachers in targeted areas.
Our work is enhanced by teacher-driven institutes for professional development run by the three major teacher unions – SA Teachers’ Union (SAOU), SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) and the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (NAPTOSA).
This we’ve been saying over time. Pass requirements for NSC exams are not any lower than the old Senior Certificate.
Those who matriculated in the old country would recall that apartheid certificates had a 331/3 pass, a 25% lower grade or an F and H symbols. Nothing is far from the truth than the assertion that passing was more difficult in the days of apartheid.
Under the current system a candidate has to offer 7 subjects whereas in the old system only 6 subjects were required. In the old system a candidate could pass two approved languages, at least one at first language at 331/3%, and pass at least 3 other subjects at 40%. Add to that the fact that in the old system a candidate could pass with a converted mark of 25% (Lower Grade).
Under the current system the lowest pass is 40% for home language, two other subjects at 40% and three subjects could be at 30%. In any case not many of our learners fall in the lowest category. In the last exam the percentage of learners in the 30-39% level was about 1.8%. Almost 98% of our learners is beyond this level.
A Higher Certificate requires an even higher pass mark. A diploma allowing for entry at tertiary level requires a pass of 4 subjects at 40%, language of learning at 30% and a pass of above 331/3%.
For a bachelor’s pass at least 4 subjects must be at 50%, language of learning 30% and others above 331/3%.
It is to simplify matters if not to distort reality to claim that setting a pass at 30% was a symptom of a school system’s failure. Reforming an education system requires assessment and appreciation of current performance and improving therefrom.
It’s not a matter of simply saying from tomorrow all must past at 50% regardless of both our level of performance as an improving system and various models and theories of improving school systems.
There’s also another dynamic to be appreciated. Nowhere in the world are children receiving primary education so they could all go to university to all learn as it were to fly planes, unless of course we want to be a nation of pilots. We educate with many goals in mind cognizant of demands of the economy, diverse talents and interests of unique individuals.
Be that as it may, as a caring government that listens to and acts on concerns of citizens, we’ve set-up a ministerial committee to look closely into this matter and should be able to report on the outcome once it has completed its work.
Between scoring political points and assuring parents, learners and potential employers of the quality and value of our qualifications I would choose the latter. As a democratic government we know that high-quality education equally distributed is one of the most effective and least conflictive ways of transforming society. And thus we’re giving education high priority. As before, let’s improve this year’s results and together project a good reputation of our democratic systems.