Statement by Mrs Naledi Pandor MP, Minister of Education, on the release of the 2008 national senior certificate examination results, Sol Plaatje House, Pretoria.
30 December 2008
I would like to begin by congratulating all the successful candidates on the passes they have achieved in this the first National Senior Certificate examination. Congratulations too, to parents, caregivers and others who gave support to learners through a challenging period in their lives.
I would also like to congratulate the officials of the national, provincial and district offices for having worked tirelessly to ensure a quality examination process and to provide the results in the year in which exams were written. Meeting this target of end of December poses immense challenges for all involved in the administration of the exams. I appreciate the sacrifice and perhaps we should reconsider the pressure we exert on all involved.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to be able to present these results to you all today.
Before I do, there are a few aspects of this qualification (the National Senior Certificate) that I wish to draw to your attention.
The National Senior Certificate is a new qualification based on South Africa’s National Curriculum Statement (NCS). It is the first really national examination that we have administered. It is also the largest examination in terms of candidate numbers. This year there were 589,912 candidates compared to 564 000 in 2007.
The candidates of 2008 are the first to receive this new qualification; the first to write a national school leaving exam that is based on the National Curriculum Statement (NCS). It is very important that we avoid the temptation to make simple comparisons between the previous exam and this new one. Comparisons will be signaled in this statement but I do that with the caution that we have entered a new phase of school-leaving examinations in South Africa.
The National Curriculum has been roundly criticized by many learned commentators. It will continue to be criticized largely for our failings in implementation and interpretation, and not because it is a bad curriculum. The NCS is part of our drive to improve quality, to modernize learning, and to offer new opportunities to learners in our country.
As I have stated previously we intend to mount a vigorous teacher support and development programme to improve teaching and learning in all our schools. I remain convinced that the 29 subjects of the NCS provide high level skills and knowledge which will support South Africa in improving the quality of its human capital.
The National Senior Certificate is a very demanding examination. It requires candidates to do seven subjects: 2 languages, Mathematics or Maths Literacy, Life Orientation and three electives/other subjects chosen by the learner. Candidates must pass six out of the seven subjects. Candidates must pass 3 subjects at a minimum of 40% and three at a minimum of 30% to get a basic pass.
All candidates write the same papers, there is no higher grade and no standard grade as in the past. All candidates must also have school based assessment marks which make up 25% of the final mark in each subject. They must also have relevant oral and practical marks in subjects that require these. For most of the subjects the exam mark counts for 75% of their final mark.
There have been many difficult challenges in implementing the new curriculum and teachers must be commended for the able and professional manner in which thousands of them set about making sense of the new curriculum and effectively preparing learners for the past five years. I am humbled by the effort many teachers put into making a real difference.
It is clear from the results that many schools and teachers have had difficulty with the curriculum. We must and will provide improved support to them.
The results that I present today indicate that the difference in performance across schools depends upon what happens in the school and in the classroom. Our focus therefore has to be on the classroom and the overall character of the school.
The examination and the results also show that we are continuing to make positive incremental gains in building an effective learning oriented school system. Our detractors often suggest that a ‘big bang’ approach is possible. We believe that a focused, targeted approach to extracting and entrenching quality outcomes works better.
As part of our support for schools in preparing for the new examination our departments implemented several support programmes. The subject advisor training that began in 2005 was intensified and extended to include subject teachers. Subject experts developed exemplar papers for grades 10, 11, and 12. Study Mate compilations of exemplar papers were distributed to all learners. The various media houses played a strong complementary role in distribution and development of support material. Extra tuition via Saturday schools, winter and spring schools and electronic media all added to the support measures. It is these efforts that ensured a successful first NSC examination.
We will work even more closely with districts, teacher unions and other stakeholders to improve quality teaching and learning in 2009. This is because, despite the encouraging evidence of schools that are working to increase success, there are many schools that persistently under-perform. I hope that provinces will use the amended South African Schools Act to intervene in these schools.
We must act firmly against underperformance. Schools must be placed under the supervision of a recovery task team and be assisted with teacher development and learning improvement. Given the critical importance of grade twelve to all our learners, more serious attention should be given to senior school alternatives and to criteria that can be used to determine whether a school can continue to be an examination centre in the face of consistent under-performance. We will review policy in this regard and advise the incoming administration.
I turn now to Umalusi’s comments on the exam.
UMALUSI has reported that the NSC examinations were conducted in a manner that renders them fair, valid and reliable. They have complimented the national and provincial departments of education, and the IEB and OAER. Their report states; “the quality of these 2008 examination papers is commendable given the newness of the curriculum and the fact that these papers have been set for the first time”.
However, they do raise concerns about high levels of difficulty in some papers and the low level of challenge in one of the Mathematics papers.
They also raise concerns about the need to work harder at the implementation of the CASS as this “remains a challenge to the system”.
They also repeat their concerns about the language skills of learners and urge the sector to attend to improving the quality and breadth of the language skills of all learners.
Another comment is their noting of a sharp decline in the number of candidates for this exam. This is a surprising comment given that more candidates wrote this year. Umalusi suggests the drop may be due to the exclusion of private candidates, and they remind education providers of the need to attend to the education needs of children that drop out of schooling or who may need learning routes that are different from the traditional schooling system. This is a matter on which policy will be tabled this year.
As stated earlier, this exam differs from the previous school exit examination. Candidates wrote the same examinations. Candidates must pass six subjects at high levels in order to gain access to university. A striking impact of these exams is that many schools that relied on standard grade passes for success have performed very badly on these common examination papers. Much more must be done to support failing schools in 2009.
I turn now to the examination results.
A total of 588, 643 candidates wrote the 2008 NSC examinations.
However, we report today on the results of 533 561 candidates who have satisfied all requirements for receiving results.
Some 56 810 have incomplete results due to outstanding internal marks, oral or practical requirements or pending irregularity investigations. This failure to provide results for all candidates is extremely worrying. I am concerned that in the process of capturing results a number of provinces failed to submit internal marks timeously. We must ensure that all candidates receive their results on the same day every year.
Of the 533 561 candidates with a full set of results 333, 681 candidates or 62,5% met the requirements for a National Senior Certificate. The national pass percentage is thus 62,5%.
A total of 20,2% (107,462) achieved the minimum pass required for entry to undergraduate study at university or university of technology; this compares to 16%(85 000) in 2007. The requirement is a minimum of 4 subjects at 50% or above and a maximum of two subjects below 50%.
Another 124 000 achieved the minimum pass required for entry to a diploma or non-degree programme at university or university of technology. The requirement is 4 subjects at 40% or above and maximum of two subjects below 40%. 102 130 achieved the requirement for entry to higher certificate programmes - 3 subjects at 40% and 3 subjects below 40%.
Of those who are yet to achieve (199 322) some 139 000 candidates require only passes in one or two subjects. They qualify to write supplementary examinations in February/ March 2009. Of these 139 000 candidates for supplementary exams, 40 000 achieved results that left them three to five percentage points short in one or two subjects. We believe that if we support them through a revision programme, they will meet the requirements for a certificate.
The 2008 candidates are the first cohort to write mathematics or mathematical literacy. A great deal of support was given to schools for the teaching of these gateway subjects. All of you will recall that we set a national target of 50 000 passing with a mark of at least 50%. A target was set and agreed to by every province. Eight out of nine provinces met or exceeded their target. 63 038 candidates achieved a pass of 50%. 42 323 achieved a pass of 60% or higher. We will present the full breakdown when we publish the final report at the end of January.
With respect to Mathematical Literacy, 263 464 candidates wrote 207 230 passed and 16 557 achieved marks of 80% and above. These are positive achievements for a system that intends to expand the number of learners competent in Mathematics and Science. Some 225 477 wrote Physical Science, and 33 543 achieved a pass above 50%. Several gateway subjects such as accounting, chemistry and computer applied technologies produced positive outcomes.
Five provinces achieved a pass rate above the national average- Free State, Gauteng, North West, Northern Cape, and Western Cape. Four provinces achieved less than the national average – KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape. All provinces must be congratulated for the effort that went into ensuring a successful examination. Several provinces placed additional effort and resources into the national learner attainment strategy and they have recorded positive outcomes.
In 2007 we reported on the number of schools that performed below required levels. I continue to be concerned about such schools. We will redouble our efforts at supporting them. We encourage all parents, communities and leaders to take a closer interest in their local schools. We will publish detailed reports on the 2008 results and circulate summaries to all districts. We encourage you all to study the reports and assist us in making schools work.
The department will continue to implement strategies directed at improving quality outcomes and quality learning and teaching. The system we are part of is a huge and complex system, one that is faced with a wide variety of challenges; several programmes have begun to impact positively on the system. We are convinced that the quality standard we have set for these examinations, the evidence of improvement and the continuing commitment to achieve quality for all learners will deliver the promise of the Freedom Charter that the doors of learning and culture are indeed open and accessible for all the learners in our system.
My thanks to all who work so very hard to make education succeed. Thanks too to the parents and stakeholders who share our dream of a quality public system, to the teachers who contribute ethically and intellectually to the success of our children and to the thousands of learners who take learning seriously and make every effort to do well.
A happy, safe and prosperous 2009 to each and every one of you. Finally thank you to our colleagues in the media who support our efforts through their consistent attention to education matters.
To the DG, DDG Vinjevold and her team, the provincial heads of education and all officials, the MECs and all our staff thank you and happy 2009 to you all. We know the standard let us work hard to ensure all children can meet it for the good of all.