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State: Nothing sinister about rise in matric part-timers

Bongani Nkosi

The increase in part-time matric students is definitely not an attempt to massage annual matric pass rates, the department of basic education insists.

There is nothing suspicious about the vast increase in part-time candidates writing matric since 2008, the department of basic education says. Rather, the real concern should be why the increase is not even greater.

That is what the department will soon try to persuade Parliament’s portfolio committee, which decided at its September 13 meeting with the department that too much about matric enrolment figures remained inadequately explained.

The department will also say it expects the number of part-timers to increase. But that, in turn, raises concern among educationists that there is inadequate support for part-timers, whose success rate is vastly lower in matric than that of full-timers.

The Mail & Guardian has obtained a copy of the report the department promised the committee it would supply when the September 13 meeting raised two major concerns: the sharp decrease in the number of full-timers due to write matric this year and the huge increase in part-timers since 2008.

‘Phenomenal’ increase
Part-timers are not counted in the calculation of the annual
matric pass rate. There were only 1 116 part-timers in 2008, but 108 237 are enrolled for this year’s matric, of a total of 620 266, the M&G reported last month.

The committee asked the department whether schools were forcing poorly performing pupils to register as part-time candidates to make their pass rates look better.

The department’s answer failed to satisfy the committee. The increase in part-timers and decrease in full-timers comprised a “phenomenon” that needed “further investigation”, the committee said.

Nearly 50 000 fewer full-time learners are enrolled to write matric this year than last year. The department’s report addresses only the increase in part-timers, it does not mention the decrease in full-time candidates.

Previously unpublished figures revealed in the report show there are only 550 candidates of the 110 363 part-timers registered for this year’s matric who would qualify to be full-time. This is because candidates who want to be full-time must enrol for at least seven subjects, among other requirements, the department’s report points out.

Similarly, of nearly 83 000 part-timers last year, only 693 registered to write seven (or more) subjects and so would have qualified to be full-timers.

These small cohorts in 2010 and 2011 are “bona fide part-time candidates”, the report says, because the learners were either home-schooled or enrolled in private, distance-education institutions and in neither case do they receive full-time tuition.

Addressing the sharp increase in part-timers in the past three years, the report points out that 2008 was the first year the matric group wrote the school-leaving exams based on the revised curriculum introduced successively in all 12 grades, starting several years before that.

“Failures from previous years [before 2008] could not register to write the new [matric] examination,” it says.

The increase is not, therefore, “a result of principals registering their weaker students as part-time candidates”, the part-timers are all failures from previous years.

There is “no advantage for a candidate who should be registered full-time to be registered part-time” because the pass requirements are the same for both, the report says.

Part-time figure should be bigger
It states that the part-time figure is “expected” to increase.

“In fact, it is of concern that the part-time number [this year] is [only] 110 000. It should be higher given the failure rates of the past three years,” the report goes on.

Nearly 600?000 have failed matric in total in the past three years, figures in the report show.

Ruksana Osman, the head of Wits University’s school of education, said part-time candidates potentially constituted a “parallel stream” to formal education that the department of basic education had to recognise and support systematically.

We must “guard against leaving this parallel development unmonitored” because that could “open spaces for fly-by-night” colleges to cater for those who would register for matric as part-time candidates, Osman said.

ANC MP Helen Malgas, the chairperson of the portfolio committee, declined to comment, saying the report still had to be discussed by the committee.

The decrease in full-time candidates is “a concern”, said depart-mental spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi. The department is conducting “an intensive investigation” that should be completed by April next year.


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