But the department will consider boosting maths requirements to address basic numeracy concerns.
Professor John Aitchison’s article, “A sure way to fail ejected pupils” (May 30), does not present the whole story and is therefore misleading.
Aitchison claims that the department of basic education’s proposed amendments to the pre-2008 matric examination, the senior certificate (SC), amount to reinstating an old, outdated qualification of no value to young people and that it will create a new and “second-class” qualification. This is inaccurate: Aitchison conveniently ignores that, in the proposed amendments, the old SC curriculum will be replaced with the new national senior certificate (NSC).
The department introduced the NSC (the new matric) in 2008, but because there were pupils who had not completed the old matric (the SC), we needed to extend the old matric to allow these pupils an opportunity to complete the SC.
The intention was to terminate this SC examination in 2011 but, based on the large numbers that enrolled on an annual basis, the department extended it until June 2014. This implies that there will be no alternative qualification for adult pupils after 2014.
Given the pressure that the system will be subjected to if there is no alternative qualification to accommodate these adult pupils who have partial credits towards a qualification, the department and the higher education and training department have proposed amendments to the SC so that it is not “outdated”, as Aitchison alleges.
The amended SC, as proposed, is based on a limited list of subjects from the new curriculum – that is, the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) – but, to accommodate adult pupils, it does not include the school-based assessment requirements. This implies that adult pupils who have passed some SC subjects can now complete the SC but do so by following the new curriculum, which is high knowledge, high skills and promotes 21st-century skills.
The department does admit that the absence of a compulsory component of mathematics or mathematical literacy, to which Aitchison draws attention, may affect the public perception of the standard of the amended SC. The department will explore the inclusion of a compulsory numeracy component. The department is also in discussion with Higher Education South Africa, the representative body of the country’s vice-chancellors, to ensure that the amended SC will allow for admission to studies at universities.
The introduction of an admission age of 21 will ensure that all pupils are retained in the schooling system until 18, and thereafter are allowed three opportunities to complete the NSC before they can be allowed to follow the amended SC stream. The amended SC will also accommodate NSC pupils who have exhausted their three opportunities to repeat the NSC examination.
Aitchinson is of the opinion that in this process the newly registered qualification for adults, namely the National Senior Certificate for Adults (Nasca), which he describes as “a genuine adult matric”, will be compromised. The amended SC needs only to be offered until the Nasca is implemented, if it can allow for portability of credits for adults with partial credits from the SC or the NSC.
A long way to go
The Nasca, which is an approved qualification, still needs to complete its curriculum development, teacher training, learning and teaching support materials, assessment and examinations and the development of all supplementary policy documents, which will not be finalised in the next two to three years.
Aitchison suggests that a better mechanism for young people who have left school with an incomplete secondary education would be to write the NSC, without the school-based assessment. The amended SC we have proposed does allow exactly this, except that the pupil will be awarded an SC and not a NSC.
Awarding the pupil with a SC is a more acceptable option because:
• The NSC remains a qualification for school pupils, with the compulsory component of life orientation and mathematics/maths literacy;
• The NSC is a three-year qualification, and so it would not be fair for adult pupils who have some prior learning to go through three years of learning to attain a qualification; and
• The SC is a one-year qualification, with no compulsory school-based assessment requirement for part-time candidates.
The department called for public comment on its initiative to implement an amended SC, and the majority favoured the implementation. We will give serious consideration to Aitchison’s comments, and invite him to a bilateral consultation so that his concerns can be addressed.
Paddy Padayachee is the acting director general of the department of basic education