In touch and independent

It has been 17 years since the Independent Examination Board (IEB) took up the reins from the old joint matriculation board as an independent examination assessor.

Back then, the organisation had just 21 schools registered with it. Today it has a client base of 165 independent schools and more than 7 000 Grade 12 pupils in the IEB system who sit for the senior-certificate exam each year.

The Johannesburg-based IEB has a staff complement of 45. While it follows the national curriculum, it is one of the few independent-schooling assessment organisations that still operates in South Africa post-1994. Those who run the not-for-profit organisation say their existence does not point to a rejection of government standards of assessment, but that its about offering alternatives.

Estelle Nel, training manager at the IEB, says: ‘There should be greater variety in assessment because it is healthy for education in the country.”

Anne Oberholzer, who is responsible for design and development, adds: ‘You never reach a perfect model of education. It is dynamic and you’re always looking for new innovation and to raise the standards.”

But there is a cost implication for IEB membership, which puts it out of the reach of many. Each Grade 12 candidate who sits for IEB examinations pays R2 000 and there is a registration fee of R7 000 per school. Some schools maintain that there is no longer a need to subscribe to the IEB as the free government system is adequate, and all matric certificates are issued by the senior-certificate certification authority, Umalusi.

But IEB CEO Lyn Scott says the IEB continues to get positive responses from its clients and from Umalusi, and its membership continues to grow.

Nel says that some of the advantages are that the IEB is able to identify problems and respond quickly. The organisation’s staff members also participate in local and international education workshops to learn from the best world practice models. They rely on intensive teacher input through regular training workshops to stay in touch with what is happening on the ground.

‘Through working with teachers we can help to change their mindsets and the way they teach,” says Nel.

Oberholzer says there is a strong emphasis on challenging rote learning. Children can no longer be expected to thrive in a modern society simply because they can memorise facts or follow a formula. Rather, educators say, knowledge management is the most important skill to learn. Children need to be taught how to find information from multiple sources, and how to work with that information effectively. This means the parallel shifts in assessment must be in place.

For the IEB, a key area of change is to place greater weight on the assessment of Grade 9s because it is a recognised exit year for learners, and because earlier interventions in a child’s education have obvious benefits in catching problems before they become too firmly entrenched in more senior years.

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