Editorial: Angie’s matric reform migraine

For a more timorous approach to reforming matric, the report of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s task team would be hard to beat. But curiously for so modest a document, its 190 pages do – if taken seriously – present Motshekga with a political headache, if not the well-deserved migraine a more courageous analysis would have delivered.

First, to dispense with one widespread misconception: there is nothing radical whatsoever about the document’s analysis or its recommendations. On the contrary, it has the tang of dusty familiarity.

Take merely the recommendation that, puzzlingly, has caused the most public excitement – an apparent move away from the disgraceful 30% pass mark. The relevant recommendation for “new minimum requirements” reads as follows: “(a) Pass three subjects at 40%, including an official language at home language level; (b) Pass two subjects at 30%; and (c) May fail the sixth subject provided [certain other requirements are met] …”

Radical? Hardly. This is so close to the current minimum requirements that it barely amounts to changing a spark plug in the matric motor.

Other recommendations are similarly of the gently soothing variety: a minuscule upward change to qualify for a university-level pass, removing life orientation from the curriculum (one anticipates no pupil uprising here), introducing a vocational pathway for grades 10 to 12 (a good move, this) and so on.

On the subject of mathematics, again, there is no significant change recommended: maths literacy will be retained as part of the new curriculum assessment policy statements (Caps) curriculum. Motshekga had, very briefly, raised the possibility of dropping it altogether.

And the document wraps up this most contentious of all areas of the curriculum with the earth-shaking “recommendation” that “all teachers of mathematics should have adequate knowledge and skills to teach the subject well and deliver on Caps”. Wow!

So far, so little to trouble Motshekga – that is, nothing that would threaten that all-important result for politicians, the pass mark.

But what really should get her reaching for the analgesics is where the document suddenly, and unexpectedly, toughens up. This is on the competency of matric markers, and one example will suffice to show how markedly, and admirably, this differs from the rest: “Non-education-related criteria, such as those tainted by tribalism or political sectionalism, [must] be eradicated from the system of appointing markers. Markers found providing false information about their qualifications and experience must be prosecuted and referees found to have supplied to false information should be held accountable.” And there must be competency testing.

This, though hardly new, is a wonderful recommendation but it is sure to set Motshekga (if she adopts it) on a collision course with, in particular, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. It is unlikely that she will take on the union – but if she does, and wins, that alone would compensate for this report’s mushy disappointments.

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