Education department defends R100m matric supplementary support plan

Matric pupils of Phefeni High School in Soweto are in dilemma of not knowing for sure whether they are ready to write their final exams or not. From left Palesa Mofokeng, Khaya Mavuso and Bennet Ndima. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Matric pupils of Phefeni High School in Soweto are in dilemma of not knowing for sure whether they are ready to write their final exams or not. From left Palesa Mofokeng, Khaya Mavuso and Bennet Ndima. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

In a bid to increase the national matric pass rate, the department of basic education is planning to spend R100-million next year on a support programme for learners writing supplementary exams.

Dubbed the Second Chance Programme, the initiative offers learning and teaching materials as well as paying teachers to provide face-to-face tuition.

Until now, matrics largely had to study on their own for the exams that are written in February and March of the year following the final exams.

Those qualifying for supplementary exams include candidates who missed the November exams for reasons such as illness, or who failed a maximum of two subjects or did not qualify for university admission because of poor performance in one subject.

Although 115 966 registered to write the exams at the beginning of this year, 75 824 sat them. Only 10 131 passed the supplementary exams, resulting in last year’s national matric pass rate increasing by 1.4% from 70.7% to 72.1%.

But the overall performance of matrics in the supplementary exams was dismal. Results in some subjects included:

  • 825 of the 13 898 candidates passed geography;
  • 1 448 of the 17 711 candidates passed maths literacy; and
  • 2 302 of the 20 031 candidates passed maths.

The department spent R15-million this year on piloting the Second Chance Programme at 36 venues in 18 education districts.
It provided support to 19 827 candidates in seven subjects including maths, physical science, accounting, business studies and economics.

Matric pass rates 2nd exam

But it has been criticised for providing only 12 hours of face-to-face tuition.

Nic Spaull, an education researcher at the universities of Stellenbosch and Johannesburg, said: “These results point back to the fact that you cannot fix 12 years of low-quality education with 12 hours of instruction. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a near-dead patient.”

Spaull said the main factors leading to the disappointing results were “the cumulative learning deficits” during a child’s schooling career.

“The research is showing us in no uncertain terms that the problems we see in matric are rooted in low-quality primary school. These students are not acquiring the basic numeracy and literacy skills needed to access the curriculum and fall further and further behind even as they proceed into higher grades.”

“I don’t think you can fix fundamental backlogs in 12 hours.”

He said many matrics don’t pitch up for the supplementary exams because they believe they have no prospect of passing it. “The extremely low pass rates of those who pitch is also testament to this.”

Said Spaull: “I think we need to end our obsession with the matric exam and specifically the matric pass rate. It’s unhelpful to be pouring millions into last-minute catch-up programmes just before matric or even in grade 11 when we should be focusing our limited human and financial resources on the root of the problem, which is in the primary school and specifically grades 1 to 3.”

Brahm Fleisch, professor of education policy at the Wits school of education, said that being “given a short window or minimum amount of extra support” would not make much of a difference to students who are very weak academically.

“I think that we need to be very careful about what works optimally and what the costs are for the Second Chance Programme. I think that if there’s little evidence that it makes a substantial difference then obviously the cost of the programme needs to be questioned.”

“If the pilot or trial didn’t work, there’s good reason to think about stalling the programme, getting it right, before working it to scale.”

The department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the 12 hours were not meant to cover the entire syllabus but were rather “for revision of problem areas”.

He said the matrics had been to class for 12 months last year and that the 12 hours were to also be used to provide assistance in “focus areas”.

“In addition to the 12 hours of face-to-face tuition, the DBE [department of basic education] set up a Second Chance webpage, which included video lessons and other material to assist learners to revise.”

Reacting to general criticism that the Second Chance Programme was a “dismal failure” he said: “It is extremely disappointing, unfortunate, misleading and narrow-minded for anybody to describe a pilot as a ‘dismal failure’.”

“The purpose of a pilot is to learn lessons, improve your planning and implement better. The department has created this opportunity to assist all our young people to exit the schooling system with a good pass.”

Mhlanga said: “The supplementary exams have a history of poor performance as well as a large number of ‘no-shows’ [matrics registering but not writing]. Learners writing the supplementary exams sometimes feel insecure and unprepared and are not confident. This leads to them not showing up to write and not attending all the classes.

“Provinces also reported that many learners who enrolled for the tuition classes failed to register for the exams, which is also a contributing factor, and this challenge will be catered for in the 2017 rollout.”

He said the R100-million will also be spent on the development of an online programme and electronic lessons.

Mhlanga said almost 42 000 more matrics enrolled this year compared with last year, adding: “This implies that the DBE gave almost 42 000 learners hope and a chance to obtain a matric certificate.”

“We have seen some gain in the results, which is an indication that the programme has merit.” He said the department planned to increase access for learners from rural areas next year by using libraries and community radio stations.

“The OpenView HD platform [the country’s first free-to-air satellite TV platform], which is currently in 420 000 households, and all other available platforms will be utilised to extend access for anyone without a matric certificate and who has the desire to obtain one.”

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