Single matric exam a step closer

The department of basic education is planning to implement a national independent examination council, which will, in part, lead to a single matric examination.

If the plan goes ahead, it will do away with the National Senior Certificate (NSC) written by pupils in the public education system and the Independent Examination Board (IEB) NSC written by those in independent schools. All pupils will write one examination set by the council.

The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, said discussions about the council had started two years ago and research was done on countries that have independent examination councils.

The results of that study, which included what South Africa could emulate, were presented to the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) last month, Mhlanga said.

Planning was at an early stage and research was still ongoing, but the process would speed up now that the CEM has the study.

Mhlanga said the introduction of the national independent examination council would ensure that there would be only one matric certificate.

“What we have now is a situation that, if you come from a public school, people think that your matric certificate is less important than that of a person who went to a private school,” he said.

He added that it did not make sense that Umalusi, a state entity, does one quality assurance for private education and another for public education. “In fact, that is the first point of convergence; the second point being that most private schools are already using Caps [curriculum assessment policy statements], even though they do not follow it to the letter. But they use it because it’s acknowledged that it is an internationally recognised curriculum … that it even prepares learners to study anywhere in the world.

“So from that point of view, you can see that there is some agreement that we should be working together, and going forward we really need to get to the point where the exams are the same, our learners are tested in the same way by the same body,” Mhlanga said.

“It should not be something that is difficult to achieve because we just need to ensure that the council is fully representative of people that are in the public sector and people that come from IEB schools.”

Mhlanga said that, two weeks ago, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga was asked in Parliament why her department was allowing two exam systems to run concurrently.

The department believes the council would be a further step towards addressing the country’s education shortfalls.

Mhlanga said: “We want to propose that, let’s have one system and make sure that, as a South African, you can walk anywhere and be confident that wherever you go the treatment will be the same because you have one paper.

“It’s not about perpetuating discrimination, it’s not about perpetuating separate systems; it is about consolidating the gains we have made since 1994, to say it’s one country and let’s fix our education and to us this is one of those steps to fixing it.”

The chief executive of the IEB, Anne Oberholzer, believes the board still has an important role to play. Over the years, the IEB had become a respected player both locally and internationally.

“The IEB is of the opinion that our South African school-leaving qualification is world-class and gives successful candidates access to most international universities. Also, through its support of the local system and its engagement with the difficult education issues that face our country, the IEB provides the schools and learners that are registered with it an opportunity to feed constructively into building our society into one that each of us can be proud of — where our learners have a world-class curriculum, teaching that ensures that their learning is internationally comparable and, in addition, they are active contributors to our national learning project.

“The significance of its independence today is to provide an alternative voice on curriculum and assessment matters and to contribute positively to debate on educational issues,” Oberholzer said.

The Gauteng education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, was the first to call publicly for an end to what he said were examinations for the “rich” and examinations for the “poor”.

He told the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the Gauteng education lekgotla, held last week in Boksburg, that the matter would be tabled for discussion at the ANC policy conference later this month.

“We want to argue that the policy conference must open up this debate. We are not saying we are right, and other people might say the current way is correct. But if you look at the posture and the character of these two exams, it gives an impression that the IEB is a difficult one for the rich and the National Senior Certificate is the weaker one for the poor. If we are going to have that kind of mentality, I don’t think it projects the country well.

“Our argument is that it is not possible to have one examination that is independently monitored, so that those that are fearing that if we combine them the standard will go down, they must be assured that it’s not government that is running it but it is an independent body,” Lesufi said.

“But this will also assist all of us to share quality among the entire system and that’s the debate we want to open up.”

Unisa academic and education expert Professor Moeketsi Letseka doesn’t believe a council will fix the inequalities in the education system.

Even with the introduction of the council, the IEB schools would still be there and their pupils would continue to surpass those in public schooling. Private schools would still have fewer pupils in classes, adequately trained teachers and the best resources, whereas some pupils in public schools would still be learning under trees, have fewer teachers and not have textbooks.

“The department deciding on a council has no influence on affluent families because IEB is about people who send their children to school to get value for money,” Letseka said.

The establishment of the council was a diversion from the real issues that face the public education sector.

“What the minister should do is to pull in a team of experts that will develop an improvement strategy plan to improve and develop the quality of education in public schooling. That is what we should be doing. Jumping to establish a council is not going to improve the quality,” he said.

Letseka added that the hype about matric did not help to fix the public education system. Instead, the goal should be to focus on early childhood development and schooling, and matric would improve itself.

Professor Ruksana Osman, a University of the Witwatersrand academic, believes an independent body, especially for exams such as matric, could be useful.

“However, the reason to disband the two-system approach needs more clarity, particularly educational value, the assessment value and oversight value.

“So one would need to see what will a single system of oversight look like and how will it help to strengthen the whole sector,” Osman said.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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