In an investigation into the human cost of matric, the Mail & Guardian documented a year that overwhelms and damages both teachers and learners. This also came at a high financial cost — with millions of rands spent on extra classes and holiday camps. All this so the schools can catch up on 11 years of broken education. This week, Bongekile Macupe looks at the provinces’ motivations for the excess workload
With the education system in South Africa focused heavily on the matric pass rate, schools have started teaching on weekends, public holidays and during the winter, spring and autumn breaks. During those breaks, learners are packed off to camps where entire days are spent catching up on lessons and revising for exams.
Provincial education departments have lauded the camps as one of the interventions that have helped an increase in their matric pass rates.
In its investigation into the cost of this extra work, the Mail & Guardian found that learners could no longer be children because of the workload. Any time for socialising, sport or relaxing with their families was instead spent studying. Teachers also said they were paying a hefty price for seemingly always being at school — losing out on family time, burning out and suffering from mental illnesses.
Learners and teachers said that this was pushing them to the point of breaking, where they would go as far as thinking about suicide.
As part of the investigation, the M&G asked the nine provincial departments of education three weeks ago about their matric interventions, and whether or not they found them effective and sustainable.
Only five responded. The Free State department of education spokesperson, Howard Ndaba, said “his boss” instructed him “not to respond” to the questions. The Gauteng, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal departmental spokespersons also did not respond.
This is a compilation of their responses and numbers from speeches, budgets and other public statements.
Western Cape department of education spokesperson, Jessica Shelver, said there were a number of interventions that the province embarks on in preparation for matric exams; among them are weekend classes and holiday camps as well as subject-specific support for schools with historically low pass rates.
“The interventions have had varied degrees of success with many of the interventions producing results in the longer term. The curriculum overload is a contributing factor and is being addressed by the DBE [department of basic education],” said Shelver.
In the province, matric camps are not common and districts plan them based on their contexts and needs, she said. “In some districts, camps assist learners with a safe and quiet place to study for their exams. In some cases, most cases, the learners’ home environments are not conducive to studying and these camps go a long way in assisting these learners,” she said, adding that the department believes that interventions are necessary to respond to specific contexts and needs of schools or districts.
Spokesperson for the Mpumalanga department of education, Gerald Sambo, said some of the top performing learners in matric in that province attributed their “excellent performance” to the extra support received during the winter and spring vacation camps offered by the department.
Sambo said the camps are part of the department’s annual learner performance improvement plan for all grades. The camps are meant for underperforming schools and also for the best performing grade 12 learners in selected subjects. He added that the camps focus on challenging content and other gaps not covered in class.
Because of these interventions, Sambo said that, since 2017, there has been a decrease in the number of schools that perform below 70% in the province and that the 79% pass rate the province obtained last year was largely because of the interventions.
According to Sambo, the department budgets about R16-million for the matric interventions.
In his budget speech in July, the province’s MEC for education, Bonakele Majuba, said the increase in the pass rate — from 47.9% in 2009 to 79% — last year was proof that the investment in interventions is reaping returns.
Every February, the Northern Cape department of education hosts workshops in subjects such as maths, physical science and accounting for novice and underperforming grade 12 teachers.
And, based on the mid-year results, the department also has teacher-development sessions where teachers from schools with high enrolment and underperforming subjects are capacitated on content and classroom methodology.
“In term 4, just before the commencement of the exams, the last push programme for the NSC [National Senior Certificate] is conducted at schools, which includes intense revision and consolidation of problematic content,” said spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe.
He acknowledged that in some cases interventions have not worked.
“The interventions undoubtedly result in improved learner understanding of content and ultimately an improved learner performance. However, during these interventions, there are clear indications that some of the curriculum had not been covered as per the annual teaching plan (ATP).”
The province’s “school bag audit” where learners’ notebooks are reconciled with the ATP indicates whether the curriculum has not been adequately covered — then emergency interventions plans are put in place.
Van der Merwe said the department is cognisant that the interventions — which the department budgets about R16-million for a year — are not sustainable. But, for as long as the disparity in resources, experience and content knowledge of the teachers in the classroom continues to exist, the department will continue with the interventions.
In his state of the province address, Northern Cape premier, Zamani Saul, declared the improvement in matric results as one of his administration’s priorities.
“We are extremely concerned about our education outcomes, especially at the level of our grade 12 results. Having been the best performing province in terms of grade 12 results at some point, we have consistently regressed to be in the bottom three provinces nationally in 2018. We can hardly afford such a regression …”
Since 2014, when the province attained a 72% pass rate, the Limpopo department of education sets itself a target of attaining 80% in matric results. In the years since, however, the province’s performance plummeted to 60%. Last year the province attained a 69.4% pass rate.
From 2017, Limpopo began implementing its learner attainment strategy.
Provincial education spokesperson Sam Makondo said: “Our analysis of our matric results since 2017 to date has proved that the interventions do work. Since the inception of our interventions in 2017 we have seen marginal improvement of about 3.5% per year as compared to the period when we did not have provincial interventions.”
Since 2007, the Limpopo department of education has spent about R138-million on matric interventions such as camps, Saturday classes and radio lessons.
The MEC for education in North West, Mmaphefo Matsemela, announced in her budget speech that the department has budgeted just over R122-million in matric interventions which include camps and lessons broadcast on radio.
An oversight report by the Gauteng department of education — presented to the legislature in the portfolio committee on education in July — claimed the department had budgeted R159-million for the 2019/2020 financial year to improve the grade 12 performance and to increase the bachelor pass rate.
In his budget speech, MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the department would identify learners who are at risk, based on their academic performance and that those learners would receive intensive support. In preparation for matric exams learners would go on camps and weekend classes, he said.
In his maiden budget speech, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for education Kwazi Mshengu said the department has set aside R80-million for improved attainment of learning outcomes across all grades.
Mshengu added that there would be no increase in the financial allocation for grade 12 interventions, and that instead the department would, among other things, regularly assess learners in all grades and give immediate feedback and make the necessary interventions and would mobilise parents to take an active interest and participation in the education of their children.
Also making his maiden budget speech, MEC for education in the Eastern Cape Fundile Gade said the department had set aside R854-million for camps and weekend classes for grade 12 learners.
In last year’s matric results, the Eastern Cape was lauded for having achieved a 70.6% pass rate, which meant that for the first time in seven years it was not the worst performing province in the country.