Politi­cians and unions must leave teach­ing to ed­u­ca­tion­ists

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WILMOT JAMES

WHEN Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga an­nounces the pass rate for the 2011 class of National Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (NSC) learn­ers on Wed­nes­day, she will bring to a close an ex­am­i­na­tion cy­cle that started ear­lier in the year.

The en­rol­ment of Grade 12 can­di­dates on March 15 was the first of some 25 key events re­quir­ing metic­u­lous plan­ning in a com­plex un­fold­ing ex­am­i­na­tion cy­cle, in­clud­ing the set­ting of exam pa­pers, the ap­point­ment of mark­ers and the reporting of re­sults.

The coun­try has a global rep­u­ta­tion for or­gan­is­ing com­pe­tent demo­cratic elec­tions. If we solve a num­ber of em­i­nently solv­able prob­lems, we may just achieve the same rep­u­ta­tion for or­gan­is­ing fi­nal-year high­school ex­am­i­na­tions.

We should not for­get to say thank you to all the teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and or­di­nary cit­i­zens who worked as in­vig­i­la­tors, mark­ers, data-cap­tur­ers and su­per­vi­sors, at times un­der con­sid­er­able duress, to make the 2011 ex­am­i­na­tions a suc­cess.

Their work is a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to mak­ing the National Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (NSC) a qual­i­fi­ca­tion of value.

Par­ents have the deep­est wish for their chil­dren to achieve some­thing worth­while. Learn­ers are im­mea­sur­ably em­pow­ered when they have a true mea­sure of their tal­ent.

In mar­ket­ing terms, this is re­ferred to as brand­ing. The old ma­tric (short for the qual­i­fi­ca­tion is­sued by the Joint Ma­tric­u­la­tion Board) was a brand of note. Yes, it was as­so­ci­ated with elite schools ad­min­is­tered by the, yes, whitesonly Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Still, it was a real mea­sure of qual­ity, if not al­ways in all re­spects. In­stead of ex­tend­ing the qual­ity to all, the first demo­cratic govern­ment di­luted the qual­ity for all, thanks to out­comes-based ed­u­ca­tion and in­ad­e­quate teacher train­ing.

Pro­gres­sive ed­u­ca­tion­ists, act­ing as con­sul­tants to the govern­ment, have a lot for which to an­swer. In the right­ful pur­suit of the de­ra­cial­i­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion, they con­fused equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity with equal­ity of out­come.

Provin­cial de­part­ments of ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially the cor­rupt ones of the East­ern Cape, Lim­popo, Mpumalanga (on oc­ca­sion Kwazu­luNatal, Free State and the North-west join the usual sus­pects), in their ubiq­ui­tous mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion, de­stroyed the Ma­tric brand.

There is the South African Demo­cratic Trade Union (Sadtu) which, with its vul­gar third-rate Marx­ism, is al­ways will­ing to bury the hatchet of teacher tur­bu­lence in the heads of learn­ers.

In sul­ly­ing the vo­ca­tion of teach­ing the Sadtu lead­er­ship has de­stroyed the Ma­tric brand.

What needs to be done to build the Ma­tric brand?

First, en­sure

that ques­tion pa­pers and mark­ing mem­o­randa are up to scratch.

Here we are mak­ing progress. In a re­search project in­volv­ing the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand’s School of Ed­u­ca­tion, Independent News­pa­pers re­cently de­clared the qual­ity of the ques­tion pa­pers to be “sat­is­fac­tory”, a good thing, but there is room for im­prove­ment as sat­is­fac­tory is not good enough.

In bi­ol­ogy the ques­tion pa­per was very good in­deed but the mark­ing mem­o­ran­dum left a great deal to be de­sired. The smart marker would do an ex­cel­lent job re­gard­less but the memo- bound marker would strug­gle to recog­nise ex­cel­lence.

Se­condly, en­sure that the mark­ers know what they are do­ing. Presently mark­ers are se­lected and ap­pointed on the ba­sis that they have five years of teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in the sub­ject they mark, have been teach­ing at Grade 12 level for the last two, and have com­pleted at min­i­mum a sec­ond-year level univer­sity course.

The Western Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment ran a pi­lot project early this year to test the sub­ject com­pe­tency of teach­ers in math­e­mat­ics, phys­i­cal sci­ence, his­tory, life sciences, ge­og­ra­phy, ac­count­ing and busi­ness stud­ies.

In 2012, the national Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion (DBE) will in­tro­duce uni­ver­sal test­ing.

Thirdly, en­sure that the record­ing, check­ing and nor­mal­i­sa­tion of marks are done with rigour. The na­tion needs hon­est numbers. Par­ents want hon­est numbers. Learn­ers de­serve hon­est numbers.

In this re­spect, the qual­ity as­surer in gen­eral and fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, Umalusi, has be­gun to dis­tin­guish it­self. It is a most worth­while body led by very able in­di­vid­u­als. Also, for the first time this year, Umalusi deep­ened its un­der­stand­ing of its role as an inde- pen­dent ver­i­fier of the in­tegrity of the re­sults.

Fi­nally, it is not dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out what the Gaut­eng and Western Cape ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments are do­ing right and to ap­ply the lessons to the prov­inces that can­not do it right. Provin­cial gov­er­nance of school­ing is a con­sti­tu­tional im­per­a­tive serv­ing the di­ver­sity of our na­tion. It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of politi­cians to keep it that way in the face of bu­reau­crats who would read­ily sac­ri­fice democ­racy in the in­ter­ests of soul­less national con­trol and box-tick­ing reporting to the com­mis­sars of our time.

To build the Ma­tric brand will re­quire that ev­ery­one from ev­ery walk of life must pull in the same di­rec­tion – to saamtrek, as they say in Afrikaans.

Let’s get on with it.

James is DA Shadow Min­is­ter of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion.

OVER­VIEW: Wilmot James

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