Politicians and unions must leave teaching to educationists
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?
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