CAPE PROPERTY GUIDE INSIDE TODAY Angie’s latest bungle
Education expert warns of ‘a crisis on our hands’
IN THE same week that saw questions around why embattled Education Minister Angie Motshekga was not axed in the cabinet reshuffle, her department has admitted that a committee set up nine months ago to investigate the quality of the matric pass certificate has yet to start its work.
The class of 2012 achieved a 73.9 percent pass rate, the highest since the current National Senior Certificate (NSC) was introduced in 2008.
However, just 26.6 percent of pupils received a Bachelor’s pass which would allow them to attend university and this, allied to a 30 percent pass mark, prompted widespread criticism of a “dumbing down” of the matric examinations.
In a move widely hailed at the time, Motshekga published a notice in the Government Gazette last October establishing a task team to evaluate key aspects of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification. But, to date, not even the names of the committee members have been gazetted.
And with only six months to complete its work, the ministerial task team will have no impact on this year’s matrics at all, despite continued criticism about the quality of the matric certificate.
Leading academic and University of Free State vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen, who has previously slammed the lowered matric pass rate as an “absolute disgrace”, and described the education system in South Africa as “falling into a sinkhole of mediocrity from which we are unlikely to emerge”, called for courage to tackle the crisis.
He told Weekend Argus: “We’re so concerned with image… but we have a crisis on our hands.”
“The fact that the committee hasn’t started its work yet probably tells you that it’s not that important to them,” he said. “It was probably set up in a moment of political consternation, when there was criticism of the system. Committees like this are useless unless they’re totally independent.
“The matric pass rate is the only thing the minister has to hold on to. In the face of all her trouble with Equal Education and the results of international tests, if she can convince the president that it’s fine, the matric results are going up, she’ll keep her job.”
Jansen said his university was drawing a line in the sand on the quality of the matric qualification. He pointed out that the education department did not lose credibility if the quality of the matric certificate was called into question, but that universities stood to lose a great deal if the quality of their degree was questioned.
“We need to stop making this a political and media event and get the basics right. Basics include making sure kids are in class, they have a routine, teachers are teaching, and unions aren’t disrupting,” he continued. “We have a crisis on our hands and we need to do things that take political courage like standing up to the teacher unions.”
As recently as January, Motshekga dismissed claims that the 30 percent pass mark had lowered the standard of education, saying that to qualify for university pupils had to pass four subjects at 50 percent, with 30 percent for their language of learning and the two others at 33.3 percent.
Questioned about the delay in appointing the matric committee, Basic Education department spokeswoman Hope Mokgatlhe said a resignation had caused the delay. A replacement had been found, and Motshekga had approved all the names, which were set to be gazetted next week. The committee would start sitting on July 26.
The original gazette, published on October 29, outlined the terms of reference, which included:
Investigating the public’s main concerns surrounding the NSC;
Comparing the South African promotional requirements with those of countries of “international repute”;
Consulting with business, employers and the academic sphere to gauge concerns about the NSC;
Evaluate the “value add” of life orientation as a subject;
Examine whether maths and maths literacy are the best options, and the possible introduction of “technical mathematics”, for technology subjects.
Even if the committee recommends changes, it would be a while before they are implemented, Mokgatlhe added.
But DA spokeswoman on education, Annette Lovemore, slammed the delays, saying that every time
the question of the quality of the NSC was raised, the response was that a period of five years needed to pass before an evaluation could take place.
“Well, it’s been five years. And we welcomed the announcement that this committee would be formed, but the fact that it hasn’t even started its work is worrisome,” she said. “There is so much concern in all quarters about whether a matric equips you for life in general.”
Lovemore cited high university drop-out rates, and the fact that they conducted their own benchmarking tests and often offered a bridging year.
“Businesses are saying that they don’t want to take on matrics because they can’t skill them,” she added.
Brad Brockman, education NGO Equal Education secretary general, said the department had set itself the task of evaluating the qualification. They needed to know when the final report would be published.
“They should be held accountable,” he said. “When we look at the pass requirements we should ask whether our matrics are able to access tertiary education opportunities, or are they sitting at home, looking for low-paying work?”
Dennis George, general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa, indicated that while the quality of the matric qualification was a concern, he didn’t believe “fancy committees and curriculum changes” were the way to solve the problem.
Pupils, their parents, teachers, principals and the education department all had a role to play.
George added that pass requirements should be the same as the university entrance requirements.
“The standards are very low, and a pupil can’t even go to university with a pass mark of 30 percent,” he said.
Education specialist Graeme Bloch said, “There isn’t a problem with the quality of the matric qualification, but there is a problem with the quality of the matric.”
Foundations such as reading and counting weren’t being properly taught in earlier phases, creating problems later on.
Meanwhile, a separate committee established to look into maths, science and technology in education has finished its work and handed its report to the minster, Mokgatlhe said.
South Africa was ranked second last in the world when it came to maths and science education by a World Economic Forum study this year. Only Yemen scored worse.
And yet the department says the committee’s report was quite positive.
“In the main, the report complimented the Department of Basic Education and provincial education departments…” Mokgatlhe said.