The Department of Basic Education is open to constructive criticism that will move us forward. Education is a contested field that requires extensive research and consultation with all stakeholders before any change is made. Policy changes in education are at all times subject to a process of broad consultation, and decisions are based on research that takes into account both domestic and international trends.
Opinion article by Michael Workman, retired teacher, in English Daily Maverick dated July 16, 2023, lacks objectivity and makes some sweeping statements that are not fully substantiated (“Our ancient exam system dates back to 1858 and can scar a lifetime mentally“).
Referring to the matric exam as “cruel and inconvenient” and saying that “there is not a single good point about the matric exam” or that the exam “has no validity and should be withdrawn”, is sensationalism and exaggeration of the negatives about the matric exam.
All exams, around the world, have their downsides and all good systems will do their best to reduce the anxiety and stress associated with exams.
Unfortunately, exams are necessary and cannot be completely avoided, and the Department of Basic Education is fully aware of the negatives associated with exams and is working to reduce these negatives.
South African public examinations have a rich history of more than 160 years and during this period there have been significant improvements and changes in the composition, structure and administration of the public examinations.
Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessments
We must differentiate between the qualification, which is the Higher National Certificate; The Curriculum, which is the National Curriculum Statement (commonly referred to as CAPS); And evaluation, which includes the national examination and school evaluation.
In terms of qualification, the National Curriculum Statement was recently released Evaluated by EcctisThey are an international provider of the gold standard for the recognition of global qualifications, and they have evaluated the Higher National Certificate to be internationally comparable.
The curriculum is constantly reviewed, to ensure that it is up to date with international developments as well as on a national level. Subjects such as information technology, mechanical technology, electrical technology, civil technology, marine science, coding, and robotics have been introduced over the years to ensure that they keep pace with the economic needs of the country.
The curriculum is currently being reviewed to ensure we are imparting skills and competencies that are grounded in the 21st century. This, therefore, negates the statement made by Mr. Workman, of an ancient system.
Referring to the third component, curriculum assessment, Mr. Workman fails to mention that the assessment throughout the course of study consists of an examination and scholastic assessment, which includes the formative assessment to which he referred.
At the Foundation Stage (grades R to 3) 100% of the assessment is carried out on a school basis and is in key formation, with teachers continually providing feedback to learners and their parents on the progress made in the display of key skills by learners at this stage.
At the middle level (grades 4-7), 80% of the assessment is school-based and the focus is on formative assessment and only 20% is test-based.
At the senior level, 60% of the assessment is school-based and only 40% is exam-focused. In Years 10 and 11, 40% of the assessment is based on school and 60% is based on exams. In class 12.75% of the assessment is test focused and 25% is in school.
There is a gradual move to ensure that assessment is school-based and has a stronger formative focus. We fully agree that assessment should be geared towards learning and providing feedback to the learner, rather than being solely grade driven.
However, the conundrum is the low reliability of scholastic assessment which must be weighed against examinations with higher reliability. As the competencies of our teachers improve, the department will move to a greater weighting of scholastic assessment, even at Grade 12 level.
It should be noted that even in the most developed countries such as Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, European countries and in most other countries, examinations dominate, especially at the exit level, which is equivalent to our secondary school certificate. We cannot completely move away from exams at key points in the system, but we will continue to enhance formative assessment practices across all grades.
The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) recently adopted ‘Assessment for Learning’ as the pedagogical foundation for learning that should guide teaching and learning in every classroom. We strongly advocate for a culture of formative assessment in every classroom in the country.
Mr. Workman and others should remain close to the Department of Basic Education and monitor the important changes that are in the pipeline and that are part of the curriculum enhancement and assessment improvement process.
The matric certificate has gained a certain status and level of recognition in the South African system which cannot be recklessly ignored and replaced overnight. Education is fundamental to our future as a nation, and therefore any change must be considered intensively and gradually. DM