The government must act urgently to independently verify the credibility of the National Senior Certificate examination results and of all future Matric results.
I believe that the Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, should institute a full-scale independent audit of the 2013 results. She is empowered to do by section 20 (2) of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act. I will today write to the Minister asking her to commission such an audit.
Provincial education departments are solely responsible for appointing markers and marking Matric exams. Exam papers are not marked by a central national body. This means the quality of marking cannot be guaranteed and is not adequately or comparatively standardised around the country.
Matric markers are not tested for their competency, their subject knowledge or for their ability to interpret answers which are phrased differently from the exam memorandum. The Western Cape is the only provincial government that conducts rigorous competency tests for its Matric markers.
At a press conference on December 30 2013, the Chairperson of Umalusi, Prof Sizwe Mabizela expressed concern about the fact that the appointment of markers in some provinces was subject to political and union pressure. This is completely unacceptable and undermines public confidence in the marking process.
The investigation we are requesting today should have the authority to determine whether marking in the various provincial departments was done competently, whether the quality of marking across the country was sufficiently standardised, and whether there is any evidence of schools and provincial departments engaging in "culling" - the practice of pushing academically weak students out of the system before they reach the Grade 12 exams.
The credibility of the 2013 results has already been called into question by a number of educational experts, who have pointed out that the results are too far a departure from the trends over the last several years to be credible. Increases of 7.6% (in Mpumalanga) and 7.7% (in North West) in one year are near impossible to achieve in one school, let alone across an entire province.
Umalusi has repeatedly recommended that markers be tested for competency around the country. In its Technical Report on the 2012 NSC Examinations, it identified the lack of competence of markers as the first challenge to the reliability and quality of marking.
It also explicitly recommended that competency tests should be used to appoint markers. However, the government failed to take heed of this recommendation, mainly as a result of obstinate resistance from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU).
Secondly, the method that Umalusi uses to assess the quality of marking is completely inadequate. The Umalusi team of moderators generally go to between 3 and 5 provinces per subject and then moderate 20 exam papers.
When they cannot travel to a province, the provincial education department sends them 20 exam papers. On this basis Umalusi determines whether the marking is accurate. The inadequacy of making such a critical judgement based on 20 exam papers, selected subjectively, should be plain.
Lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly, it is clear that many schools actively try to work weaker students out of the system before they ever have a chance to write their final exams.
This practice of "culling" academically weak students is reflected in the extraordinarily high drop-out rates between Grade 10 and Grade 12 in some provinces.
Of course not everyone who drops out of school between Grade 10 and Grade 12 has been "culled" from the system, but this practice is widespread and the drop-out rate is an alarming indicator of what is really happening in our schools.
In calling for this investigation, I understand full well that the results in the Western Cape will also be probed. I am completely comfortable with that.
The Western Cape education department is the only province in South Africa that does not rely on the pass rate alone to measure progress in improving education. The WCED uses a range of rigorous assessments to ensure that the value and credibility of the Matric certificate is upheld.
Most importantly, the Western Cape is the only province that insists on testing matric markers for their competency. We believe the Matric results in the Western Cape are the most credible results in South Africa, and we are happy to provide the full details of why we can make that pledge to the independent audit panel. [See statement from Western Cape provincial education department here.]
All successful Matriculants will suffer if the credibility of their National Certificates is diminished. Universities and FET Colleges, and most importantly, employers in the job market, will be less willing to accept that applicants are actually qualified if the examination results cannot be trusted.
Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance