Quality of Marking the National Senior Certificate Exams Must be Prioritised
Statement by Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education
On Tuesday Umalusi, South Africa’s Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, held a press conference outlining the release of the 2014 National Senior Certifcate (NSC) results. While Mafu Rakometsi, the Chief Executive of Umalusi, said that huge strides have been made in the strengthening of the marking processes, he also said that there is room for further improvement.
It is well known that in the Western Cape we have conducted competency tests for our matric markers for the last four years, and we have advocated for this to be done across the country, in order to ensure more consistency in marking between provinces, as well as to ensure a high standard of marking.
Both Umalusi and the National Minister seemed to be in agreement with this.
However, in September 2014 Rakometsi made a statement which appeared to contradict Umalusi’s previous stance on the matter of matric markers. In a press conference, he said that they were “satisfied as Umalusi with the quality of markers that have been appointed,” and that “competency is not only guaranteed through competency tests.”
These comments are in stark contrast to previous comments made by the body in recent years.
For example, in February 2013, Umalusi was quoted in the Business Day as “strongly recommending” competency tests for matric exam markers, saying that they would “go a long way in the identification of competent markers”.
This view was shared by the Ministerial task team set up to investigate how to improve the NSC. The task team report, published in May 2014, found that quality should be the most important criterion for appointing markers. It stated that all markers should be required to demonstrate their competence prior to being appointed, citing subject matter competency tests. It also stated that markers who fail to meet the required standards for marking papers should not be allowed to continue to mark. They also indicated that this can have an effect on comparisons between provinces, and cited the Western Cape as having been potentially prejudiced in the “league table” by the fact that our standard of marking could well have been stricter than the other provinces.
Education analysts, such as Nick Spaull, have also been vocal about the importance of competency testing for matric markers for years now.
The National Minister for Basic Education, Angie Motshekga has likewise been vocal on the phasing in of competency testing for matric markers.
Yet despite all this stated support for competency testing, the Western Cape remains the only Province to conduct competency testing for markers so to ensure that we appoint markers who demonstrate that they know how to mark and the content of the subject they are marking.
The Department of Basic Education announced only in September that it would be introducing quality control measures for matric exam marking across the country. This was not, however, a new concept and is still a far cry from competency testing for markers.
The DBE indicated earlier last year that they would have to “navigate” the issue carefully, in the light of the fact that SADTU had objected to these tests, saying it would be “unjust” to introduce them.
I find it difficult to understand exactly what is unjust about ensuring that the people who mark our matric papers are able to do the work themselves at a suitable standard, and mark accordingly. If they are able to do so, it will be no problem for them to pass the competency tests. If they are not, is it just that they adjudicate on the competence of our children?
This Government is proud that we aspire to improve quality in the NSC, both in our results as well as the integrity of the marking and examination process.
The Western Cape will continue with our competency tests and we will continue with our strategy to retain as many learners as possible in school until they complete matric.
We believe that if the Minister could motivate the other provinces to do the same, they will be leaving a legacy in our country that will last for decades to come.
It is unfortunate that Umalusi did not even mention competency testing in their press conference and we will be asking questions in the New Year about their apparent backtrack on the issue.