Certainty 1: matric exams will be a farce. Certainty 2: ANC will hide this

Let's hope it's the same for this year's matrics, because the consequences of lowering the standard for achievement this year will have hugely negative consequences for higher education and employment.
Let's hope it's the same for this year's matrics, because the consequences of lowering the standard for achievement this year will have hugely negative consequences for higher education and employment.
Image: LULAMILE FENI

Between November 5 and December 15, more than 1.1 million matriculants will write their national senior certificate examination, starting with English and ending with Visual Arts and Agricultural Management Practices. They will receive their results on February 23 2021. According to the department of basic education, this extension of the academic year will give pupils more than enough time to cover the curriculum and revise what they have learnt in preparation for this potentially life-changing examination. If you believe this nonsense claim, you probably slept through the pandemic.

The 2020 matric exam is going to be an unprecedented disaster in terms of academic outcomes. Whatever inequality already exists in the system — and this has been amply documented in recent educational research — will get much worse because of about 2.5 months of direct instructional time lost during the pandemic-enforced lockdown. That is a significant loss of time in the final year of schooling.

In my study of 640 children’s stories of learning under lockdown, titled Data or Bread?, I showed that depending on which school you went to, a pupil either had uninterrupted and fully online learning from the moment of lockdown, at the one end, or absolutely no connection to schools, teachers and learning opportunities, at the other end. In between were pupils with intermittent access to data or devices and unreliable internet connections for mediocre “teaching” in the form of content dumped onto shared WhatsApp groups. This grossly unequal access to teaching and learning in the lockdown period will definitely worsen the inequality of academic outcomes between the privileged and the poor.

This grossly unequal access to teaching and learning in the lockdown period will definitely exacerbate the inequality of academic outcomes between the privileged and the poor

Even when schools reopened, principals tell me, the effects of the pandemic created further chaos in the schools of the poor. This is what is happening right now in one of our schools. In the more challenging subjects such as life sciences, economics, mathematics and accounting, teachers are struggling to cover the curriculum in time. The consumer studies teacher was released from her job because the school does not have funds for this governing body post; that is, paid by the school, not the department. The teacher for engineering, graphics and design (EGD) was laid off with comorbidities and no specialist teacher can be found for this subject. There is a huge drop in attendance because parents suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic cannot afford to pay transport money to school, let alone the outstanding school fees. In short, the matric pupils at this school will be hopelessly underprepared for the November examinations.

As we all know, the matric examination has long been turned into a political spectacle for the ruling party, so expect all kinds of shenanigans to boost the 2020 results. One story doing the rounds is that matric pupils will receive the “scope” of the coming examination in each subject. This circular just released to matriculants in one province is revealing: “See MST (mathematics, science and technology) lessons (power points and notes) on selected themes ... Make sure you receive these notes. The Department of Education has really gone the extra mile to focus on the above-mentioned aspects of your work, to ensure you get the best matric outcome possible. What’s not to like?”

I’ll tell you what’s not to like — academic dishonesty. How exactly were these “selected themes” chosen? What about the rest of the curriculum? Most importantly, how would you know that the non-selected themes will not be examined in the November exams? And why are pupils told in this circular that “good school attendance will be considered towards your matric mark in borderline pass/fail exam paper outcomes”? What on Earth is going on here?

Then there is the standardisation process that will have to take care of what can be expected to be dismal matric results. In technical terms, standardisation is a defensible measure to ensure what one eminent scholar in Umalusi (the standards setting body for school education) rightly describes as “not penalising a pupil for the year in which they were born”. In this pandemic year, such judgement is especially pertinent. But make no mistake, standardisation can also be a political process. This year especially the statistically imposed constraint (not adding more than 10% of the mark actually attained) is up for grabs. After all, pupil learning was affected by a once-in-a-century global event, a pandemic.

I understand the need for adjustment, but the public needs to know that social costs of lowering the standard for achievement in matric this year will have massively negative consequences for higher education and employment. You never fix a quality problem by lowering the output requirements; you correct the problem by enhancing the quality of the inputs into the education of our children, even if that means postponing the academic year into 2021. We know that South African politicians do not care about the future consequences of bad education decisions; they will rig the system to make themselves look good. After all: what’s not to like?


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