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A ‘two-year matric’ keeps pass rate high

Not all pupils have the ability to get through in one go

07 January 2018 - 00:02 By PREGA GOVENDER

The national matric pass rate would have fallen 11.1 percentage points if the almost 70,000 "progressed pupils" had written their full final exams, according to a prominent academic.
Felix Maringe, a professor in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, said that allowing these pupils to write exams over two years had "to a large extent been used as a gatekeeping kind of mechanism".
Gatekeeping has been widely used by schools in the past. Weaker pupils were deliberately failed in Grades 10 and 11 to make the schools' matric pass rates look good.The marks of 69,575 pupils who were allowed to sit for only three of the seven exam subjects last year did not form part of the 75.1% pass rate. Their marks will be reflected in the pass rate after they write their remaining four subjects in June or November.
The progressed pupils who were allowed to write over two years had failed at least three subjects in their trial exams. A further 34,000 progressed pupils wrote all seven subjects in the October-November slot. Of these 18,751 (55.1%) passed.
In 2016, 67,510 progressed pupils wrote the exams during the October-November slot and 29,384 (43.5%) passed.Maringe, who researched school drop-outs in Mpumalanga between 2014 and 2016, found gatekeeping to be widespread.
"We discovered that many learners drop out not because they want to but because the schools encourage them to do so because they are not performing well. I think it's across the country, but I can speak confidently about Mpumalanga," he said.
He said that giving pupils the chance to write exams over two years was "an excellent idea" because not all pupils had the capacity to handle and pass exams in one go.Granting pupils the chance to write exams over two years is decided by school principals in consultation with parents.
Nic Spaull, a senior researcher in the economics department at Stellenbosch University, was concerned about exam quality assurer Umalusi's standardisation process and the way it dealt with progressed pupils."They are essentially using the historical Bell Curve of performance and norming to that curve when the underlying population has changed significantly. Even though progressed learners were introduced in 2015, because the norming process looks at the last five years of performance, including progressed learners in the 'norm' means that the historical 'norm' is being dragged down year by year."
Professor Sarah Gravett, dean of the education faculty at the University of Johannesburg, is not opposed to progressed pupils writing exams over two years. "Ultimately it's about giving these learners the opportunity to succeed, taking into consideration that many of them come from difficult socioeconomic circumstances. They were not necessarily in the best schools with the best teachers. If one really believes in inclusivity and equity, one needs to give support and opportunity for learners to succeed."
Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa, said the pass rate would have been lower had the 69,575 progressed pupils written in one sitting "because the chances of them passing in one sitting is very slim.But I still believe it [the multiple exam opportunity] is not a bad option, especially in face of the fact that we don't have anything in our system to support those children who are not academically inclined. It is a method to ensure that those children aren't completely crushed by having failed badly".
Basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli said the progressed pupils who wrote some subjects had performed well. He said progressed pupils had obtained 1,801 distinctions.
DA spokeswoman on basic education Nomsa Marchesi said the matric pass was 37.3% when it was calculated from the Grade 10 class of 2015. Only 49.7% of Grade 10s in 2015 wrote matric, and 37.3% passed.
“Ultimately it’s about giving these learners the opportunity to succeed, taking into consideration that many of them come from difficult socioeconomic circumstances.” —Professor Sarah Gravett, dean of the education faculty at the University of Johannesburg..

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