The largest education union in the country, the Cosatu-affiliated South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadou), has requested that the start of the matric exam be postponed by a further three weeks until 26 November.
The national department of basic education announced two weeks ago that the matric final examination will take place from 5 November to 15 December, to provide an opportunity for schools to catch up on the time lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the seclusion period.
But now the Sadou leadership has decided it is not enough time, especially as schools in the poorest areas have not had a chance to catch up. Sadou’s argument is that the gap between affluent and poor schools has widened further.
Research shows that the majority of South African schools, especially those with strong academic records, kept up very well during the isolation period, and that learners received neat instruction at home.
What Sadou does not say, but what emerges from research and has been confirmed to Maroela Media by trade union ranks, is that between 40% and 50% of the country’s schools actually did nothing during the lockout, and the overwhelming majority of these schools’ teachers belong to Sadou.
Concern exists in education circles that this is the first step in placing this year’s matric exam in an unattainable orbit. It is pointed out that it takes about nine weeks to accommodate the entire matric process from writing the exam to marking, standardizing and announcing marks.
This raises serious questions about how the process can be completed before the university’s academic year begins, and also how matriculants will be able to write their exams on either side of the three-week Christmas break.
There is a strong demand from the ranks of trade unions not affiliated with Cosatu, and specifically with trade unions from the Fedusa group, that this year’s matriculation exam be in no way downgraded either in terms of difficulty or curriculum, because it will credibility of the South African senior certificate so undermined that it may never be restored.
A further source of concern in education ranks is how learners from grade 1 to 11’s progression will be handled. In their case, even less work has been completed than with the matriculants, and the school system does not have enough space for everyone to be held back.
So there is a possibility – and this is just a possibility – that the younger grades will all be automatically transferred to the next school year this year, with large-scale remediation that will have to take place next year.
Two further problems with the matric exam also came to the fore. Firstly, there is the problem of social distancing and that no more than 50 people may gather in a venue.
This is especially difficult for schools that do not have a ward, such as the 330 matriculants from Boitekong Secondary School in Rustenburg, where the principal and the governing body’s chairman told the Sunday Times this week if they would abide by coronavirus protocols. 19 of the school’s 36 classrooms can only be used for matriculants’ exams.
This makes supervision very difficult and on top of that the rest of the school’s learners must also be accommodated.
The second problem is that the state discourages teachers over the age of 60 and discourages teachers with underlying illnesses from acting as markers. This affects the availability of seasoned, experienced markers.
It is not only in South Africa where the isolation period causes controversy in the equivalent of the school leaving examination. In Scotland the year mark is made to the end mark (very dangerous in South Africa, where year marks are often not matched in the final examination at all, and in England the proposed plan to combine the year mark with an algorithm for the specific school for ‘ an end point where exams have not been written, causes so much controversy among parents and learners that it has been completely revised.