Umalusi pre-empts matric-results blame game

By Sipho Hlongwane 19 October 2011

If there is a story about Umalusi which doesn’t mention controversy, we’ve never read it. Let’s just say the council seems particularly good at stuffing up the national senior certificate results. On Tuesday – with exams looming – Umalusi had another go at explaining what it does, and how it assures quality in matric exams. The explanation was a little more detailed than usual, given the results-adjustment scandal of 2010. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The fact that the clumsily named Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi) is explaining in 2011 what its job is and how the senior certificate (matric) examination mark is adjusted year-on-year points both to the deep distrust it feels from the public, and its inability to communicate its mandate clearly.

Umalusi monitors the exam papers, the moderation process and adjusts the results at the end of the process to standardise them across years. How hard can that be?

Very hard, we’re told. “It has been said that the national examinations in this country is second to the conduct of national elections – such is the magnitude and importance of examinations in this country,” Umalusi CEO Mafu Rakometsi said.

The point of a press conference was to pre-empt the sort of back-and-forth blame game that follows the release of matric results each year in December.

“The 2011 year has been a relatively incident-free year for the education sector in South Africa, without any major disruptions to the teaching and learning calendar,” Rakometsi said. “In spite of all the systems and processes in place, there will be key challenges regarding the administration and management associated with a large-scale examination system such as ours.”

And the task at hand is large indeed: 512,029 full-time matriculants and 108,237 part-timers under the guiding hand of the department of basic education will face 325 question papers (each student will write an average of 12 papers). Then 35,000 markers take over in 123 centres in the nine provinces.

Umalusi is supposed to have moderated and approved all question papers issued, the  Independent Examination Board and the Eksamensraad vir Christelike Onderwys, but said it would issue a disclaimer if an unapproved exam question was used.
The council also conducted inspections across troubled provinces like KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga to “assess readiness”, and shadows basic education teams around the country.

The department seized control of all the management of matric exams from the provinces after a series of bungles and “irregularities”. In Mpumalanga, for example, a ministerial report found that every single question paper had been leaked in 2010.

Umalusi said it would continue to monitor both Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape (which consistently comes stone last in pass rates). The council identified centralisation as a way to improve quality management saying fewer marking centres would make everything better.

Ramoketsi also cast a sceptical eye at the independent and private exam centres. Apparently these are the source of a large number of irregularities.

There you have it. If stuff does go pear-shaped, it probably won’t be the council’s fault.

Not that Umalusi is incapable of generating enormous controversy all on its own. Last year, its standardisation process produced a truly unbelievable 7.1% increase in matric pass rates over the previous year. DM

Read more:

  • Quality council confident of credible matric results, in Business Day
  • Umalusi ready for matric results, on Sapa, via News24 

Photo: School pupils. Reuters.


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