The intention of this article is to give more information about the cruel and inadequate matriculation examination and, in doing so, offer some possible solutions. At this stage, these are conceptual suggestions and will require plenty of refining and pilot trials before they can be implemented.
An article in the Sunday Times, written by “Unknown”, had this to say about the matric exam:
“We participate in the matric-exam circus like stagehands making sure that Tickie the Clown smiles through his heavy make-up; we pretend that the caged animals are not trapped and confined for most of the day but are delighted to come out and entertain the paying customers; we imagine that when the lights (or, in South African case, candles) go out in the Big Top, everybody is happy and content.”
Brendon Bussy, one of the respondents who commented on my previous article on the scrapping of the matric exam argues that “every day I wonder how forcing energetic kids to sit at a school desk in uniform working through exercises can possibly benefit their future”.
This comment reflects the hopelessness many children and their families must feel about the matric exam. The experience does not just go away after the exam, but can last a lifetime, resulting in a sense of failure and poor self-esteem. The exam still haunts my daughter and my daughter-in-law who left school over 10 years ago, plus, I am sure, many others.
Stress and suicide
Educational psychologist Prof Kobus Maree, after a recent matriculation student suicide, explained that pupils in Grades 10 to 12 were inexperienced and lacked the skills to deal with challenges or stress. Matric students should speak out if they feel stressed.
Angst, fear, stress and depression are all linked and, as the time of year for exams approaches, these symptoms working together can be ruinous, increasing the suicide rate of young matriculants who may have failed the exam or not received the number of A’s their parents or teachers were expecting.
Almost one in 10 teenage deaths in South Africa every year is the result of suicide. Up to 20% of high school children have tried to take their own lives. This number continues to expand. The curriculum has to change – there is no argument.
The situation is further exacerbated by an old and rusty curriculum, most of it totally unrelated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and subject bound.
The first formal examination was conducted in South Africa under the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1858. This begs the question, how can an exam so archaic have any educational merit?
Simply put, it has no validity or credibility and should be withdrawn and replaced by more formative contemporary assessments. I cannot think of one good point about the exam.
Be that as it may, as long as children are able to recite from their notes, have a good memory and the ability to regurgitate facts, they will pass the matric exam with relative ease but, in general, with serious mental health problems. How will this be of any use in getting a job or dealing with real-life problems, conducting their own research and thinking critically in the 4IR?
The status quo has to give way to progress, freeing up the curriculum for relevant authentic learning and teaching.
After the matric exam is written there is plenty of data juggling, all to do with producing acceptable results. However, not one stitch of information can be used to develop the curriculum as there is no qualitative information. Formative assessment is a crucial exercise in delivering feedback, which will certainly assist educators to understand the complexities of contextual issues.
Damper on innovation
The matric exam puts a huge damper on innovation. I shudder each time the Department of Education introduces a new subject or skill into the system, mainly because it is usually comes with little advice or no educational training on “fall-down” matters such as implementation, which does not in any way relate to context, resulting in a “no-fit” situation and countless other “backwash” issues.
This is why most educators see outcomes-based education (OBE) lighting a red warning sign when it comes to innovation. It also explains why so many people are worried standards will drop so that more students pass. The irony is that it is much easier to manipulate marks using summative numbers than formative information.
If the focus is on school improvement, assessment has to be formative and analytical and, by nature, its purpose is to inform, identify misconceptions, struggles and learning gaps and assess how to close these gaps. It also helps to shape learning and can even bolster students’ abilities to take ownership of their learning when they understand the goal is to improve learning, not to apply final marks. The matric exam is a “high stakes” examination with a powerful negative “backwash” effect and has little statistical or educational validity.
As the Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation states: “The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by teachers to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.”
More specifically, formative assessments help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work. There is no doubt that a formative approach for matric is the way to go. Assessment ought to be part and parcel of the curriculum – they feed each other and as such should be fully integrated.
Presently, assessment and the matric exam are completely separate entities using two forms of methodology, one drawing from a process paradigm and the other from a traditional paradigm. They are simply not compatible.
It is only when we change the ways in which teachers assess that real authentic change can happen. Every school must have both internal assessment and external evaluation.
It is necessary to ensure that the external evaluations are done annually and that they are systemic by nature, meaning the evaluation takes into account contextual issues and responds to the entire education system. Therefore, if one part of the system is not working it will be corrected before it affects the whole system.
The internal assessment is synonymous with formative evaluation and will be ongoing, identifying strengths and weaknesses and making appropriate changes while working with the student.
Another quote from Brendon Bussy: “My primary purpose is to insulate my deaf learners from the creativity deadening experience of written exam that requires them to write on such topics as Post Modernism, which adds absolutely nothing to their ability to pass in their own world and the skills to survive after school.” DM