Cape Town - With the National Senior Certificate exams starting in six days, the portfolio committee on basic education has reviewed the matric readiness and found that only 63.7% of learners in the Western Cape were ready for their final exams.

The committee, which conducted a series of assessments and oversight visits across the country, to ensure candidates and systems readiness, noted that despite a dip in subject performance in the Western Cape, learners in the Cape and Durban were the most prepared for the exams.

“Subject-specific intervention was the primary focus (at schools) because it determines the success at the end of the year. The third-quarter oversight visits, after winter schools, was done to determine readiness.

“We reviewed 265 schools and noted that candidates in the Western Cape and Durban were the most prepared for their final exams,” said Cheryl Weston, Western Cape director for further education and training.

Weston said last-minute initiatives to improve subject grades were being implemented across the country, based on learner performance in the mock exam.

The Department of Basic Education was also pushing to tie up loose ends regarding preparing moderation and quality assurance for the exams.

“We zoomed into different aspects when reviewing the system to see what didn’t work well in 2017 so we can improve. There was seven key focus areas to improve, including quality of question papers, management of irregularities and focus areas for intervention.

“With regard to readiness, we have finalised registration of candidates and questions papers have been set. Learners wrote prep exams, monitored by the department; we’re completing the second phase and conducted auditing of district examination systems,” said the department's director of exams, Priscilla Okubanjo.

She said 147 question papers have been set and externally moderated by Umalusi for an expected 66241 registered in the Western Cape. This was a slight increase from last year’s 65750 pupils.

Papers have been adapted for learners with special needs and braille has been implemented. Okubanjo said a fairness review of question papers was completed and showed no biases or language issues for pupils.

Issues picked up across the board during the readiness assessment included a lack of capacity regarding exam management and staff capacity, which took a dip owing to rising retirements. Among other issues were the implementation of exams for new subjects, such as sign language as a home language.

“Fifty-thousand learners engage in the new subject, sign language, as a home language and it was written as trial exam nationally to correct what we need to before the final exam. Schools gave us feedback and they found challenges, such as the duration of the examination.

“The duration was (the same) as all other home languages, but by the time pupils finished, they (the sign-language pupils) didn’t. The fastest learners to complete did so in 3½ hours and the slowest in four hours. Ten-minute reading also doesn’t suffice for sign language because they have to go through videos,” said Okubanjo.

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Cape Argus