Education analysts debate merits of merging matric exam systems

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi maintains he did not call for the “scrapping” of the Independent Examinations Board. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/Independent Newspapers

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi maintains he did not call for the “scrapping” of the Independent Examinations Board. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 19, 2024


While Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi maintains he did not call for the “scrapping” of the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), the proposal for the two matric exam systems, including the National Senior Certificate (NSC), to be amalgamated for the promotion of equality has sparked debate among education analysts.

Lesufi, the former MEC for Education in Gauteng, took to social media to question why the country had two matric exams – one for public schools and the other for private schools, adding that the time had come for all children to write the same exam, like they do at universities and colleges.

“Everything is the same, besides the name of the exam. The pass mark is the same, the curriculum is the same. The standard bearer is the same (Umalusi). We can’t continue to separate exams on the basis of class. The rich, semi-rich and poor having different examinations,” said Lesufi.

Approached for comment on the matter, spokesperson for Lesufi, Sizwe Pamla, said: “Premier Lesufi is not calling for the scrapping of IEB exams. He is arguing that the current divided exam set-up is used to choose winners and losers in life and therefore, it needs to be reviewed.”

While the IEB did not respond to requests for comment by deadline on Thursday, in an eNCA interview, IEB CEO Confidence Dikgole said the IEB did not cater for the “elite”.

“This is a policy debate, it’s a constitutional debate. Our Constitution affords a right to the freedom of choice and options.

The whole notion around the IEB that it caters for the elite is not true. We do have schools that cater for the broad spectrum of the socio-economic field in South Africa. As the IEB we welcome the debate, but surely there are better ways of handling this,” she said.

She said there were three assessment bodies that were recognised, and all offered different exams but based on the same curriculum.

Umalusi said that they would not engage in discussion on having the same matric exams for IEB and NSC.

“Every education entity is according to the Constitution and legislation of South Africa and has a role to play in education.”

Professor Mbulu Madiba, dean of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, said IEB comprises a fraction of the total number of matric students and merging it with NSC won’t make much difference.

“What we need is to improve our NSC system to produce enough students who qualify for higher education institutions.”

Madiba added that there was a difference between IEB and NSC standards and expected students’ competencies.

“IEB produces more bachelors than in the NSC system. IEB has more high order questions than the NSC exam papers. In English, for example, IEB has only 20% low order, 40% moderate and 40% high order questions, whereas NSC has about 40% low order and moderate questions and only 20% high order questions.

“Many students in the NSC would struggle to pass the IEB exams. Bifurcation might not be ideal, but it reflects the reality of our society.”

Professor Labby Ramrathan, from the School of Education Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said if things were relatively equal in the country, then there would be some merit to what Lesufi was saying.

“The difference between the public schooling system and the independent schooling system is so vast and therefore warrants a differentiated system to match learning experiences.”

Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe added that the country’s education and training system has a rigorous quality assurance process which ensures that qualifications that are awarded by different examining bodies are equivalent in standard.

“This means that the ‘marks’ received, for example, in the IEB NSC and in the DBE NSC are comparable once they have been quality assured by Umalusi.”

Professor Michael le Cordeur, vice-dean Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Education, at Stellenbosch University, said education in future will become continuously less dependent on exams.

“We are moving towards individual assessments based on individual strengths. So the issue of exams will become less and less important as the world moves towards an exam-less education. Thus it does not matter what exam one writes as long as the exam is standardised and approved by Umalusi.”

Educational psychology Professor Kobus Maree added: “All over the world there are private and public schools. Much better would be if the education department would reach out to the private schools and section 21, former Model C schools, and try to learn from them and join hands instead (of) making pronouncements.”

Cape Times