Cape Town -111025. Matric students writing their final Accountancy exam at Zola Secondary School in Khayelitsha. Reporter: Michelle Jones.Pic: Jason Boud

KwaZulu-Natal - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has backtracked on a decision to have matric examination markers write competency tests after fierce opposition from some teacher unions who told their members to ignore the instruction.

More than 9 400 KZN teachers were expected to write competency tests by December 1, on the subjects they were due to mark, as part of a national pilot programme aimed at rooting out incompetent markers.

However, teachers – on the instructions of their unions – ignored the department’s directive and proceeded straight to the marking centres on Sunday and began marking the exam scripts. This has raised concerns about the quality of marking for this year’s matrics.

It has also left the department officials red-faced after the pilot project was announced in October by KZN Education superintendent-general, Nkosinathi Sishi.

“[The lack of tests] is of concern to us. We have been the lone voice calling for the exam directorate to ensure that markers are competent,” said Anthony Pierce, the KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa. He said he was disappointed tests did not go ahead.

“We are going to end up with a sham result if the Department of Education does not make sure that those who are tasked with marking papers are competent.”

The competency tests, announced in the Government Gazette in September, required would-be markers to score a 60 percent pass before they entered a marking centre.

The tests were set by the department after it noticed marking inconsistencies

in previous years.

A spokeswoman for the national Department of Basic Education, Hope Mokgatlhe, said that despite opposition from unions, “samples” of teachers wrote the competency test in other provinces. She could not say how many.

“It is only a pilot project and we plan to engage the unions on this,” Mokgatlhe said on Monday night.

However, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) in KZN said they would never support the initiative. Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, its provincial secretary, said there was no need for competency tests.

“A competency test does not make you competent. The Department of Education should worry [about] more serious and urgent things like teacher development. We are not going to ever support these tests and we will continue telling our members not to attend any tests


Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union, said they would resist all attempts to have teachers judged on competency tests alone.

“We are not against teachers writing tests, but we feel that those tests should be written at the beginning of the year so that we can determine where the shortfalls are and improve for the end of the year,” he said. “Teachers should be given training through workshops throughout the year


Thompson agreed with Mathonsi that it was unfair to have teachers write a competency test when those same teachers were trusted with scoring 25 percent of the matric mark in assessments throughout the year.

“The year-end exam is for 75 percent of the mark. Why is it that only at the end of the year does the department want to assess the competency of the teacher? It shows whoever came up with that idea has lost touch with the classroom.”

Muzi Mahlambi, spokesman for the KZN Education Department, refused to give reasons for the about-turn on the competency tests. “... [Marking] is going very well and there is harmony and excitement in the exam centre,” he said. - Daily News