Cape Town. 131028. Students writing Matric exams English Paper 1 at Gardens Commercial High School in Cape Town. Reporter Michelle Jones. Picture COURTNEY AFRICA

Durban - Education authorities in KwaZulu-Natal have been slammed for a “draining” new matric exam policy that makes pupils write two papers on the same subject in one day.

Among the seven subjects affected are maths and science, which require a lot of preparation, leaving pupils fatigued by the time they finish the morning paper and sit for the three-hour second paper in the afternoon.

However, the KZN Department of Education is standing its ground despite the widespread criticism. It said the mid-year exam timetable was “doable” and would make studying easier. The department said it intended to do the same for the matric mock and final exam timetables.

Critics who believe the department is trying to reduce the exam timetable are concerned that this would result in pupils performing badly. Under-performing schools would be the hardest hit, they said.

The mid-year exams are being held from June 12 to 26.

For grades 10 and 11, the department has introduced the system only for maths and science.

“It is totally inappropriate to make pupils write on the same subject for six hours,” said Labby Ramrathan, an associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education. “It’s certainly a strange format. To write a single paper you have to prepare really well, but I can’t imagine six hours on the same subject.

“(This timetable) presents a dilemma for pupils in terms of preparation; they won’t know what to concentrate more on,” Ramrathan said. “You will find that most will concentrate on the morning paper, and in the afternoon fatigue will set in.”

Ramrathan said it was apparent from the timetable that the department was trying to decrease the overall time spent on exams.

He said changes to the timetable should have been made gradually to see how pupils coped instead of “blanket changes” across the board.

The chairman of the south Durban region of the KZN Parents’ Association, Vee Gani, said the papers should have been spread out.

“By the time they write the second paper their attention span could be less, making it harder to get the best out of the children,” he said.

The department claimed the timetable had been designed to improve pupils’ performance.

Spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said that despite the criticism, the department was confident that the pupils would do well.

This would be evident after the exams when the scripts were marked, he said.

On the unconventional new system, he said it should be accepted that this was a new curriculum and that things would be different now. He said department experts and examiners were used to design the timetable.

Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union, said the department’s “top-down approach” was to blame for most schools opting not to write its papers, but instead setting their own mid-year exams.

Thompson said they were saddened such a decision was taken under the watch of department head, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, because he had once sat on various national examination body committees as chairman before his current role.

While many schools choose to write the mid-year exams set by the department to give pupils experience, they are compulsory for schools scoring under 60 percent in the Annual National Assessments and internal exams.

“We say schools will be affected because the schools who perform under 60 (percent) will be worse off, as they will be ill-prepared… When children do not perform, fingers will be pointed at teachers,” Thompson said.

Anthony Pierce, provincial chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, also said it was not advisable to write, for example, two maths papers on the same day. Mental fatigue and a lack of preparation would affect pupils, he said.

The principal of New West Secondary in Durban, Farouk Bayat, also an executive member of the SA Principals’ Association, said the department’s rationale seemed to be to cut down on the number of days spent on exams.

“This will leave the pupils with too much to do with too little time, it is a strain for students… the high-flyers will take it up, but the average ones will struggle to cope,” Bayat said.

His school would write its mid-year exams over nine days, but maths and science would be spread over several days to give pupils a chance to revise.

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