Last-minute matric exam decision causes chaos

The Department of Education made a last-minute announcement regarding matric examinations which caused bedlam at schools across the country, the City Press reports.

On Monday last week, the department said that matric pupils with high temperatures would be allowed to write their final exams at school, provided they were in isolation.

However, on Wednesday evening – hours before the first matric exam was set to begin – the department issued a statement announcing that pupils who had COVID-19 would also be allowed to write in different venues.

The department told the City Press that these different venues referred to the isolation rooms which were meant to have been set up at every school in the country.

Teachers’ unions criticised the late decision, stating that no logistical arrangements had been made to accommodate this announcement, and many were also concerned for the health of teachers who would be required to invigilate these COVID-19 exams.

“No logistical arrangements have been made. Education can’t be governed through press releases – we need official arrangements,” said teachers’ union Naptosa.

“Who is going to invigilate these exams? Certainly not our members.”

Each provincial government and school reportedly interpreted the department’s matric examination announcement differently, leading to confusion on the morning of the first examinations last week.

Many students with COVID-19 were affected by the decision, and a number were reportedly unable to write or were directed to the wrong venues.

The department subsequently apologised to unions for not following proper procedures before making the announcement.

Worrying trend in mathematics

South Africa’s education system is already suffering notwithstanding the additional strain placed on schools due to COVID-19.

Over the past few years, the number of students who are enrolled in mathematics has decreased significantly, with an increasing number of matrics opting for mathematics literacy or technical mathematics instead.

These subjects are easier than what is now being called “pure mathematics”, but matrics who choose the over mathematics will be locked out from studying engineering, science, IT, or related fields at university.

Last year’s figures show that out of the 787,717 students who wrote matric examinations, only 222,034 (28%) wrote mathematics. Of those who wrote, 45% did not achieve a passing grade of above 30%.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education recently raised concerns over the falling number of students who have registered for mathematics.

“It looks like our learners are running away from this,” said committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba. “However, it then becomes difficult when they want to register for certain programmes at institutions of higher learning.”

The most recent data shows that only 245,005 matric students enrolled for mathematics for the 2020 examinations – more than 11,000 fewer than in 2019.

On the other hand, the number of Mathematics Literacy enrolments increased from 349,338 in 2019 to 358,883 in 2020 – an increase of more than 9,000.

The number of students who write mathematics has continued to drop every year, and the pass rate is down to only 54%.

The number of students who enrolled in Mathematics and Mathematics Literacy over the past four years is demonstrated in the graph below.

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Last-minute matric exam decision causes chaos