South Africa’s matric class of 2020 were expected to cram their whole syllabus into a few anxious months, but schools say they are ready and optimistic that most pupils will make it to the exam room.
Schools are welcoming the fact that according to the basic education department, exams council Umalusi would follow the normal process for examinations and keep exams at the same standard as every year, despite disruptions in learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chair of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), Jaco Deacon, says while he appreciates the pandemic would be a major factor in how pupils would cope with the workload, he notes that the matric curriculum began in earnest in grade 11, with only the first three months of the matric year is dedicated to new material. The rest of the year is spent on revision, a stage most schools are expected to reach by the time preliminary exams start in September.
“In all our engagements with the minister (Angie Motshekga) and the department it’s clear that they will do everything in their power to ensure that the matriculants will write this year and complete the full academic year. So based on the timetable and time available, I do think it’s possible that the matrics can complete the academic year,” said Deacon.
While Deacon is optimistic about most schools’ ability to pull their pupils through the syllabus on time, Dr Anthea Cerestero of the Governing Body Foundation said that may be a tad wishful and that schools with fewer resources might be challenged.
“Common sense tells us that life will be very difficult for these grade 12’s depending on where they are. And, like with many things in the country, so much depends on where you are. There are some schools where despite a lack of resources, the learners and the teachers work very hard and they do well,” she said.
“So those teachers know what they are doing and the children are being supported through all the on and off. They have the support of their parents and communities as well. The better off schools, they have done their best with the online systems… Basically they have tried their best, but even in those schools you will find that some pupils are having some struggles. For many of these pupils, life has been very difficult for them and their families.”
Despite everyone’s best efforts there would be an impact in how many pupils would get to write their exams, and it is expected that a drop in either the pass rate and even the exam attendance rate would materialise this year, Cerestero said.
Social distancing is provided for in the exam timetable, in terms of managing the subjects which pulled in the most numbers by splitting them throughout the day.
“The biggest exam in volumes is maths and maths literacy and so those two sessions are normally combined in a single sitting” said Deacon.
“Because of the numbers the timetable has split the two, so the morning session will have maths and in the afternoon there will be maths literacy, to ensure that there is still social distancing. They did exactly the same in the timetable with English and English Literature. That is where you have the most learners in one sitting. The timetable did make provision to split those two.”
Normally matriculants would have the use of large venues such as a school hall, a community hall, or a church hall, with just one grade per venue.
Deacon said though schools were not given guidance on what to do if a matric exam candidate contracted Covid-19, it was expected that the normal procedure of attaining a doctor’s note in order for pupils to schedule later dates for their exams would prevail.
Final examinations are expected to run from 5 November to 15 December, with results expected in February next year.