IEB - Assessment Matters

Independent Examinations Board National Senior Certificate 2017
3 January 2018

The 2017 pass rate is 98.76%, comparable to last year’s pass rate of 98.67%. All candidates who passed achieved a pass that is good enough to enter tertiary study at one of the three levels:

  • 88.50% (compared to 87.61% in 2016) of the cohort achieved entry to degree study.
  • 8.96% (compared to 9.83% in 2016) qualified for entry to diploma study.
  • 1.30% (compared to 1.23% in 2016) achieved entry for study at the Higher Certificate level.

11 464 full-time and 666 part-time candidates from 212 examination centres across Southern Africa wrote the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations in October and November 2017. This is an increase from 2016 when there were 11 022 full-time candidates and 703 part-time candidates.

Umalusi has monitored all aspects of the 2017 examination process and has declared the results to be fair and valid. There is a clear realisation among IEB learners, their parents and teachers that having the knowledge and understanding that lies behind the results on the certificate is far more important and meaningful for success after one’s schooling. 

“The 2017 NSC candidates have done very well and have once again shown that with a commitment to hard work over their 12 years of schooling, and supported by a dedicated cohort of teachers and parents, they have passed with flying colours. They are ready for the next step in their journey of life-long learning,” says Anne Oberholzer, CEO of the IEB.

The closing date for the application for re-marking is 10 January 2018 and the results from re-marking will be released on 5 February 2018. The closing date for learners who qualify to enroll for the supplementary examination to do so, is 12 February 2018.

Advanced Programmes 2017
The Advanced Programme courses are extension courses in Mathematics, English and Afrikaans. They are available to any learner in South Africa attending either state or IEB schools who chooses to participate. The assessment has been benchmarked by UK NARIC, the UK equivalent of the South African Qualifications Authority, and is considered equivalent to the UK A-levels.   
The 2017 performance in AP Mathematics, consisting of 1 424 learners from IEB schools and 1749 learners in state schools, has been very pleasing with 92.72% achieving a pass above 40%, compared to 87.9% in 2016. From a total of 599 learners offering AP English, 96.66% achieved a pass mark of 40% or above; all learners offering AP Afrikaans achieved a mark of 40% and above.

Combined Abitur-NSC 2017
The Combined Abitur-NSC is a qualification offered by the German Schools in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. The qualification consists of five subjects assessed by the IEB and seven subjects assessed by the German Education authorities. Through this government-to-government agreement, successful learners in the Combined Abitur-NSC are recognised by German education authorities for entry to German universities and by the South African education authorities for entry to South African universities. Of the 51 candidates who offered this qualification, all passed with entry to degree study. The IEB sees its involvement with this qualification as a means of keeping South African students in touch with global standards and developments. 

A new lens is needed on tertiary education and lifelong learning
Our world offers many new fields of study to explore and fields of work that were not available 20 years ago. Gone are the days when a successful development path meant good high school grades followed by a university degree followed by post-graduate study and then employment with a salaried income in a protected permanent post with guaranteed benefits of pension, housing allowance and medical aid. The modern world is far less certain. More and more we are seeing the traditional paths not necessarily resulting in the expectations our parents had. 

“As the world around us changes, it is inevitable that traditional educational pathways will be challenged and demands will be placed on the mass education system to respond appropriately. The advances in technology have already enabled alternate learning spaces – blended learning, online study. These in turn have exposed the need for the development of new cognitive competencies. Globalisation and the integration of societies across traditional boundaries demand that citizens develop appropriate social and emotional skills to manage a variety of non-traditional relationships effectively. Possibly the most important development is a recognition that the knowledge, skills and abilities nurtured in a traditional educational pathway and at traditional mass education institutions are not the only route to success. As Einstein explained: ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’,” says Anne Oberholzer, CEO of the IEB.

The age of the IT professional has turned the traditional notions of success upside down – Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs all dropped out of university but have contributed enormously to the world we live in today. South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth founded his digital certificate company, Thawte, while still a student. The key to their success was a keen interest in a field that demanded a change in attitude from the traditional ways of acquiring knowledge to an exploratory, entrepreneurial spirit of discovery.

The world of the performing arts and entertainment has many, many examples of people who found that the traditional academic educational pathway was not for them – Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron. Many great sportsmen and women have opted out of traditional routes of schooling to pursue their passion. The very gifted in these areas are already showing their talent and drive as early as 5 or 6 years old but certainly by the time they are in their mid-teens – Mozart, Picasso, Leonardo DiCaprio,  Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. There are many who work in fashion and who knew at an early age that the traditional educational path was not for them – Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Laura Ashley, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ralph Lauren and Bonolo Mataboge, SA founder of the fashion label Afriblossom.   

“It is essential that the young democracy we have in South Africa opens up opportunities to develop the range of talents of our youth – a range of institution-types that cater for the diversity in our society and provide an outlet for the potential that is in our people. The current system directs everyone along the path of an academic school-leaving certificate; then, because of the absence of a range of institution-types to choose from after schooling, and even within the Further Education and Training sector, we lose many young people along the way. It is not useful for everyone to be focussed solely on a university education, possibly neglecting their real strengths in the false belief that a degree is the only vehicle to a secure and successful life. This is no longer the case and more and more, it is those who defy this myth that find the path that releases their talent and their enthusiasm to be the very best they can in a field that has captivated their interest,” explains Anne.

By the time learners have completed their compulsory schooling at the end of Grade 9, there are many who are clear that their specific skills and interests do not lie in the pursuit of academic studies.  

“However we have very limited opportunities for learners whose talents and interests lie outside a traditional classroom and a traditional academic curriculum. Access to a range of specialisation options – sports academies, schools of music and the performing arts, dedicated functional colleges for technical study, construction and mechanics, institutions dedicated to ICT, schools that specialise in Maths, Science and Engineering, hotel and hospitality schools, language schools – are almost unheard of in South Africa and yet specialised schools, comprehensive high schools that accommodate a breadth of opportunities and functional TVET colleges are fairly commonplace in many countries. It is this lack of opportunity to accommodate the diversity of talents among South African learners that contributes to the excessively high number of learners who leave the education system without any qualification at all,” says Anne.

The challenge for schools is no longer the development of only academic skills and the identification of content for success in a specific discipline. In addition to the social and emotional skills required from our young people, they must develop proven characteristics of success, namely perseverance and persistence; problem identification and solution; the tried and tested approaches alongside thinking outside the box, possibly even without the box! 

“Our world is so complex and filled with intractable problems that we need creative, integrated solutions and resilience, so our workforce of the future cannot afford to limit their thinking by defined discipline-specific boundaries. The challenges of our daily lives require more than intelligence and hard work – we need people with humanity, who are mindful and aware, empathetic enough to tackle the ills we face ethically with the resilience and motivation to deal with the challenges, for the greater good of all.

Online marking makes successful local debut in IEB schools
1 September 2017

CSX Customer Services a Metrofile Holdings company, a specialist solutions and support company, piloted a project for the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). The project, which was successfully completed in July 2017, incorporated online marking technology for the marking of the Life Orientation (LO) Common Assessment, written by 11 500 matric students countrywide.

Anne Oberholzer, CEO of the IEB, is satisfied with the outcome of the pilot and says it is an excellent example of the role that the IEB plays in South Africa: “As an independent assessment body we have the flexibility to create new and imaginative assessments or approaches that challenge both teaching practices and the way our learners process information. Furthermore, we are able to explore new initiatives in the approach to examinations in South Africa with minimal disruption to the main system. By investigating the online marking system, the IEB has implemented a project that improves the reliability of marking and benefits teachers and students alike.”

Oberholzer says that online marking has long been utilised by both the Americas and the United Kingdom as well as some countries in Africa and the Caribbean.  The opportunity presented to the IEB by CSX was well timed and opportune for both parties: “CSX had successfully completed an online marking project in Namibia and was looking for a South African educational institution to evaluate the approach. As an assessment body, always looking to innovate and introduce global approaches in South Africa, online marking was a great opportunity to explore and experiment using a methodology that could fundamentally benefit our South African system as a whole. ”

CSX Managing Director, Mario Martins says that the project was the first of its kind in South Africa and was a resounding success: “Not only did the pilot run exactly as expected, it has provided the IEB with an important opportunity to innovate and provide assistance to both teachers and students in the often daunting task of marking.”  

He says that the online marking methodology assists the management of the marking process and has the potential to reduce the time of marking considerably. “In the IEB project printing and scanning was done at CSX’s secure facility and scanning of the 11 500 examination papers took only one day. We marked and scored all the examinations in five days and presented the results and statistics on the sixth day.”

Oberholzer says that LO was selected based on its subjective nature, which does present challenges for managing the marking effectively. 131 teachers from across the country marked the examinations from a central marking centre provided by CSX and its sister-company Global Continuity: “There were several considerations before embarking on this project and IT infrastructure was one of the most important challenges for us. By utilising the CSX hardware, the IEB did not have to invest in any hardware or technology, which was a major consideration for us.”

Martins says that the system was also able to work offline in the event that the internet was down and there were also generators available if power was cut. The information is encrypted and is being stored at Global Continuity for a period of six months or more, as necessary to assist with any remarking requests. 

According to Oberholzer, pedagogically the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. By utilising the online marking system, the IEB is able to monitor the marking process as it unfolds: “As an examination body we were able to track markers, efficiencies and errors far more proficiently. There is also an internal email system, which enables a marker to log a query or communicate directly with the team leader or chief examiner at any time. They also have access to the marking guidelines that includes a full rubric for the essay question while marking.”

Importantly, it is virtually impossible for any examination answer scripts to be misplaced as once scanned, they are in the system automatically. The reliability of the marking has also improved based on the support provided by the marking system. “We are also able to deliver detailed feedback based on the ability of the system to extrapolate meaningful information from the data. For examiners and moderators, the question-by-question data enables them to detect immediately and exactly where a problem has occurred, if that is necessary. We can now give teachers useful feedback regarding the students’ level of knowledge and skill based on their answers to specific questions,” says Oberholzer. She says this is an important aspect for her as the IEB believes in encouraging students to think out of the box and constantly challenge their level of understanding. Meaningful feedback into the teaching and learning cycle is a fundamental aspect of good assessment.

Following the successful completion of the LO pilot project, Oberholzer says that they will embark on a second phase at the end of the year.  This will entail online marking for another three subjects:  Economics, Design and IT Theory: “We are excited to test the system by running an online marking session for three different subjects in one marking centre.”

Martins says he is pleased to have another project through the IEB and is confident that the system will perform as well as it did with the initial project: “We have developed solid methodology with a robust IT system and infrastructure to support the project. Assisting the IEB to introducing a globally comparable online marking system is a privilege and we look forward to building and growing the project into a widely accepted and valued marking approach.” 

Oberholzer says the project is not initially a cost saver – it may well be once it has been implemented fully. However, it is an opportunity for the IEB to introduce a globally accepted standard of online marking to South Africa, which if it proves possible to implement in the state system,  will ultimately benefit the education sector as well as the students: “We believe that a good educational foundation with valid and reliable assessment will equip South Africa with responsible citizens who are global thinkers, have good ethical practices and strive to support and develop South Africa and, indeed Africa. This project is one way in which we strive to achieve this vision and play a positive role in our country and continent.”

Nicola McGowan


IEB - Assessment Matters
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