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They passed, but can't read

By Times Live | January 9th 2014

Adapted from Times Live

Many matric students cannot write in paragraphs, do not understand matric exam questions and are unfamiliar with the key terminology used in their subjects.

In short, many pupils can barely read and write in English.

This was the main finding of the Third National Diagnostic Report into the 2013 matric exams.

Senior markers analysed 100 exam papers from each subject before compiling the report, which is aimed at helping teachers prepare this year's matrics for their final exams. The report also found:

Pupils fared better responding to questions that required short answers. They battled with questions that required longer, more complex answers, and did not use paragraphs in their answers;

Pupils struggled to argue points and substantiate their ideas;

Questions related to the curriculum taught near the end of year were particularly poorly answered, suggesting that teachers had not completed the curriculum; and

Pupils did not understand terms that are standard in most questions such as "quote", "explain" and "analyse".

In the mathematics exam, poor literacy led to "responses that were far removed from the required answer".

Many pupils were also unable to read graphs and maps.

Markers also concluded that many history pupils did not have access to textbooks.

The report made a number of recommendations to teachers, including teaching "assessment vocabulary" so that pupils could understand words like "identify" or "quote" and answer questions appropriately.

Teachers were urged to teach content in greater detail, and to refer to the provided examination guidelines, which set out what content pupils will be tested on in the final exams.

The report further recommended that regular tests be held in class throughout the year.

National and Professional Teachers of South Africa chairman Basil Manuel said the union was not surprised at the low level of literacy in English.

"We must remember that more than 70 per cent of matric pupils are writing in a second language.

"It has long been known that many teachers switch from English to the vernacular to make themselves better understood.

"Teachers in rural areas need opportunities to improve their English skills."

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga is quoted in the report as saying: "Though the class of 2013 has recorded the highest pass rate in six years, the quality of passes in key subjects such as mathematics, physical sciences and accounting are still below desirable levels."

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