‘Little control’ over what homeschoolers do – Sacai

Henry

The poor exam results of many Sacai learners can possibly be attributed to faulty regulation of service providers and tutors, who fail to get learners exam ready, rather than flaws in Sacai’s own exam process.

This is what role players in distance education, including Sacai’s management, say after numerous complaints from outraged parents about what they consider to be “malpractices” during the preparation and marking of the 2023 final exams.

Sacai registers candidates registered with distance education providers and independent schools and is responsible for the administration of the final examination taken by these learners.

“As far as home school learners are concerned, Sacai has almost no control over how grades are achieved during the year or how much help learners receive from parents or tutors,” Chris Klopper, operational manager of Sacai, told RNews last week. “On the other hand, there are extremely strict measures and processes that Sacai must comply with when preparing and marking papers for the final exam.”

The dissatisfaction arose after a significant number of 2023 matriculants’ final results differed by as much as 40% from their year mark (SBA mark), with the result that students lost their scholarships or selection to universities, or unexpectedly failed.

Klopper now says it is more likely that the SBA mark does not accurately reflect the learner’s abilities, which then causes learners to be disappointed with the final exam mark.

Pieter Rousseau, owner of distance learning provider Elroi Academy, agrees. Elroi is one of about 43 service providers registered with Sacai to provide distance learning up to gr. 12 to provide.

“Sacai and Umalusi have an incredibly strict quality control process in place when it comes to setting and marking papers.”

RNews reported earlier that only five out of the 46 matric papers that Umalusi studied were accepted in the first round. Regarding guidelines for marking answer sets, only 31% of the marking guidelines during the first round of moderation corresponded to the relevant papers. However, Umalusi was satisfied with the final papers and marking guidelines presented to the organization.

According to Rousseau, the fact that so many papers and memoranda were rejected in the first round is proof of the strict process that is followed. He believes that the problem lies rather with year marks which are too high, as Umalusi is not so closely involved in the regulation of papers and assignments that the various service providers prepare and mark throughout the year.

RNews spoke confidentially with a teacher from Mpumalanga, who marked answer sets from 2020 to 2023 for a distance education provider connected to Sacai. The answer sets were those of learners from gr. 10 to gr. 12, who throughout the year wrote papers set by this provider. “I could clearly see that learners were copying each other. The content of papers was also exactly the same year after year.” She also says that when it becomes clear that learners are doing poorly in one question, the memorandum is adjusted to ensure that learners do get points for their answers. “The last 30% of learners whose answer sets are marked get almost full marks.”

Dr. Huw Davies, vice-chairman of the Sacai board, explains that Umalusi does moderate assignments and papers prepared by service providers, in an effort to ensure quality teaching throughout the year. However, he reiterates that Sacai has no control over how these points are achieved. “Unfortunately, there is also little that Sacai can do to deal with this problem.”

Klopper believes that the controversial draft amendments to the Education Act (Bela) can indeed make a difference, by establishing strict regulations for the regulation of home schooling.

However, Rousseau is not convinced that Bela will pay attention to this particular problem. He believes that in order to maintain the integrity of the qualification, it is essential that all the role players, including Sacai and the service providers, work to ensure the integrity of internal assessments, through good assessment policy. “Many of the service providers are doing exactly that, with success.”

Regulation of tutors also a problem

Some learners from distance learning institutions make use of tutors to help them teach. Exams, apart from the final exam, are also taken under the supervision of a tutor. However, service providers must ensure that the circumstances under which the papers are taken are of such a nature that the integrity of the examination is preserved.

Rousseau admits that there is room for irregularities, as not all institutions regulate this process strictly enough. “Tutors also do not want the learners to do poorly because they are being paid by the parent. There would therefore be a motive for the tutor to unlawfully assist the learner during the examination.”

He says Elroi Academy has very strict measures regarding the use of tutor centres, as well as an internal committee that investigates irregularities. “Almost all the cases investigated are for learners who wrote under tutors’ supervision. I think because we apply such a strict internal assessment policy and deal with irregularities immediately, Elroi generally did not see significant differences in our year marks and final exam marks.”

Klopper agrees that unregulated tutors are a big problem. “There are very few guidelines for tutors. Sacai has no control over tutors and it is absolutely the clients’ (parents’) responsibility to ensure a tutor has the right qualifications and background to teach their child.”

Klopper says Sacai will do its best to give good guidance and advice to its service providers, to prevent inappropriate academic expectations being created in the future for learners due to inaccurate year marks. Learners who are connected to distance learning providers are also encouraged to attend Sacai’s annual winter school, where attention will be given to making learners exam ready.