Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga has dismissed claims that officials in her department misled Parliament after they presented a key report showing that the performance of teachers was getting worse in SA, while pupil performance had improved.

Last week officials from the department presented to MPs a key Africa-wide report by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (Sacmeq) on education outcomes.

The officials highlighted that the performance of grade 6 pupils had improved in the key subjects of maths and English. But they could not explain the stated improvement in pupil performance while at the same time teacher performance had dipped.

READ THIS: Parliament has been misled about teacher and pupil performance, expert says

According to education researcher and former Sacmeq consultant Nic Spaull this anomaly was because weaker pupils were excluded from the final results, thereby inflating the score. Spaull recently resigned from Sacmeq, citing concerns with the "comparability and validity of the findings".

Speaking during a media briefing on Sunday following a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers, Motshekga said a preliminary report had been presented to MPs. "The final Sacmeq report has not yet been released. The results are currently undergoing a verification process and once this has been finalised we will release the full report to the public."

The minister said the department had been in possession of the preliminary results since January but had not been able to release them to the public. "The presentation given to the basic education portfolio committee was on the preliminary results and it was made clear to the committee that it was not the final report."

She said the department would meet Sacmeq on September 22 in a bid to conclude processes relating to the release of the results.

"We use these reports not only to pit ourselves against other countries but also to inform interventions in the system based on the findings therein. This makes it very important to ensure that the data we use is of the utmost integrity," said Motshekga.

Last week, Spaull maintained there was no scientific basis for the department to claim an improvement in pupil performance because the results of the previous and current studies could not be compared. "The principal grounds for my technical concerns and subsequent resignation was the noncomparability of the results between Sacmeq III [the previous report] and Sacmeq IV [the current report tabled in Parliament] because of the different methodologies employed when calculating test scores between Sacmeq III and Sacmeq IV, and particularly the fact that weaker students had been excluded from the final results in the process. This does not seem to have been addressed, since the results presented to Parliament were the same as those that I identified as problematic," said Spaull.

He raised these concerns with the department but his concerns were ignored. "Yes, someone can say the department misled Parliament … they were well aware of these concerns, but they did not reveal this to MPs." Spaull said it was disingenuous for the department to argue that the report was a "preliminary report".

Sacmeq measures grade 6 pupils and teachers’ basic reading and mathematics skills across 15 countries on the continent, including Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Sacmeq is a consortium of education ministries, policy makers and researchers who, in conjunction with Unesco, aim to improve the research capacity and technical skills of educational planners and to provide policy-relevant information on the quality of education in participating countries.

The latest study was conducted in 2013 but its results were made available only last week. SA was involved in Sacmeq tests in 2000, 2007 and 2013, but teachers have been tested only in the past two examinations.

The report showed pupils improved between the 2007 and 2013 tests "off a very low base", but teachers’ maths and reading scores regressed. Against the Sacmeq centre point of 500, pupils in SA for the first time achieved a mean score above the centre point with 558 in reading and 587 in maths.

"The gains in the Sacmeq reading and mathematics scores between 2007 and 2013 are so unbelievably large that they would make SA the fastest-improving education system in the world," said Spaull.