Never before has an organisation been forced to live by its name as it guides more than a million learners who will sit for the 2020 matric examinations later this year, during a global pandemic.
Umalusi is derived from the Nguni word “shepherd” and also means the guardian of the family’s wealth, and it is the name given to the statutory Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training.
Its mandate is to ensure that learners are assessed by way of standardised quality examinations for matrics each year, the culmination of 12 years of schooling.
But this year has been like no other, said Lucky Ditaunyane, Umalusi’s head of communication.
In an interview with Student360, Ditaunyane said the Pretoria-based body had been forced by the lockdown to improvise and work remotely from home to ensure all the groundwork is done to ensure that the class of 2020 is given a fair chance to write credible exams that will launch them on to the next phase of their young lives.
“As a public entity we have been affected in our core functions by Covid-19, particularly relating to our quality assessments which usually take place around this time time of the year where we send officials to all our provinces to monitor the state of readiness to administer the end of year exams. That has not happened as yet, because of the lockdown.
“Another area of our work affected is the accreditation of independent institutions where officials need to do site visits and interact with principals and teachers, and that has also not happened unfortunately, since the lockdown,” he said.
Fortunately most of the hard work of preparing and setting the examination questions for the class of 2020 had already been completed before the State of Disaster was announced earlier this year.
“This year’s exams will be a combined sitting, including those who were not able to write the supplementary exams in June because of the lockdown,” he said.
In addition to its usual workload, Umalusi has had to draw up two coronavirus protocol documents, one for the health safety of monitors and moderators, and one for its own staff and the stakeholders they interact with in the months ahead.
“Obviously we sympathise with the class of 2020, they did not ask for this health crisis to happen in the most important year in their school careers. It is not easy for all of them, I am sure.
“Our concern is firstly about the safety of learners, and secondly whether or not learners will feel that they are ready to write exams. Having said that, we have been assured by the Department of Basic Education that they will do all they can to salvage this academic year,” he said.
Ditaunyane emphasised that it would not be trimming down on questions, and the papers would be based on the entire curriculum.
“We are on record as saying we will be flexible when considering the different scenarios learners find themselves in, and those who feel they are not ready to write at the end of the year, Umalusi is open to the idea of accommodating them to write in June next year.
“We really sympathise with these learners, who got the short end of the stick, and for this reason we will be flexible in our approach,” he said.
He encouraged learners not to lose focus or momentum because of the disruption to schooling, and to still aim at doing well at the end of the year.
“There is a lot of catching up to do, and learners must rely on the support they get from their teachers and schools, and basically prepare themselves long before exams start, and not wait until the last few weeks.
“We also want to say that we will do whatever we can to ensure that they are not unfairly disadvantaged.
“We want to wish all our learners well in the coming exams, and say to them that despite these circumstances, this is indeed the most important year of their lives and they must make the most of it,” he said.