Alison Immelman

    HOD, Westering High School, PE

    I’d like you to imagine the following: A businessperson or teacher or journalist is required to write a report or prepare a lesson.  She will be given one hour to do this task, with no access to shared ideas, dictionaries or the internet, and not even Microsoft and Bill Gates.  She will not have time to do the work in rough, certainly no time to edit, and scarcely even time to do adequate proofreading.  Oh, and by the way, she will be writing this during the graveyard session from 2 – 3 pm after doing a similar, though longer, exercise in the morning.

    That is what we are demanding of our young learners since the curriculum experts, in their wisdom, reinstated the writing paper as part of the FET exam process.  And indeed, in 2 ½ hours, the learners are required to write an essay, a medium piece, and a short piece.  Bear in mind that the marks that most learners score are within a range over the three pieces – and the obvious over assessment strikes me as ‘intolerable cruelty’.

    The reasons cited by Penny Vinjevold, the [former] DDG, are as follows:

    • Teachers are not teaching writing.  In fact she would prefer that there was more emphasis on writing, that learners should write every day, and that it is possible to assess a piece of writing by reading the first and last paragraph.  (Would that the department would only look at the 1st and last pages of my master portfolio!)
    • That employers are not interested in employees who can talk, but only those who can write (hence the side issue of the absurd under-representation of oral work in the CASS).

    Consider the following:  In KZN, English teachers have been engaged in process writing at least since 1992.  In other provinces, it has been for at least the last 6 years. My own experience is that it works.  Although the learners did admittedly write fewer pieces, they produced quality work. And essays became a pleasure to mark because the learners learnt to edit and perfect their work.  I can’t help feeling that we need to take a step back and learn to value quality over quantity.

    Concern has also been expressed is that the writing is not the learners’ own work.  Here’s the news – teachers are not idiots.  And one or two control pieces can quickly establish the capacity of an individual learner.  Googling the rest provides proof of plagiarism.  And surely, we should rather be concerned with the welfare of the majority, and deal with the delinquents as they arise, rather than penalise the hardworking, law-abiding learners and teachers.

    My major concern is for the learners.  My own Grade 11 daughter gets 90% for English, and she can write like a dream.  But she is so over-worked, over-assessed and over-stressed that she scarcely looks at a piece of marked work before it is consigned to her portfolio.  What kind of learning experience is that?

    But I’m also concerned about myself and my fellow language teachers.  My exam marking load in June increased by some 150 pieces.  My young colleague at a Port Elizabeth school marks 3 800 pieces over a single year.  (That is 14 pieces every day over a 40-week school year – which, or course, isn’t the real picture, anyway!).  It doesn’t make me feel better to be told that I chose to be an English teacher and therefore I must accept what goes with the territory.

    I beg you to consider our high school learners and their somewhat stressed teachers and support our suggestion that this exam format should be reconsidered urgently.

    [Originally published in Naptosa INsight, April 2009]

    Categories: Issue I