Africa is emerging from its history of colonisation and is fast becoming a continent of innovation and development.
Hence it is not surprising that it is beginning to claim its place at the table of global education. Indeed, for too long Africa has taken its lead in education from other continents and has not exploited its strengths and uniqueness in the education of its own children.
In 2014, education authorities in South Africa signalled that the National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification would no longer be offered to learners outside the borders of the country. In response to this change in policy, the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) was motivated to develop a qualification to accommodate schools in Eswati, Mozambique and Namibia that have been registered with the IEB and writing the NSC since its inception.
That was the trigger for the birth of the IEB International Secondary Certificate (IEB ISC) for students outside of South Africa. This is a qualification that certifies achievement at the conclusion of 12 years of schooling and serves as an indicator of preparedness for further study at the tertiary level.
This assessment at the end of the 12th year of study is based on a curriculum which covers schooling of students from Grade R (Reception Year) to Grade 12. The curriculum references perspectives, cultures and languages that have their roots in Africa, so that understanding of key concepts is embedded in contexts familiar to students.
Language study accommodates languages familiar to the students and where practicable, the home language of students is used in teaching, learning and assessment. Built into the qualification are Further Studies courses aimed at talented students with specific areas of interest in key disciplines. These provide a more in-depth exploration of the discipline of study with the expectation of an increased understanding and capability.
Evaluated and approved
The curriculum and assessment documentation for the IEB ISC has been evaluated by Universities South Africa (USAF) and has been approved as an acceptable school-leaving qualification that enables successful applicants to South African universities to proceed with tertiary study in this country. Hence successful IEB ISC students from outside South Africa will enjoy the same opportunity to access South African universities as IEB NSC students in South Africa have.
Furthermore, the United Kingdom National Information Centre for global qualifications and skills (UK ENIC) has conducted an evaluation of the International Secondary Certificate qualification. UK ENIC is the national agency appointed by the UK Government to provide official information and expert opinion on international qualifications in the UK. That report states that the ISC subjects are broadly comparable to the GCE Advanced Subsidiary level, with the Further Studies Programmes comparable to GCE A-level.
In a world of fake news, there is a need to assure society that quality assessment is of primary concern to the IEB. To that end the IEB has established an arms-length relationship with Stellenbosch University, a well-established university in the Western Cape, with an international reputation for quality education. The Stellenbosch University Unit for International Credentialling (SU-UIC) conducts external quality assurance processes for the ISC.
This quality assurance process ensures that the prescriptions for examination procedures and processes, including external moderation of examination papers, are in place and implemented as required. In addition, appropriate feedback is provided to educational institutions that offer provisioning for the ISC. Hence a school-leaver examined against the ISC of the IEB receives a certificate with results endorsed by Stellenbosch University, once it is satisfied that its quality assurance processes have been fully met.
The positive impact of good assessment
The IEB believes that it is through the assessment of the curriculum that its true worth and value as an educating tool can be exploited. The way in which a question is asked will either encourage the ‘opening up’ of young minds to see new ideas and possibilities or it will focus the mind narrowly onto the facts taught and presumably learnt during the year.
The approach in assessment can either offer learners an opportunity to express their own opinions and show that they have used sound thinking skills and a reliable knowledge base to come to their conclusions, or, at the other end of the scale, it will encourage the regurgitation of learnt opinions.
The IEB aims to harness the positive impact of good assessment techniques on learning and teaching and, through its instruments, open the minds of teachers and learners to the higher order thinking skills encouraged in the curriculum and required in our modern world. Schools have indicated to the IEB that parents choose IEB educational institutions because of the IEB school leaving examination encourages the development of students who are well-prepared for the rigours of tertiary study.
The IEB draws its examination candidates from the independent school sector. Schools are required to abide by the legal obligations of the state authorities in which they operate. Before a school is registered as an examination centre, the IEB conducts its own approval process, which includes a consideration not only of the facilities, but also the processes of teaching and learning. This assures the public that the schools offering the ISC are committed to offering students the very best standards of teaching and support, both in terms of physical resources and learning support.
The IEB has been examining the national South African school-leaving qualification since its inception in 1989, and offers a variety of assessments for learners at schools from Grade 3 through to Grade 12. These assessments focus on the skills and understanding of concepts that are essential in the formation of a bedrock for further learning.
The IEB has a reputation for consistently applying rigour in the development of assessment and examination question papers that reflect the standard that the IEB claims. The IEB has efficient and effective assessment systems that are underpinned by sound values and the internalisation of such values by all who participate in the management and administration of assessments. The ISC is subject to the same degree of rigour.