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Single exam board sets poser

A number of state-aided, formerly white South African schools are looking at introducing international school-leaving examinations, because they fear tests setby the state will be of a low standard.

If they do, pupils at the schools taking what is called "matric" in South Africa will end up sitting two sets of examinations: the Government has made it clear that state-aided school pupils will have to take state examinations.

This year pupils will still sit the great variety of school-leaving examinations set by apartheid's 17 different education departments, all now defunct. But from the end of next year all matric pupils will take the same examinations, with some scope for provincial variation.

While everybody agrees that a single education department will lead to an overall improvement in education and examination standards, some schools are worried that the academic level demanded by formerly "good" departments will drop.

A team of principals from two provinces are investigating the feasibility of international options such as British A-levels or a baccalaureat. One principal said: "We don't want to be elitist, but our children must leave school with a certificate of value."

However, international examinations would require big changes to school curricula, which would be difficult to achieve since state-aided schools will be require to follow curricula set by the state.

In any case, most state-aided "white" schools do not seem concerned about future standards, and believe that the current rethink of all aspects of South African education could lead to improvements in teaching and learning.

Sandra Kaye, deputy head of Durban Girls' High School, said: "Instead of looking abroad, schools should direct their efforts at making an input into the new examination system, with a view to ensuring high standards."

Research is currently being done into setting examinations that can be rapidly and accurately marked in large numbers: the real problem seems to be that a single education department might struggle to deal with numbers of papers far higher than any the previous 17 departments ever experienced.

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