Reviewing the language compensation policy in the National Senior Certificate

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Peer-Reviewed Research


The National Senior Certificate or “matric” examination is a key point of access to further education and the labour market in South Africa. Since 1999, matric candidates whose first language is not Afrikaans or English and are, therefore, forced to write in a second or third language have received a compensation of five per cent of their original mark in non-language subjects. Whether this policy, which was intended as an interim measure, should continue is a matter of on-going debate. Two questions must be answered for a decision to be made. The first is an empirical question: is there a significant disadvantage facing candidates not writing in their first language? The second is normative: should these candidates receive the compensation? This paper employs several statistical techniques, beginning with a replication of the method used previously by Umalusi (the official education quality assurance council), to arrive at a credible estimate of the language disadvantage faced by candidates qualifying for the compensation. After demonstrating that a language disadvantage does persist, the normative question of whether the policy should be continued is discussed. It is argued that the answer to this question depends on various political, economic and philosophical considerations regarding the fairness and the purpose of the matric examination.