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Thursday, July 29, 2021

DBE moves to digital

KEITH MICHAEL|

The department of basic education (DBE) has made efforts to improve efficiencies and harness the vast potential of new technologies in South African education.

The department has had a goal to make the e-marking process more efficient, without risking the quality of the marking itself.

The department said e-marking makes the job of examiners easier and more streamlined reducing time spent on manual administration tasks. The process also allows for optimisation of time in order for teachers examiners to focus on marking.

Its goal is to make the process more efficient, without risking the quality of the marking itself.

Since 2018, the Department engaged Lebone, a local print and scanning services company that works with Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) on printing for educational purposes, to deliver a scheme for the on-screen marking of the matriculation examination. 

E-marking, has been implemented in various schools and the DBE is looking at implementing it throughout the country.

Quite pertinent for its implementation is that there were some cases of Covid-19 being reported at the centres, which caused withdrawals by some of the markers.

An estimated 2676 markers withdrew from marking due to anxiety and fear around the pandemic.

2020 was a tough year for matriculants in South Africa and we are happy it is behind us. This is despite our students prospering against the odds.

It is also commendable to note the amount of preparation the department put into ensuring that students adjust to the new situation. The final matric examinations papers were written on 15 December 2020. The Department of Basic Education reported that a total of 578,468 students sat and wrote the exams. 

This involved 45,000 matric exam markers, 216 question papers, and over 10 million scripts.

The DBE put health and safety at the forefront and continues to work steadily and consistently to improve the key performance areas of the basic education system. Since 2018, the Department engaged Lebone, a local print and scanning services company that works with GDE on printing for educational purposes, to deliver a scheme for the on-screen marking of the matriculation examination. This is driven by the department’s ongoing efforts to improve efficiencies and harness the vast potential of new technologies in South African education.

E-marking, which is the marking of any type of assessment, anywhere and on a wide range of devices, has been implemented in various schools and the DBE is looking at implementing it throughout the country. Quite pertinent for its implementation as, although the marking of the question papers was successful, there were some cases of Covid-19 being reported at the centres and withdrawals by some of the markers. An estimated 2676 markers withdrew from marking due to anxiety and fear around the pandemic.

A series of non-live pilots to test the systems and processes, with scripts being dual marked with both the traditional and on-screen marking method was implemented by GDE during 2019. Following this success and despite the impact of COVID-19, live e-marking of 60,000 exam scripts was successfully undertaken in 2020. This included scripts for both the Senior Certificate and National Senior Certificate exam papers. The project was closely scrutinized by both DBE and Umalusi, to ensure that no student was disadvantaged during the pilot and live marking stages of the exam.

E-marking not only allows markers to do work in the comfort of their homes- safely, it instantly cuts substantial chunks of the workload, allowing the markers to manage, rather than administrate the process. It has been shown to halve the time it takes to complete the assessment of exams, in some cases enabling faster results issuing.

With e-marking, it’s easy to spot trends in questions and subjects that are proving difficult for students, providing the opportunity to intervene and make continuous improvements for the future.

The markers are vetted in terms of experience, qualification and the number of years they have been a marker. Pay marker, which is related to the appointment of markers.  These two products are part of a project that has been in the making for the past two years and is 80% automated.

The markers then receive online training which takes approximately a day to complete. The system categorizes the markers based on experience. There are three different types of markers: chief marker, senior marker, and junior-mid marker. The training takes a day and very easy to understand.

The system has three firewalls built around it and it operates on the cloud. The teachers use a security protected log-in details and if the details are leaked, the system can ascertain where exactly the security leak comes from. In e-marking, once students have written the script these are sent to a central location where they are scanned and the digital images are uploaded into the marking system. The scripts are anonymised and the examiners are able to t securely mark the exam scripts on a computer screen.

The DBE had a goal of making the process more efficient, without risking the quality of the marking itself. The benefits have been to make the job of examiners easier and more streamlined; reducing time spent on manual administration tasks and allows them to optimise their time to focus on marking.

Your examiners can work anywhere in the world, at any time. They’re not restricted by travel or opening and closing times of assessment centres. This flexibility and ease of access to exam papers speeds up your processes and improves efficiency. A short training course delivered by the Lebone team was simple enough to enable all examiners to embark upon their task. The on-screen marking software is usable on various devices including computers and tablets, so examiners were able to use whichever device they felt most comfortable with.

Examiner satisfaction was consistently high, all examiners agreed that the on-screen marking system was easy to use, made it easier to track their workload, and enabled them to complete their tasks faster. Examiners regularly mentioned that one benefit is the automatic tally of total marks, eliminating the need for manual adding and checking on each paper.

E-marking increases the quality of your results, providing essential reassurance, and delivers rich data sets for education policy makers to inform the future of education around the world. Lebone engaged an international service provider to use their on-screen marking platform, to meet the requirements of the project. Lebone and GDE facilitated the successful introduction of on-screen marking in the Gauteng province, paving the way for this technology to be adopted more widely in South Africa and creating a more efficient and inclusive high quality marking process for one of the most important examinations in the country.

On-screen marking has real potential for the South African education system. It is universally popular with examiners and proven to deliver no bias to results, e-marking has the scope to revolutionise the way exams are marked across the country, delivering fair and accurate results by using innovations in technology.

Keith Michael is CEO Lebone Litho Printers

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