Nica Richards
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
7 Dec 2020
2:32 pm

Legal battle not good for matric learners, rewrite ‘only fair decision’, says PEU

Nica Richards

Although the union said it was 'greatly pained' by the rewrite decision, it 'remains the only fair option that can be given to our learners under the circumstances' - especially because it is not known how many learners had seen the leaked papers. 

Picture: Nigel Sibanda

An urgent court application being filed by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) following the education department’s decision to have matric learners rewrite two examinations may not be the most sustainable course of action for learners in the long term. 

This was the opinion of the Professional Educators’ Union (PEU) general secretary Ben Machipi, who reiterated the union’s stance on advocating for a mass rewrite as the only fair decision. 

Mathematics paper two and Physical Science paper two were reportedly leaked last week.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga reported the leaks on 18 November, and said the maths paper two exam would be written on 15 December, and the physical science paper two on 17 December.

On 4 December, more than 80% of matric exams had been written, and things were going smoothly, until the dreaded leaks. 

The department said last week there were rumours of a business studies exam also being leaked, but that the paper was quickly replaced. 

Sadtu has committed to fighting the department’s decision to have all matric learners rewrite their exams.

Although the PEU said it was “greatly pained” by Motshekga’s decision, “a rewrite remains the only fair option that can be given to our learners under the circumstances”, especially because it is not known how many learners had seen the leaked papers. 

Umalusi, the country’s education quality assurance agency, made the call that exam papers must be redone, something that should not be taken lightly, Machipi continued. 

“When they say papers must be rewritten, because the reputation [of the exam] is irrevocably damaged, that is a big statement.”

Taking the court route 

Machipi said taking Umalusi and the department’s decision to court could affect the learners who have yet to complete their exams. It will also likely impact when they receive their final results, which could affect their enrolment into tertiary institutions, Machipi explained. 

“At the end of the day, they won’t get their results. There is no way Umalusi would release the results of affected learners, even if unions win.”

The credibility of the exams, and by proxy the credibility of the learners who wrote the leaked exam papers, could also be at risk. This is because public perception may drift towards scepticism, especially of learners that score high or full marks for the leaked papers. 

Skewed perceptions

Machipi said learners who do well may be made to feel as though they had seen the question paper beforehand, even if this was not the case. 

Others may feel that it was because of the leak that learners did well. 

“Learners furthering their studies along maths and science will always be looked at with questioning, and will have dark clouds hanging over their heads, if there is not a fair rewrite. It is revision, after all.”

Going the legal route does not have the desired “domino-effect that the DBE court battle won means that everyone wins.” 

He said unions would have to take Umalusi to court as well, which could mean learners still awaiting their results, while their peers are already enrolled and starting classes at university level.

He said the PEU’s stance does not mean the union does not have “fighting spirit” for learners, but said their viewpoint was acting out of interest for the future of learners in the long-term. 

The department has enlisted the services of a national investigation task team, operating under the national examinations irregularities committee, to investigate the leaks. 

So far, a worker from a company contracted by the department to print exam papers, Themba Daniel Shikwambana, has been arrested for allegedly leaking maths paper two, and was released on R1 000 bail last week. His case will continue on 27 January 2021.

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