Outrage over matric paper rewrites in December

Matric exams anxiety may be overwhelming. Picture: iStock

Taking to social media after the announcement was made, parents and students alike lamented how the decision affects their lives and plans.

Parents and matric students across South Africa have been left outraged after an announcement by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga that maths paper two would be rewritten on Tuesday, 15 December 2020 at 2pm and the physical science exam would be rewritten on Thursday, 17 December 2020 at 9am.

This after three 2020 matric exam papers were leaked and one person was arrested in connection with the leaks.

The decision was taken by the department after consultations with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and key stakeholders such as school governing bodies, school principals associations, teacher unions and the quality assurance agency, Umalusi.

However, news reports on Saturday indicated that unions were also up in arms over the decision.

Taking to social media on after the announcement was made, parents and students alike lamented how the decision affects their lives and plans.

This included having to cancel or amend matric and family holidays leading up to the festive season.

RELATED: Understanding matriculants in the time of Covid-19

According to Motshekga, the maths paper two and physical science exam papers were allegedly leaked through a WhatsApp group shortly before learners sat to write the exams.

This year’s business studies paper was also leaked, however, the department was able to intervene and change the contents of the paper as it was replaced with a backup version.

Because the department had no lead time to resolve the problems caused by the leak of the first two papers, they could not supplement the exam papers with their back up versions, thus necessitating a rewrite.

Why did the department decide to schedule a rewrite?

Speaking after Motshekga, Chief director for national assessment and public examinations at the Department of Basic Education, Rufus Poliah explained the considerations that were made before the department arrived at the decision they did.

“My job is a difficult one and I suppose it’s an even more difficult one for the minister in terms of the decision that has to be made with regard to examination credibility,” said Poliah.

Poliah further explained that the currency of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) is of utmost importance to the department and that they, therefore, cannot afford to let it be tainted by an unfair advantage given to a small group of learners through something like a leaked exam paper.

“Therefore, prior access to a question paper is indeed a serious problem and all our efforts are directed towards making sure that when a leaner sits in an examination room, he is being tested/examined on a question paper that he has had no access to and one that will reflect his achievement and his efforts throughout, not just the year, but throughout the 12 years of teaching and learning.”

Best option available

He then outlined what he calls three key components that are of critical importance to the department with regards to examination security and administration;

  • The guarding of the exam paper at whatever cost,
  • The way in which the exam is administered, and
  • The compliance of the marking and resulting with the standards promulgated in the regulations set out by Umalusi.

“When it was established that these two question papers, together with the business studies, had leaked, we were able to salvage and restore the credibility of the business studies paper.”

“The first step of the department of basic education was to establish the spread of the question paper. Now, the spread of the question paper will determine the extent of the compromise but you and I will agree that given the fact that we are in the 21st century where the electronic media has become the main modality of communication and you and I are fully aware that the electronic transmissions have no boundaries, no provincial boundaries, no national boundaries, so what we then say that what is on social media literally spreads like wildfire.”

He added that this specific set of circumstances presented a challenge in their investigations of the extent of the leak.

“There were at least 195 learners that we established had access to the maths paper,” confirmed Poliah before adding that they were unable to determine the extent to which those 195 would have shared the question paper with others.

He made note of the tight window in which students have to prepare for the rewrite but added that the department did the best they could in the time they had.

Of the three options before them in an effort to remedy the situation caused by the leaks, the rewrite seemed like the best option to the department.

Their other options included treating the subjects on a case by case basis seeing as the physical science exam paper had not spread as far and wide as the maths paper – this would have meant a selected rewrite for science and a national rewrite for maths – as well as no rewrite at all, an option that could have placed the onus on the department to act against the individual learners who would have been found to have cheated.

“A national rewrite is certainly the most acceptable option because there can never be a lingering doubt in the minds of any member of the public that this question paper would have been compromised if you had a rewrite.”

READ NEXT: Cellphones, crib notes, and masks – Lesufi explains how some matrics are trying to cheat

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