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Matric chaos looms

Wildly varying postponements of matric prelim exams across the country are playing havoc with learner’s preparations for the final exam.

Last week three provinces announced prelims would be postponed and by Wednesday this week another four had done the same, leaving only the Western Cape and Mpumalanga saying they would stick to their original prelim schedules.

But by Wednesday the Mail & Guardian had found that:

  • In the seven provinces postponing prelims, some schools were sticking to the original dates and forging ahead with the exams; and
  • In the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, some schools were postponing their prelims, some were already writing them and some were closed.

That already complex picture changed dramatically on Thursday morning when Mpumalanga answered questions the M&G had sent it the day before. From these answers it was apparent that, despite having made no formal announcement, the province had just joined the other seven in postponing its prelims also.

Exams scheduled to start on Monday next week would now begin on September 13, Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane told the M&G.

Widespread education consensus is that prelim exams are important because they are diagnostic: teachers and learners can use those results to assess individual learners’ gaps that need attention, says Martin Prew, director of the Centre for Education Policy Development.

Prelims are scheduled for August and September to give learners and teachers enough time between the prelims and the finals.

Because South African matric learners have no prior experience of writing nationally set exams, the prelims intended to prepare them for that final barrier gain added significance, Prew said.

The diagnostic function of the exam was being eroded, he added: some teachers will not have enough time to assess the results and use them to prepare for the final exam.

The inconsistent picture regarding prelims that emerged this week from principals around the country who spoke to the M&G suggests learners are already on an uneven playing field in relation to the finals. Principals who spoke to the M&G asked the newspaper not to use their names.

A principal in the Western Cape said he had postponed the exams in his school because the school wanted to accommodate all the learners. “This is a commuter school and our learners are from all over central Cape Town. They tend not to come when there is a strike,” he said.

He said his school would normally write prelim papers set by the province but would now have to set its own because it could not use the papers already written by other schools in the province.

A principal in Mpumalanga said his school had already started writing prelims. But two other schools near his are not functioning, he said.

“And we are supposed to share question papers among ourselves [that is, among schools in the same region],” he said.

In Gauteng, one well-resourced Johannesburg school said it was going ahead with the exams even though the provincial department had postponed the prelims. The principal said the school set its own prelim papers and would stick to the prelim dates it had originally scheduled.

But in two other provinces where officials have postponed prelims, some schools have to follow suit because of the strike-induce disruptions to their programmes.

In one school in the Thabo Mofutsanyana district of the Free State, learners will have to wait for the strike to end before they get a chance to write their prelim exams.

A senior teacher at the school said they were waiting for the provincial department to announce new prelim exam dates and provide the exam papers.

The school was functioning normally — with only three out of 16 teachers still on strike — and could write prelims now, she said. But they had to wait for the exam scripts.

Principals of two schools in the Vhembe district of Limpopo told the M&G they were also waiting for the department to tell them when the prelim exam dates would be.

One principal said his school was still not functional and there was no one at the school. But the other principal, in the Malamulele region, said he hoped that the strike would end on Friday because if it lasted any longer than that his learners would not be able to catch up classes already lost to the strike.

“If the strike ends now we will still stand a chance to make it for the trial exam and for the final. And we just hope that the department will give us at least a week to get ready,” he said.

He said 40% of his learners were at school and the rest were not going to school. He was struggling to get the rest of the learners back to school.

“This strike has taken my learners a few steps back and their confidence has been affected,” he said.

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