Holes plugged to stop exam leaks

The department of basic education is not ready to hand over the complete running of the matric exams to the Mpumalanga department of education as the province is not yet up to it, according to Angie Motshekga, the minister of basic education.

Early last year, following the leaking of some of the 2009 grade 12 examination papers in the province, Motshekga deployed a team of senior officials to take charge of the province’s examination unit.

Announcing her decision to keep the team on in the province, Motshekga said it would remain there until she was satisfied that proper systems were in place and that the examination unit had been properly established.

Granville Whittle, the department’s spokesperson, said the readiness of the Mpumalanga provincial department would be assessed and it would only take complete control of the management of the examination when it had adequate capacity. Until then, the national department “will still maintain a presence in the province and ensure rigorous monitoring and support”.

Whittle said the success of the 2010 final matric exams was owed to the joint management of both the national and Mpumalanga education departments.

The recent 2010 supplementary examinations were managed jointly but this year’s matric exam would be managed by the Mpumalanga department, with the national department providing support. Some of the preventative measures to ensure the integrity of the examinations included a “thorough review of all systems and processes”.

Whittle said the department had sent senior officials to each of the province’s four regions to work closely with district directors and provide management and operational support. More importantly, the department was managing the printing of the question papers, the packing and how they were distributed. “Question papers were delivered on a daily basis to schools and this minimised the security risks,” he said.

The province had appointed new staff at management level to take charge of the examinations and they would be trained before they assumed their management functions. They would form the core of staff who would manage the examination process this year.

Meanwhile, the department, which suspended about 50 officials employed in the exam unit following the leaking of some matric exam papers in 2009, is embroiled in a dispute with the Mpumalanga branch of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. The union is challenging the suspension of the officials and is pushing for their reinstatement.

But the department is refusing to re-employ them in the examination unit because they could compromise the integrity of the exams. Instead, it is proposing to deploy them in other units of the provincial education department.

Referring to the appointment of new staff, Whittle said: “In setting up the new examination system, the department will ensure that all officials engaged in examinations are security cleared and therefore do not bring with them an element of doubt that may tarnish the image of future examinations in the province.”

Last year, an official closely involved in the systems evaluation process of the exam unit told the Teacher that a highly sophisticated security system that would be difficult to bypass had been installed. The official said the new system had been equipped with security features that would make it “impossible” to copy or download exam papers electronically.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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