/ 14 October 2013

Matric watchdog worried about exams in Limpopo, E Cape

Some pupils in Limpopo will do final exams without in-depth knowledge of their textbooks.
Some pupils in Limpopo will do final exams without in-depth knowledge of their textbooks.

Declaring itself ready for the upcoming matriculation examination, quality assurer Umalusi on Monday said it was concerned about smooth running of the exams in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape – provinces in which the education departments are under administration.

The status of these provinces was "key among … outstanding concerns" ahead of the exams, Umalusi chief executive Mafu Rakometsi told journalists at a media briefing in Johannesburg. This was the body's annual briefing about the state of readiness for the year-end exams, which are 13 days away. 

"Umalusi has recommended to the department of basic education that intensive monitoring of these provinces needs to be instituted to mitigate possible unintended consequences of this situation," said Rakometsi. "For its part, Umalusi will also intensify its monitoring where it deems necessary to do so."

Umalusi is a watchdog body tasked with ensuring that the annual National Senior Certificate assessment is credible and that question papers are fair to matrics. The body monitors the exams and moderates and approves question papers and marks. It does the same for exams written at further education and training colleges. 

After briefing journalists, Rakometsi told the Mail & Guardian Umalusi was "not predicting anything untoward" will jeopardise exams in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. But the "only concern we have is that the two provinces are under administration", he said. 

"We're saying there are risks [of irregularities], and the risks in those provinces are higher because they are under administration. When any [department] is under administration it means the systems are not running well, hence the intervention of the national department of basic education."

Capacity constraints
Education departments in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape have been under administration since 2011, when maladministration was uncovered. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Monday that Limpopo "continues to make progress in managing its human resources budget, which in the main led to the challenges that the province has been facing".

Motshekga said she was "obviously disappointed" that the Limpopo department has received a disclaimer from auditor general Terrence Nombembe. Motshekga, whose office runs Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, said she gathered from Nombembe in a recent meeting that "the reason for the disclaimer was mainly due to the inability to resolve issues raised in previous years mainly due to capacity constraints".

Vacant critical posts in provincial education departments are a worry for Umalusi when it comes to the smooth running of exams, Rakometsi told journalists. "This situation cannot be allowed to continue as it inevitably puts the system under unnecessary additional strain. 

"There are critical budgetary constraints within certain provincial education departments that are coupled with such staff vacancies, which Umalusi believes is an ongoing risk," said Rakometsi.

These concerns aside, Rakometsi said the body is ready for the "mammoth task" of running exams. "Overall, Umalusi is satisfied with the preparations for the end-of-year exams, and is confident that the general education system is adequately prepared to run these assessments successfully," he said.

Mostly "born-frees" born in 1995, 707 136 pupils are registered to write the matric exams this year across 6 699 centres. The number of part-time candidates this year stands at about 130 000, said Umalusi. 

About 65 000 invigilators have been appointed to oversee exams, and there will be more than 35 000 markers in 118 marking centres. 

The body has approved all 130 question papers for the 2013 National Senior Certificate exams, as well as 128 for the supplementary exams scheduled for March next year. "It is a mammoth task to ensure that the system is ready to assess such a large volume of learners in so many examination centres throughout all nine provinces," said Rakometsi.

Mpumalanga, a province in which question papers leaked in previous years, has improved its security, said Rakometsi. "I want to put the matter [of leaks in Mpumalanga] to rest. Mpumalanga has graduated in terms of its systems. Systems [there] are running like a well-oiled machine. They are running their systems with military precision."

But the provincial government should not be complacent, Rakometsi said. "However, it can take just one person to spoil it all for them. That would be so sad."