/ 4 November 2016

​Mystery of the WhatsApped matric maths exam

Matric learners searching for their names on newspapers during the release of the 2014 results at a service station in Dobsonville
Matric learners searching for their names on newspapers during the release of the 2014 results at a service station in Dobsonville

The “whistle-blowers” of a leaked matric maths examination paper now face having their results blocked by education authorities.

The paper was leaked to some schools in Limpopo prior to pupils sitting for the exam on Monday.

Professor John Volmink, who chairs the council of Umalusi, the matric exams quality assurance body, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the leak of the question paper.

He said that Umalusi would routinely block the results of a centre or centres implicated in exam irregularities — and that sometimes results would have to be blocked nationally.

“We sometimes have to block a district or a province, or even the whole country’s results, if it becomes clear that it has spread and that people have had access to the exams. We look at scripts and patterns and if there’s any reason to doubt it, we block it.”

But he said it was too early to say whether the entire country’s results for maths paper two would be blocked.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a parent of a child attending Giyani High School in Limpopo said a pupil at the school was the first to receive pictures of the question paper as a WhatsApp message on Sunday.

He said the sender of the message asked the pupil to help provide answers to some of the questions in the paper.

“The learner innocently sent it to other learners from one of the classes who belonged to a WhatsApp study group. They [the group] did not know that the picture of the question paper was the real question paper that they would be sitting for the following day.”

He said that the pupils simply ignored it. “Those who received it did not take it seriously. Some of them did not even look at it and said they were going ahead with their studies,” said the parent.

The parent was adamant that pupils from Giyani High did not leak the paper to matrics at other schools, adding: “Our learners were actually the whistle-blowers.”

After writing the paper, matrics voiced concern that it was identical to the one in the WhatsApp message.

“They brought it to the attention of the invigilators and some of them also reported the matter to their maths teachers. The department of education in Giyani was alerted immediately,” the parent said.

Edwin Chabalala, principal of Giyani High, declined to comment.

A total of 124 matrics from Giyani High wrote maths paper two on Monday, and 287 453 candidates were due to write it nationally.

Limpopo’s matrics signed a pledge last month, undertaking to avoid cheating and dishonesty in the exams.

Volmink said the Hawks had launched an investigation and that Umalusi would receive a report on this in due course.

“At this point we are simply noting it [the exam leak] and we will take action once we know that the integrity of the exam has been compromised,” he said.

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the department of basic education, said that they would “quarantine” exam scripts from schools in the Mopani area of Limpopo to establish whether there were any patterns suggesting cheating.

“A team from [the department] and province are working together with law enforcement to get to the bottom of this matter so that we can take appropriate action,” he said.