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There is no honour in leaking a matric exam paper

What is it about the matric mathematics paper two that it was so easy to leak? 

On Monday the department of basic education said learners in Limpopo and Gauteng had access to the maths exam paper. It has since emerged that learners in eight provinces saw the paper, which was shared on WhatsApp. The learners got the leak just hours before the exam was written. 

A similar statement had been sent out in 2016, when maths paper two also landed in the hands of learners in Limpopo. 

A leak of any exam paper is not good. A leak of a matric exam paper makes a mockery of this all-important examination in the school system. 

Besides the isolated incident in 2016 and the big group copying scandal in 2014 that involved 58 schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the national senior certificate (NSC) exams have been without scandal. 

To have had this leak on Monday is messing with the work that has been done by the basic education department and quality assurer Umalusi in making sure that the matric exams are of impeccable standard. 

The matric class of 2020 is under more pressure than usual because they prepared for and are writing their exams under the Covid-19 pandemic regulations. This leak is the last distraction they need. Depending on what investigations by the department and law enforcement agencies uncover, there is a possibility that learners in the provinces where the paper was seen before the exam might have to rewrite maths two. This is probably making the learners more anxious while they still have to focus on writing other subjects. 

All of this because of the stupidity of an adult who was entrusted with the security of the paper but thought it a genius idea to leak it. It would be naive to think that all learners who were exposed to this leaked paper were going to look away and not take advantage of the opportunity. 

Kudos to those who did not and who also alerted the department to the leak. 

But the leak also speaks to fundamental problems in this country where many people — especially those who have big responsibilities in society — lack integrity and honesty. No one who respects the rule of law and appreciates the seriousness of the matric exams would leak an exam paper. But when you entrust rogue elements with serious responsibilities this is what you get. 

In their statement the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, put it aptly when they said: “For the credibility and integrity of the NSC examinations it is important that everyone involved in this breach be exposed and dealt with swiftly and harshly.” 

Matric exams are not easy and come with a lot of anxieties, so matriculants are likely to jump at an opportunity to make even one subject easier. But these learners also sign a pledge that they will conduct themselves honestly. So the department, as it has been with earlier leaks, must also deal harshly with those learners found to have acted dishonestly. 

A learner who is found cheating in a matric exam faces a three-year ban from rewriting. Those caught with a leaked paper face arrest and will start life after school with a criminal record. Cheating in any way is not worth it. Dishonesty in just one subject could determine the direction the learner’s life is likely to take. 

The department has tightened its controls to prevent leaks. Investigations into this latest incident need to find any gaps that could have allowed this leak. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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