/ 16 December 2022

Matric exam fraud does not bring into question credibility of exam papers, say unions

Examination fraud involving dozens of teachers in Mpumalanga is a cause for serious concern, but does not affect the credibility of the national senior examinations, according to teacher unions. 

Teachers in the Manyeleti circuit in the Bohlabela education district are prohibited from marking matric exams following allegations of fraud involving teachers and learners. 

Allegations that matric learners paid teachers to provide answers to exam papers on WhatsApp groups surfaced about a week ago. 

Walter Hlaise, the provincial secretary for the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in Mpumalanga,said the union viewed the allegations in a serious light. 

This was the first time allegations had been made of “teachers … actively [assisting] learners to cheat, it is shocking to us, and we strongly condemn it”.

Hlaise emphasised that the alleged fraud was limited to the Manyeleti circuit. 

The provincial secretary called on the department of basic education to “speed up” the investigation into the alleged cheating. 

An investigation was launched by the national department in collaboration with the provincial education department. 

“The department is disturbed that there are people and forces who are hell bent to do anything and everything to bypass systems put in place to uphold the credibility and integrity of the public examinations,” the provincial department said in a statement.

Jaco Deacon, chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), said the credibility of the overall national matric exam was “not in question as of now”. 

Sadtu’s national deputy general secretary, Nkosana Dolopi, said: “We are talking about more than 700 000 learners who enrolled [for matric]. We must be fair to those learners who spent so much time preparing for the examinations. 

“We are condemning those who tried to drag this whole examination through the mud through whatever wrong they have done,” but, added Dolopi, for the most part “proper security measures and protocols” were followed. 

The National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) agreed that more stringent measures had been put in place following a 2020 incident when two exam papers were leaked during the printing process. 

Naptosa’s executive director, Basil Manuel, said that although the “continuous cycle” of exam fraud does not bring into question the credibility of the paper itself, it “could lead to people questioning the credibility of the exam” because they only know of those who were caught. 

Manuel said he considered the recent incident as a “completely new phenomenon where we are seeing a large number of teachers cheating”. 

The incident involved invigilators and a “sophisticated method”  was followed to ensure that learners had their cellphones and teachers had the papers before the exam started. 

“My mind tells me how organised this syndicate was, and that worries me,” said Manuel.

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the national education department, confirmed that the investigation into the alleged fraud was underway, and that the scripts of the implicated schools had been taken for investigative marking and analysis. 

He reiterated that the investigation ise limited to Mpumalanga, not in six provinces as reported. The number of implicated learners and teachers has not yet been confirmed. 

Fedsas said it expected further feedback from the department during a 23 December meeting.