Durban - The Department of Basic Education is concerned about the security of exam venues before the matric examinations.

Speaking at a media briefing at the Pretoria head offices of the department on Tuesday, Dr Rufus Poolah, chief director for national assessments, said group copying incidents that occurred in the past two years were a concern.

The KwaZulu-Natal province was implicated in allegations of group copying in 2014 and last year’s national senior certificate examinations.

“Over the years one of the problems has been the security of the papers. Can our schools be trusted as centres for the examinations?” he said.

“We have to be open and honest, the fact that we had group copying in 2014 is an indication that some of our centres cannot be trusted fully. The examinations are high stakes, it determines status of the school in the community.

“There are pressures. Exams at high stakes has to be a strong monitoring component. We have to make sure that across the country, every exam gets monitored. We will use district officials and even appoint independent monitors to make sure there is compliance,” he said.

Poolah said schools categorised as high risk were less than 1% of the cohort and said this was not only a risk posed by public schools, but also independent schools which wrote the DBE-administered final examinations.

“Our risk is highest at our independent centres, not our public schools. There, more independent schools write state exams versus Independent Examinations Board (IEB). Independent schools are profit-making institutions.”

Poolah pointed out this resulted in schools being subjected to additional pressures.

Basic Education Deputy Minister Enver Surty said for the first time, more than 800 000 pupils would sit for the matric exams which commenced on Wednesday with the practical Computer Applications Technology.

There were a total of 827 324 pupils sitting for the exams, amongst them 150 183 part-time pupils – 27 000 more than last year’s total.

The department would print a total of 258 question papers, which equated to more than 11.1 million question papers and 10.7 million answer scripts nationally.

More than 69 000 inviligators have been tasked with overseeing the exams at the 6 797 exam centres.

Elijah Mhlanga, the department spokesman, said also more than 4 700 new teachers who were expected to enter the teaching system from universities could be hampered if they did not complete their examinations this year because of the #FeesMustFall student protests at universities.

He said the 4 700 students were from the Fundza Lushaka bursary scheme, which was funded by the department.

“If they only write exams around March next year, depending on the rearrangement, they will only start working in 2018 – to some extent that will render the year a learning year, this pushes everything back to 2018,” he said.

Surty said the potential loss of the academic year was of great concern to the department and that this would impede access to universities next year, effectively leaving Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges as their only option.

“We are hoping for consultation and resolution (and that students will) try to find common ground. (As for) emerging learners entering the higher education sector itself, we do not want our learners to lose the academic year,” he said.

Surty said lessons could be learnt from the Department of Basic Education’s incremental support through the nutritional feeding programme, which had started with primary schools and quintile one schools, but was now catering to 9.7 million pupils daily at quintile one to three schools.

He added that the department was looking at ways to assist quintile four schools where it had been identified that similar support was needed.

@SihleSays

...

Scope and size of 2016 NSC exams

Total candidates: 827 324

Full-time candidates: 677 141

Part-time candidates: 150 183

Question papers: 258

Printed question papers: 11.1 million

Answer scripts: 10.7 million

Examination centres: 6 797

Invigilators: 69 000

Markers: 47 414

Marking centres: 140