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Durban - With just weeks to go before matric pupils write the biggest exams of their school lives, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has assured candidates that everything possible has been done to prevent leaks.
“All systems have been beefed up. The only thing that could happen is the human element,” department spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, said.
“Cameras have been installed, gates added and more security employed. It’s like a maximum-security prison.”
The department has warned that those found with leaked papers or cheating on their exams would be punished.
Last year the department’s district examinations and irregularities committee barred three pupils caught with leaked matric exam papers last year from writing exams for up to three years.
A Durban High School invigilator caught one of the pupils with the paper during the exams last year.
The candidate who was given a three-year suspension was accused of accessing several stolen question papers. All his exam results were declared null and void.
His co-conspirators were suspended for two years and their Economics results were declared null and void.
The candidate caught by the invigilator had access to a page of the Economics paper with the answers written on it.
Mahlambi said pupils had been forewarned about the consequences of cheating.
“When learners receive their (exam) timetables, it is indicated that this is one of the things that could happen. It’s not an unusual sentence, it can be anything up to five years.”
He said all security measures were in place for this year’s exams with regards to the papers and the marking centres.
Commenting on the sentence handed down to the boys, the Governing Body Foundation’s national chief executive, Tim Gordon, said this form of suspension for pupils caught with exam papers, crib notes or copying was usual.
However, Vee Gani, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Parents Association for the south Durban region, called for rehabilitation rather than punishment in these cases.
“The boys may be out of touch with the syllabus when they can write the exams (when their suspensions are lifted),” he said.
“They should rather be rehabilitated than punished, because this perpetuates the notion of not getting an education.”
Professor Mary Metcalfe, head of the education department at Wits University, agreed with the sentencing.
“There have to be very strong actions taken when matric papers are stolen and sold, as the consequences for the system are very serious,” she said.
“Harsh as it may be, this sends a very strong message that the risks of procuring matric papers are extremely high, and in this case it sends a strong message to any other learner who might face this choice – that there are serious consequences.”
Metcalfe, a former director-general of the Department of Higher Education, said: “All pupils writing the (exams) need to be aware that the consequences (of having stolen papers) are significant, so that you kill the ‘market’ as you work with the police to stop the ‘supply side’.”
Dr Vimolan Mudaly, senior lecturer at the University of KZN’s School of Education, agreed the sentence was appropriate as the department needed to ensure it did not happen again.
“The matric examinations are a high-stakes summative assessment, and the actions of a few may have jeopardised the future of thousands of others who have planned and prepared well,” he said. “There is merit in such punitive punishment, especially in a society where corruption is rampant.”
Mudaly said he believed that the department had good control of the matric examinations, and did not think it could have averted the scandal.
“Having served in the Department of Education for many years, especially in the examination sector, I can attest to the stringent rules that are in place to prevent leakage of papers,” he said.
“What these offenders don’t realise is that these examinations are taken very seriously by some learners, and the possibility of re-writing leaked papers may have had dire consequences.”
l A Durban North resident, Mohit Maharaj, who paid an education department official R5 400 to keep quiet about information linked to leaked papers, has been sentenced to three years, wholly suspended.
Maharaj pleaded guilty at the Durban Regional Court.
Three people had initially been charged for selling eight leaked exam papers to pupils for between R1 200 and R5 000 a subject.
Two of those implicated were officials based in the department’s Truro House offices in Durban, and one had turned state witness.
The other, Nqaba Magubane, a senior official in the department, pleaded not guilty to corruption charges and will appear in court again next month.