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Durban - It is one of the most important times for matric pupils, second only to writing the final matric exams. But on Monday members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union prevented trial exam question papers from being collected in KwaZulu-Natal.
Grade 12 accounting and history pupils were sent home or made to write past papers after Sadtu made good on threats to disrupt the trial exams, blockading access to question paper distribution centres in Umlazi and Chatsworth.
Teachers at a high school in Stanger said that Sadtu members had “stormed” the premises and torn up question papers, while a high school in Kokstad decided to postpone the trial exams.
There are fears that the Annual National Assessments for primary schools, scheduled to begin next Tuesday, will also be compromised.
Grade 12 pupils are meant to sit for a maths exam on Tuesday.
While Sadtu KZN secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi said the union had embarked on work-to-rule action, in several schools there had been a complete chalk-down.
The union, which claims 60 000 members in KZN alone, is demanding that provincial Education Department head Nkosinathi Sishi and chief financial officer Hlengiwe Mcuma be suspended.
Chief among its grievances are:
* The refunding of money that was docked from the salaries of teachers who participated in an unprotected strike in 2010.
* An outstanding pay hike for Adult Basic Education and Training teachers.
* The filling of 800 vacant subject adviser posts.
The principal of an uMlazi school told The Mercury that while he had been told that Sadtu had called for protest action to start, he had not expected that it would involve preventing him from collecting accounting and history question papers.
His pupils had remained at school to study and would continue to do so.
Another principal in the same area said a KZN Education Department official had told him he had been instructed not to distribute exam question papers.
The principal said he had opted for plan B, which was to have his pupils write past Grade 12 trial exam papers, or past Grade 12 supplementary papers.
He added that some teachers would be relieved that the exams had been disrupted, because it would not be revealed how big a chunk of the Grade 12 curriculum they had failed to teach.
A Chatsworth principal said that while he empathised with Sadtu, “children are being compromised”.
“The pupils are even more anxious now.” He had had to send his Grade 12 pupils home and his staff were considering setting their own exam question papers - as is the case at Durban’s more affluent schools.
Vee Gani, of the Parents Association of KZN, said he had fielded several phone calls from parents and school governing body members over principals being barred from collecting the Grade 12 question papers and teachers refusing to invigilate.
“There are better ways to solve problems than using children as pawns,” Gani said. He urged parents to challenge the situation.
Asked whether SMSes doing the rounds, stating that the trial exams had been postponed, were an instruction from the head of department, KZN Education Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said in an SMS that the department did not operate schools via SMS.
At 6.30pm on Tuesday, Sadtu and the department were still in crisis talks. He could not say how many schools had been affected, adding that a report was still being compiled.
Asked about Sadtu’s grievances and how exams would proceed on Tuesday, Mahlambi said that when the marathon meeting was over, the department would issue a statement.
Allen Thompson, the deputy head of the National Teachers Union, and Anthony Pierce, the KZN head of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said their organisations would not join the industrial action.