Department's director-general, Mathanzima Mweli said that marking would go on for 18 days, as opposed to 12 to 14 days in previous years. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency
Department's director-general, Mathanzima Mweli said that marking would go on for 18 days, as opposed to 12 to 14 days in previous years. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency

Matric exam markers down red pens due to Covid-19 fears

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Jan 12, 2021

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Cape Town - The Basic Education Department has extended the marking of Grade 12 exam papers due to a shortage of markers after more than 1 000 withdrew or declined, citing illness, fear and exposure to a Covid-19 positive person.

This was revealed by the department's director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, during a media briefing yesterday. He said that marking would go on for 18 days, as opposed to 12 to 14 days in previous years.

Mweli said there has been anxiety and fear among markers and their families to the extent that some of the marking personnel opted to withdraw from the process.

He said that while some had withdrawn because they were fearful, others had because they themselves tested positive for Covid-19 or somebody in the family had.

“We held a session with our key stakeholders at the weekend, where we met with school governing body associations, principals’ associations, and civil society and teacher unions to share progress of the marking process but to also obtain feedback on areas that needed improvement,” Mweli said.

The department revealed that 236 markers had tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 2 685 had withdrawn or declined to be markers. It said there were 609 markers from the Western Cape who had declined, with seven of them testing positive for Covid-19.

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the union has called on the department to subject all markers to rapid Covid-19 testing.

“We think this will assist in identifying cases and therefore prevent further instances like the one in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, where a marker died,” Cembi said.

Mweli said safety was the apex priority in the basic education sector. All engagements were fruitful and the input extremely useful.

SA Teachers Union (SAOU) chief executive Chris Klopper said the union had received numerous enquiries from concerned markers about the safety of their marking centres and in some cases the threat of withdrawal raised.

Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department was monitoring the status of the pandemic very closely in the run-up to schools re-opening at the end of January.

Hammond said their priority is to deliver quality education while keeping learners and staff as safe as they possibly could.

“The WCED will implement the protocols and procedures as outlined in the amended directions as released by the DBE in October last year. However, we await any possible changes to these directions,” she said.

The leader of the organisation Parents against opening of Schools, Vanessa le Roux, has appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the DBE and teacher unions to prioritise the safety and lives of teachers and learners. She called for schools to be closed until the end of February to allow proper time to replan.

"The second wave is leaving us numb and traumatised… this is not just statistics anymore. It is time for our government to stop its lip service and statements, and show us that they value the lives of their citizens," Le Roux said.

Educators Union of SA provincial chairperson André de Bruyn said that if the priority was to save lives there should be alternative ways to engage education. Options should be available to both teachers and learners in order to be actively involved with education.

"It is a known fact that as the pandemic continues the protocols of deep cleaning and sanitising were not as diligently followed. Schools were not effectively closed to make all areas safe," De Bruyn said.

Teachers and learners had to brave those areas and circumstances as the employer did not guarantee safety, he said.

Cape Argus

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