Education experts relieved for pupils, but concerned about matric exam standards after court ruling

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Dec 12, 2020

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Durban - Relief that there’s no blanket punishment, but anger at errant pupils who cheated.

That was how most Durban education specialists greeted the ruling yesterday that the leaked maths paper 2 and physical science paper 2 exams would not have to be rewritten.

Glenwood High School principal Andri Barnes said the ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria would have saved the class of 2020 from suffering further trauma.

“They have had a very challenging year and blanket punishment is not educationally sound.”

Durban High School principal Tony Pinhero said he was pleased for the pupils who had written clean exams. However, he expressed concern at how wide the leak might have spread, adding integrity had to be maintained.

Labby Ramrathan, professor of education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the court’s ruling could have long-term effects for the matric class of 2020 and there would be a ripple effect at tertiary institutions.

“Should universities now set up other assessment tests?” he asked, pointing out that there was limited time before the start of the next academic year.

Durban educational psychologist Felicity Tonkinson said the leaked paper saga had caused much anxiety, loss of direction, depression as well as a sense of injustice among matriculants.

“It’s wonderful for them,” she said of the ruling, adding that the second wave of Covid-19 would have also added to their pressures should they have needed to rewrite the maths and physical science papers.

“A lot have felt cheated and hard done by,” she said, adding many diligent pupils had psyched themselves up for their exams

She said the delayed decision, waiting to hear whether they would have had to rewrite, was possibly more stressful than if they had been told they would have to do so.

“Then there were the holiday plans that would have to changed and for many, that would have been plans around jobs. Generally, there has been a huge amount of psychological stress attached to this.”

Maths 2 was to have been written on Tuesday and physical science 2 on Thursday had Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s decision been enforced.

However, Judge Norman Davis yesterday reviewed it and set it aside.

He said the decision, as it stood, for the exams to be written on December 15 and 17, was one which no reasonable person would have taken, when all the facts were considered.

“The attempted justification of these dates, furnished by the DG, in answer to all the prejudices raised by the applicants, that these prejudices suffered amount to a mere 'inconvenience’ or ’smokescreen’ smacks of carelessness,” the judge ruled.

The judgment followed an urgent application this week by four separate groups – three of which consisted of various matrics who had to rewrite these subjects – and the other by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union.

While some of the arguments and the relief sought differed slightly, all the applications boiled down to the same thing: that the decision made by Motshekga last week, that the two leaked exam question papers be rewritten by all matrics, be overturned or that she be interdicted from going ahead with her decision.

A host of advocates involved in the four applications argued for most of Thursday, asking the court to declare the minister’s decision irrational.

Davis was told by the applicants that Umalusi was behind the decision to rewrite the exams after the leaks came to light. He was told the minister was “bullied” by Umalusi to decide on the rewrite.

The minister, on the other hand, maintained she merely made the announcement, but the director-general of the department made the decision. Both she and Umalusi said the rewrite was essential to maintain the integrity of the exams.

The Independent on Saturday

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