Pupils in Pongola, KZN, went on the rampage as they protested over exam options that allow certain pupils to write their subjects over two years. At one school, pupils also stole cash and laptops.
 
Violence erupted at high schools in northern KwaZulu-Natal last week, apparently as a result of anger over the Department of Basic Education’s controversial new modularised exams.
 
Three Pongola schools were believed to have been vandalised and set alight following the protest last week. However, police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele could yesterday confirm only two incidents.
 
“On Monday, pupils allegedly broke school windows during a school meeting in one of the high schools… Pongola police arrested a 20-year-old suspect and charged him for malicious damage to property,” she said.
 
“On Thursday, at about 8am, a group of pupils allegedly stole cash and laptops from the staff room and set the school property alight… A case of malicious damage to property was opened at Pongola police station. 
 
“No arrest has been made at this stage, but the stolen cash was recovered by police”.
 
National Teachers Union (Natu) deputy president Allen Thompson said he had been in contact with a union member at one of the schools, and that the unrest was because matriculants who were registered to modularise their final exams – which means they write some of them now and the rest, next year – were unhappy.
 
“When they registered, they were not given a clear understanding of how it would work. They thought they would still be able to change their minds and write all of their exams together, if they wanted to,” Thompson said yesterday. “But that is not the case.”
 
 
Modularisation allows progressed pupils – who did not meet the promotional requirements in Grade 10 or 11 and were subsequently “pushed through” to Grade 12 – to split their examinations over two sittings: one at end of the year and another, the following June.
 
“We anticipated that this would be a problem. The pupils are angry. They were happy when they were told they would have the option of writing over two years, but now they see it as a waste of their time,” Thompson said. 
 
“And they’re blaming and victimising their teachers but their teachers didn’t develop this policy or tell them they should modularise their exams – the department did.”
 
Yesterday, Education spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said the department had engaged with the pupils and their parents and resolved the issue.
 
But Thompson said modularisation was a problem, and he hoped the department would “learn from this” and revise it.
 
“High school pupils are not like university students. They aren’t capable of making these kinds of decisions yet,” he said.