Picture by Courtney Africa.
Picture by Courtney Africa.

Matrics can relax: the decision to rewrite exams has been set aside by the court

By Karishma Dipa, Sameer Naik, Zelda Venter Time of article published Dec 12, 2020

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By Zelda Venter, Sameer Naik and Karishma Dipa

Matrics can relax: the plan by the education department for them to rewrite a maths and chemistry paper next week has been set aside.

And they have to thank a number of applications to the high court, but one name will go down in history: that of first applicant Lienke Spies whose name is on the judgement.

Four groups had lodged applications this week - three of which included a number of matrics - and a fourth by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), and argued the case through Thursday.

While some arguments and relief sought differed slightly, all the applications boiled down to the same thing: that the decision announced by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last week, that two exam papers must be rewritten was irrational.

Judge Norman Davis heard how Umalusi had been behind the decision to rewrite the two papers after exam leaks came to light. He was told that the minister was “bullied” by Umalusi which cited the integrity of the NSC.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria yesterday ordered that neither paper would be written next week, and the department should continue to mark the original scripts; around 339 000 in maths paper 2 and 282 000 in physical science paper 2.

Judge Davis noted that the decision had been ill-advised. It was a decision no reasonable person would have taken, considering the facts.

He also criticised the attempt at justification for the rewrites on Tuesday and Thursday, considering the prejudices raised by the applicants and said that complaints of injustice that would arise from subjecting hundreds of thousands of innocent learners to a rewriting process were justified.

The judge pointed out that only about 195 learners who wrote the maths paper may have benefited from the leaked questions, a tiny percentage. An even smaller percentage (60 learners) may have benefited in the physical science paper.

“The conclusion by Umalusi that such a negligible percentage has so irrevocably damaged the integrity of these two papers that it cannot be certified cannot be sustained,” the judge said.

Umalusi, he said, sought to bolster its stance by repeated claims that the extent or actual extent of dissemination of the leaked papers while unknown may have “gone viral”.

This fear was more apparent than real, as in the first week or so after the discovery of the leak, only 195 learners who received the WhatsApp with the maths questions could be identified.

The judge said there was a complete absence of proof of the alleged “viral” spread.

And, even if the extent of the leakage was a hundredfold of what had been identified, the question was still whether a 6% compromise would result in a non-certification, something Umalusi had not considered.

Even if the decision to rewrite these two papers was rational, there was no justification to do so next week rather than in January.

The judgment cites Spies as first respondent, with Gerhard Burger, Izak Jacobus Arnold and Christiaan Swanepoel as second, third and fourth respondents, with AfriForum the fifth respondent.

In another case Unami Bhembe, Itumeleng Nkambule and Marne van der Merwe are the respondents, while the other has Itha Wessels, Eesa Omar, Pheelo Moeketsi, Alanis Gomes and Nomonde Radebe, all matrics.

Umalusi said last night that while they are disappointed by the verdict, they respect it.

Spokesperson Lucky Ditaunyane added that in the interim, Umalusi will “continue to support and work in collaboration with the relevant structures in the ongoing investigations into the leakage of the two papers”.

“Umalusi cannot pre-empt the outcome of its own processes regarding the approval of the 2020 National Senior Certificate results because the Council needs to implement all its quality assurance processes before a final decision about the credibility and integrity of national examinations can be made,” he said.

But the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) welcomed the ruling.

“We really feel it is important that in the future the (DOE) should be able to comply with the regulations, but also understand the meaning of consultation and rationality when making decisions,” said Sadtu general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke.

“Our learners were traumatised and depressed. Now we will be able to write those remaining subjects without pressure.”

The National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa) believes a rewrite would have been “disastrous”.

“It would have set a bad precedent,” said Naptosa’s executive director Basil Manuel. “At best we should be punishing the children that had access to the paper, or worse, the schools.”

Meanwhile, 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 that 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. - Additional reporting by Duncan Guy.

The Saturday Star

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