Covid-19 wreaks havoc with matric exam marking centres
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Johannesburg - The Department of Basic Education (DBE) will continue to monitor matric marking centres following the first week of marking which saw one matric exam marker die and almost 1 700 markers withdraw from the exercise.
The DBE said the department was satisfied with the progress made in the first week of marking the combined matric exams for the class of 2020.
“For the first time … the basic education sector has placed health and safety as priority number one”, said the director-general of the national department, Mathanzima Mweli.
The DBE announced that more than 170 markers and teachers who were due to mark matric exam papers had tested positive for the coronavirus as of January 7.
The vast majority of the markers who tested positive came from the Eastern Cape, where testing was done prior to accepting markers at the testing centres, followed by Mpumalanga, which had nine markers test positive after reporting to marking centres, and Gauteng with six cases.
Limpopo, the Northern Cape and North West each had three markers test positive after reporting to the marking centres. KwaZulu-Natal reported four cases, including one marker, who was based at a centre in Estcourt, who died on Saturday.
KwaZulu-Natal education department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said: “We do mass screening regularly, and where we pick up symptoms we refer people to health practitioners. Indications are that some markers go to the centres knowing that they are positive. We urge them not to do so as it is dangerous to the health of their colleagues and themselves.”
The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Nomarashiya Caluza, said the union had engaged with the department to ensure that the markers who shared a room with the deceased marker were isolated and tested.
“The department is advised to provide psychological support to other markers in the centre and conduct random testing for all markers.”
Meanwhile, the DBE said it had deployed reserve markers to replace about 1 683 markers, mostly from Gauteng, who withdrew from the marking process for, among other reasons, the fear of contracting the virus, comorbidities and bereavement.
“The provincial education departments (PEDs) have a set of reserve markers who have already been used to replace markers … Where PEDs choose not to replace the markers, they could extend the marking for up to 18 days. This has already been planned as a contingency as it was expected that there could be marker shortages in some papers,” the department said.
National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said the union was satisfied with how the marking centres have been operating and the protocols that have been put in place.
However, the union is concerned that people might start to relax and be less cautious.
“The department has really tried to make marking safe, and it’s working. Now it’s the responsibility of those who are at the centres to ensure that it continues going well,” Manuel said.
The DBE said it would continue to monitor the marking centres closely to ensure that all risks were addressed appropriately.