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Are matric exams at risk?

2019-10-20 20:22

Racial tensions in Eldos, load shedding, gangsterism and protests in Cape Town might disrupt Grade 12 examinations

Last-minute contingency plans to assist matric pupils catch up on revision, power outages and a shortage of markers have dogged this year’s preparations for Grade 12 exams.

Gauteng education authorities had to act quickly this week to diffuse a risky situation at Eldorado Park Secondary that could have resulted in 218 pupils not sitting for exams.

On Monday, the school’s matric pupils were bused to a camp in Pretoria as a last-minute measure to prevent a possible disaster.

This was because 14 of the school’s teachers decided to stay away from work this month in support of their four black colleagues who were allegedly chased away by the community.

The predominantly coloured community, which borders Soweto, has been at the centre of an allegedly race-fuelled stand-off at the school since 2017, with claims of mismanagement and maladministration.

The teaching staff, school governing body and the community are allegedly split along racial lines at the school – with one side supporting the black teachers while the other is against their return.

The racial row earlier resulted in three teachers, who were cleared of any wrongdoing by a disciplinary hearing following allegations against them dating back to 2017, refusing to return to the school.

Four other teachers, sources claimed, were also later cleared by a disciplinary hearing following allegations against them.

They returned to the school but were allegedly chased away by the community.

The department appointed seven temporary teachers to fill their posts, but then 14 permanent teachers – blacks and coloureds – this month demanded that their colleagues be allowed to return to work.

In total, the school lost 21 teachers.

it is possible that pupils in the lower grades might not sit for their final exams

This week the divisions were exposed as being more deep-rooted, with even pupils and their representatives at loggerheads.

“Some of the parents say black teachers must return to Soweto. It’s bad. Teachers and pupils feel that they have been misled by some of their representatives within the school structures and in the community,” one parent told City Press this week. “There is that kind of regret. Things have deadlocked.”

As a result of the stalemate, it is possible that pupils in the lower grades might not sit for their final exams if the Gauteng education authorities fail to quickly resolve the impasse.

But the Gauteng education department took a decision last Sunday to send the Grade 12s to a secluded camp in Pretoria to help them catch up on lost time.

Part of their activities while there included focusing on:

  • Key topics that have not been taught or sufficiently covered by their teachers, which are likely to be included in exams; and
  • Pupils were drilled in exam questions and exam response techniques as part of their exam preparations.

The school is currently closed, with security guards protecting the property.

Steve Mabona, Gauteng education department spokesperson, was confident on Friday that the affected pupils would sit for their matric exams.

“They will write at the school. In the event of anything happening, they will be bused out and taken to an operational centre,” Mabona said.

“For other grades, parents will have to assist us with what is it that they want. The head of department [Edward Mosuwe] will also have to follow legislative prescripts on what to do,” Mabona said.

City Press visited the camp in Pretoria on Wednesday under strict conditions not to interact with pupils and staff but to observe.

The camp was quiet, an environment suited for learning and teaching.

For the duration of their stay, the pupils’ day starts at 7am and they would study till late.

The pupils were split into eight classes as part of their original arrangement at the school. Boys and girls were allocated different dormitories monitored by six parents.

There were security guards at the facility with a remote-controlled access gate and outsiders could only enter at the approval of a dedicated personnel.

Pupils were scheduled to return to their homes today.

A concerned parent said it was sad that their children had to be sent to a camp far from their homes and loved ones just because some adults decided to have a racial spat.

These children have to study coding and other subjects linked to artificial intelligence but there are parents who are not concerned about those things but racism-related stuff. It’s a shame

“This is not the way to raise children. Now, they will look back at this week and say this happened because of a black teacher in a coloured school and a coloured community that didn’t want black teachers. This should not be happening.”

Another parent said while the country was battling to catch up with the fourth industrial revolution, there were still parents concerned with the racial make-up of staff in schools.

“These children have to study coding and other subjects linked to artificial intelligence but there are parents who are not concerned about those things but racism-related stuff. It’s a shame.”

A third parent said it remained to be seen whether the last-minute intervention by the education authorities would bear any positive results for their children.

“We don’t know to what extent this [disruption] has affected them. We don’t know what will happen to others in lower grades,” she said.

The first exams in Gauteng were also affected by this week’s load shedding.

Mabona said nine candidates out of 1 224, who were scheduled to write information technology on Thursday, could not write and a concession would be sought with the department of basic education to reschedule.

concerned about the return of load shedding

Umalusi, the body responsible for quality assurance of matric exams, on Thursday raised concerns about Eskom’s decision to start load shedding during the exams.

Lucky Ditaunyane, Umalusi spokesperson, said they were concerned about the return of load shedding announced on Wednesday.

“Such disruptions could potentially have a devastating effect on pupils and the integrity of exams, Ditaunyane said.

“While assessment bodies are required to put contingency plans in place to deal with emergency situations during the conduct of national examinations, Umalusi appeals to Eskom to consider the writing of national examinations when deciding on the schedule for electricity cuts.”

The power utility’s deputy spokesperson, Dikatso Mothae, said they were in constant communication with the education departments about their plans.

Eskom said on Friday that it understood the negative impact load shedding would have on customers, particularly matric exam candidates.

“In order to lessen the disruption of exams, we will implement stage one load-shedding from 9am until midday and thereafter revert to stage two load shedding until 11pm,” the statement said.

There were no reported incidents in most provinces by Friday afternoon, despite Umalusi’s concerns last Thursday about the shortage of exam markers in the Eastern Cape for English (first additional language), physical science, life sciences and Afrikaans; in Western Cape for History paper two; and Northern Cape for agricultural sciences and Afrikaans.

Ditaunyane told City Press on Thursday that there were different reasons for the shortage from province to province.

“For example, in the Eastern Cape they could not appoint a sufficient number of markers for English (first additional language) paper two because teachers chose to mark paper one and three when they applied for marking,” he said.

Asked if these shortages could impact on the date of release of matric results, Ditaunyane said this won’t be the case.

The department of basic education had not responded to questions sent on Thursday.

The Western Cape, with 53 395 full-time and 9 075 part-time candidates registered for the exams, was also hit by electricity outages.

READ: Eskom factors in matric exams as it implements stage 2 loadshedding

Bronagh Hammond, spokesperson for the department, said power cuts were problematic and affected centres for computer applications technology and information technology.

Hammond also said gangsterism and community protests remained major concerns.

“The department has existing protocols in place to deal with a number of eventualities, such as electricity cuts. These protocols include ensuring that no pupil leaves the examination venue should the electricity be cut out, and that they are instead quarantined until electricity resumes and technical assistance is provided.

“Pupils that would have already begun the exams will continue from where they left off once the electricity comes back on. There is an automatic save function so that pupils do not lose the work already completed in the event of an electrical shortage or malfunctioning.

“We are working with law enforcement agencies in terms of intelligence regarding possible protest action or disruption in communities so we can make alternative arrangements should they be required,” Hammond said.

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November 17 2019