School exams in a shambles

The credibility of school examinations currently under way in Limpopo has suffered a serious blow because of a series of bungles by the provincial education department.The department has failed to timeously vet and appoint companies to print question papers for Grades 10 and 11 across the province. It has also rescheduled exams at the last minute and has changed timetables several times.

City Press has learnt that provincial authorities hand-picked different printing companies throughout the region and asked them to work around the clock to print the standardised question papers.

But the companies had not been vetted, as is required, and there are now fears that the exam papers may leak, jeopardising the entire process.

A senior official in the department of basic education in Pretoria, who asked not to be named because of sensitivity around the exam issue, says the provincial education department had waited too long to appoint suppliers to reproduce the question paper.

“Now they are just calling people randomly, asking them to print, and the security clearance of these companies has not been done. Some of these suppliers can’t even deliver on time. The credibility of the results is in jeopardy,” says the official.

A senior administrator in the provincial government in Polokwane, who also asked not to be named, says calling companies randomly and asking them to print question papers “was a clear risk”.

“A leak is possible, but you can’t run government on paranoia because it means you will not be able to get things done.”

The examination unit in the provincial education department would have to account for the bungle, he says, which he put down to bad planning.

Provincial education spokesperson Naledzani Rasila says there was no bungle.

“We do not have this ‘bungle-up’ in our examinations as it is indicated the examinations are moving smoothly with the intervention of the provincial office in providing all necessary support to districts, circuits and schools.

“We are confident the examinations will continue to run smoothly till the last day on November 30.”

He says the department was not expecting any leaks, and added that it was responsible for vetting and approving the companies responsible for printing question papers.

When asked why the department had not timeously vetted and appointed companies to print the papers, he says: “Looking at the load the province took over, it managed to follow procurement procedures to get the companies to print the papers.”

A principal in one of the high schools in Polokwane, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed the extent of the crisis.

“We gave our pupils timetables two days before the exams. But then rumours started circulating that the timetable had been changed for Grades 8 and 9.

“I made enquiries at the department and I was told to stick to the timetable. On the day before the beginning of the exams, the timetable was changed four times and we had to distribute the new timetables to all pupils. You think you have problems? What we are sitting with here is a massive nightmare,” the principal says.

The principal showed City Press an SMS he received from the department on Tuesday morning. It reads: “Morning papers of Grades 10 and 11 will be written in the afternoon. The afternoon papers will be shifted to Friday. For both Grades 10 and 11, papers scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be rescheduled for a later date.”

The principal also gave City Press a circular from the department informing schools that the department would set a common maths exam question paper for Grades 4 to 9, and natural science and technology for Grades 8 and 9.

However, this week the department sent out another circular, which is in City Press’ possession, withdrawing the offer to set standardised exams, instead asking schools to set their own papers.

The furious principal says: “Teachers are now invigilating and where will they find the time to set so many question papers? We don’t have time for this nonsense.”

A deputy principal at a school in Seshego says: “I will spare you the grisly details, but I have never seen such incompetence. It is like they woke up today and realised they have exams tomorrow. It is mad, my man.”

Pupils have expressed shock over arriving at schools to find that they had to write a different exam to the one they had prepared for. Marina Booi, a Grade 8 pupil at Westenburg Secondary School in Polokwane, says she was stunned when she arrived at her school a week ago to find that she had to write Sepedi first additional language instead of natural science, which she had been preparing for.

“It is a shock to the system. A lot of us cried, but it didn’t help. Nevertheless, we wrote. We are hoping for the best.”

Her Grade 10 friend Mpho Ramabina says: “Do you have any idea what it is like to arrive at school only to be told that your exam has been postponed or rescheduled? I thought the invigilator was pulling a fast one on us, but no, it was real. Somebody has to explain what is happening.”

By Sipho Masondo for

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