Education fails exams

2015-10-14 13:23
School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Pietermaritzburg - The Department of Education has ­admitted that all its sensitive data is at risk of being hacked.

This startling revelation was made to the KZN Legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), where the ­department’s 2014/15 financial results came under intense scrutiny.

Officials admitted that their servers were vulnerable and would remain so as long as the departmental officials continued to use private computers to access the mainframe servers at Natalia House, Pietermaritzburg.

The vulnerable data, believed to contain details of pupils, teachers, schools, exam ­information and sensitive data, was just one of several findings made against the ­department. While securing servers rang alarm bells, the department was also criticised for irregular expenditure of R447,9 million in the past financial year.

Of this, a massive R142,4 million was awarded to employees of the department and their family members.

In a written response the department said “the bulk of these awards arose out of the National School Nutrition Programme” but said new systems was hoped to curb this practice.

According to Scopa documents seen by The Witness it said: “IT security ­management controls were found to be ­inadequately designed and implemented. The antivirus that is in use is outdated and end users are using their own laptops on the network with their own personal antivirus software. Furthermore no security ­awareness training, programme or process training had been established to promote IT security awareness among employees.”

Scopa chairperson Maggie Govender said there was “serious concern” over the department’s IT security.

“I think this is particularly serious, with a department of this size and the nature of information you are dealing with, this cannot and shouldn’t be entertained at all. This is a serious concern,” said Govender.

She also said that the department should relook at its high audit fees, sitting at ­R9 million, and “hold people accountable” for failing to produce accurate financial statements, which she said had a series of ­“misstatements”.

Govender said the contraventions at ­supply chain management could lead to the department slipping back to a qualified ­audit, as was the case in the 2013/14 financial year, and that unless drastic action was ­taken, officials being awarded contracts, would continue.

DA MPL on Scopa Mark Steele said the access and user controls around data and IT governance within KZN’s Education department are “threatening to compromise the security of records currently under the management of the department”. But the department officials said as part of their plan to mitigate against the threat they would be purchasing “laptops, desktops and scanners to the tune of R18 million”.

Department HoD Nkosinathi Sishi said their “eyes are focused on a clean audit”. “The turnaround plan we are presenting seeks to achieve nothing less than a clean audit. We have a good story to tell but take accountability. We are building a 21st ­century system,” said Sishi.

He said they are working with the SAPS to investigate fraudulent employees and have strengthened their own investigative powers.

In another document circulated to ­officials, it said that 27 investigations have been finalised in 2013/14 with 13 related to fake qualifications, 12 to financial ­mismanagement at schools and one ­regarding a ghost teacher

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  education

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