As the department of basic education picks up the pieces following a court ruling that went against it this week, the overall credibility and integrity of the 2020 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results have been questioned.
The department will not appeal Pretoria High Court Judge Norman Davis’ decision to set aside the rewriting of two leaked matric exam papers, which he deemed to be “unlawful and irregular”.
The full extent of the spread of the two leaked papers – maths paper 2 and physical science paper 2 – has not yet been determined, but there are concerns that the integrity of the two papers has been heavily compromised, which is why Umalusi, the quality assurance body tasked with ensuring that the NSC is credible, was determined to have them rewritten.
Respected education expert Mary Metcalfe said Friday’s ruling to overturn Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s resolve to make matric pupils rewrite the two exams was justifiable, especially because certain processes should have been followed by the minister, who did not consult the department’s director-general and other relevant stakeholders before making her decision to call for a rewrite.
“The judgment contains valuable lessons about process, about the basis on which decisions should be made and who makes them,” said Metcalfe.
“What this means, in my understanding, is that Umalusi and the department of basic education will need to follow the advice of the courts in terms of possible scenarios, including identification of the students who did have access to the leaked papers and making sure that they rewrite them.”
She said the outcome of the case was that the responsibility remained with the department of basic education as the examining body and Umalusi as the quality assurance body to ensure that the results of the 2020 NSC were credible and valid.
“The NSC has to be credible and respected for future decision-making, such as university entrance. Therefore, only those who saw the leaked papers should rewrite them. Further forensic investigation and the marking may uncover more about who [these individuals were],” she said.
The general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), Mugwena Maluleke, said they welcomed the judgment because they believed the decision to rewrite the papers should only have been made after an investigation had been concluded.
He said that once the department of basic education isolated those who had been implicated in the scandal and made them rewrite, there would be no questions about credibility.
“That’s what we’ve been saying all along. If the department of basic education and Umalusi don’t want to damage the credibility of the NSC, they need to identify those responsible and make them rewrite. However, if they want to make an example so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again, they should also lay criminal charges against those who were involved, instead of punishing everyone,” he said.
He added that the way forward for the department and Umalusi was to mark each and every paper written and give the pupils who had not been affected their results, while dealing with those who had been involved in the leak.
In an affidavit submitted to the court, the union said the only reason the minister had made the decision to have the papers rewritten by everyone was that she was being held to ransom by Umalusi.
Apparently, Umalusi had demanded that the papers be rewritten or it would not certify the examinations as compliant, since the leak had compromised them.
The minister was labelled as “panic-stricken and extremely fearful” of Umalusi in the affidavit.
Sadtu claimed that the rewriting requirement imposed an unjust psychological punishment on all matric pupils who had written the two subjects. This had happened simply because “Umalusi had determined that a limited number of pupils had access to the leaked papers, destroying the credibility of the results”, according to the judgment.
The judgment also indicated that an investigation was well under way, with at least “53 pupils who have been referred to the Hawks, and 11 retrieved cellphones and cellphone records that are undergoing analysis in order to trace the root of the leakage”.
Further audits of the distribution chain and telephonic interviews with the pupils who had received the leaked papers via WhatsApp were also being conducted.
By November 29, at least 195 pupils were reported to have had access to maths paper 2. Of these, 71 were interviewed, most of whom admitted that they had received the WhatsApp messages.
They also claimed that they had only opened the messages after writing the paper and had not shared them with anyone outside their WhatsApp group.
According to Umalusi’s spokesperson, Lucky Ditaunyane, the quality assurance body will continue to support and cooperate with the relevant structures in ongoing investigations into the leak of the two papers, but it cannot endorse the 2020 NSC results until it has implemented its own processes.
“While the Umalusi council is disappointed by the judgment, it respects the ruling of the court in this regard. At this moment, Umalusi cannot pre-empt the outcome of its own quality assurance processes regarding its approval of the 2020 NSC results. The council needs to implement those processes before a final decision about the credibility and integrity of the national examinations can be made,” said Ditaunyane.