Matric exam leak: Rewrite will be last resort, says department as it starts probe

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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga
PHOTO: Netwerk24
  • Only the Free State has not received a report of the leak at this stage.
  • The department says it will be making use of the Hawks and IT experts in its probe. 
  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said a rewrite would only happen if the department and Umalusi felt the integrity of the examination was compromised. 

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) says it is still too early to tell whether the National Senior Certificate and Senior Certificate Mathematics Paper 2 examination will be re-written after it was leaked.

A three-tiered investigation has now been set up by the DBE to track down the source of the leak of Monday's question paper, the department revealed on Wednesday.

READ | Matric exam leak: Hawks roped in as preliminary probe shows more provinces affected

Minister Angie Motshegka briefed the media alongside director-general Mathanzima Mweli and chief director for National Assessment and Public Examinations, Rufus Poliah, following a meeting with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) on Wednesday. 

Tip-off led to the discovery

The department said it became aware of the leak after its spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, received an email with the attached paper from a university student in Johannesburg who runs an NGO that provides support to school children. 

The student received the question paper from four pupils who needed help and forwarded it to Mhlanga after becoming suspicious. 

The paper was also disseminated in some WhatsApp groups matric candidates were in to support each other. 

The department said initial reports showed that the paper had surfaced in Limpopo and Gauteng, but it was later established that other provinces were also affected. 

Motshekga said eight of nine provinces reported possible spreading of the leak, with Free State the only province that had not yet received a report.

How the investigation will work 

The probe will be conducted by a team comprising of the quality assurance council, Umalusi, South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), Universities South Africa (USAf) and the department. The team will be appointed by the director-general. 

Motshekga said the department was highly disappointed by the developments after the department had worked hard to ensure they went ahead.  

Presenting the investigation protocols on Wednesday, Poliah said the first phase of the investigation would have to be completed by 30 November, with the second phase by 30 January 2021. 

The investigating team would be tasked to establish the source and extent of the leak, make recommendations on ensuring the credibility of the exams was not compromised - and make recommendations on how the system could be improved to avoid future leaks. 

The department said the investigation would establish whether the leak was contained within certain areas in provinces and where necessary, a rewrite would be facilitated. 

Poliah said: 

Motshekga said eight of nine provinces reported possible spreading of the leak, with Free State the only province that had not yet received a report.

Umalusi would have to make a final determination that, despite the leak, the examination was not compromised and measures put in place have reinstated the credibility of the mathematics paper.  

Tier two of the investigation would involve using the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) to help identify the source of the leak. 

Experts and IT

Experts would also be roped in to conduct an extensive forensic audit on examination systems across provinces and establish where weaknesses were.

The investigating team would also conduct interviews with a few candidates whose names and contact details appeared in the WhatsApp messages chain. 

An IT forensic company would also be approached for expert advice and assistance on the tracing of the WhatsApp messages and selected suspicious examination centres would also be audited. 

Poliah said despite the investigative methods put in place, the department would also be conducting an investigative audit during marking and the performance of candidates in Mathematics Papers 1 and 2 would be compared. 

"We will also do a statistical comparative analysis of our preparatory examination results with the final results, to pick up possible groups in terms of schools where performance may be extremely high," he said. 

The department said it would also be pursuing other options to conclude the matter and to ensure the credibility of the affected paper was reinstated - among them being an appeal to all candidates to come forward if they may have had access to the paper.

It would also be appealing to officials to assist with information they may have. 

"I think we will not spare the penalty in terms of the culprits in this matter because if one gets a sense of the psychological trauma that is now been brought to our learners, then one needs to agree that we need to take serious action against the culprits. In a nutshell, if there is a need for a rewrite based on the evidence, and we don't want to pre-empt, is purely dependent on what comes out of the investigation and what the nature of the re-write will be," he said. 

Motshekga added: 

In terms of a rewrite, honestly, that will be the most desperate last option. We will only do a rewrite if we feel the integrity of the exams is in jeopardy because we also cannot compromise the integrity of the exams.

Motshekga said the department also wanted to protect those pupils who were not part of the WhatsApp groups where the paper found its way and was disseminated, adding that the department, through its investigation, would also establish the time the paper was leaked.

She said the forensic marking would tell whether there was any impact once the department established the time when the paper was leaked. 

Securing the rest of the NSC exams

The department said it had since heightened security where question papers were handled and stored. It said all CCTV footage would be looked at closely and contract workers would also be closely supervised.

The department added that it would continue implementing its double locking system of the strong room where question papers were stored and would increase the monitoring, distribution and writing of the exams going forward and in future.

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