Matric cheats uncovered in seven out of nine provinces

04 January 2015 - 10:21 By Prega Govender
File photo
File photo
Image: Times Media

Cheating in last year's final matric exams took place in seven of the nine provinces, with KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape the worst offenders.

Today the Sunday Times is able to name 13 schools where widespread cheating in maths, economics and business studies took place.

Most of the cheating has been described by oversight body Umalusi as "group copying", where answers and multiple-choice selections were so similar, they aroused suspicion.

Umalusi said the Department of Basic Education's special investigative audit report had identified "group copying" in 58 of the 117 centres audited in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Besides this, alleged cheating in other provinces was discovered in Gauteng (six centres), the Northern Cape (1), North West (1), Mpumalanga (2) and the Western Cape (1). There are 6740 centres nationwide.

Umalusi said the department would block results from those centres.

In a statement to the Sunday Times, Umalusi said it had not originally mentioned the 11 centres outside of Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape because these were not part of its initial investigation.

The Eastern Cape schools where cheating allegedly took place are: Sovuka Sikhanye High in Queenstown, Gxaba Senior Secondary in Libode near Port St Johns, Khanya Private in Umtata, Mathumbu Senior Secondary in Idutywa and Nowawe High in East London.

In KwaZulu-Natal, 39 schools have been implicated. The Sunday Times is able to name eight of these. Six of the eight are in the districts of Msinga and Tugela Ferry. These are Mpikayizekanye Secondary, Muntu High, Pano Junior Secondary, Mabizela High, Zwelinjani Secondary and Bathembu High. The other two are Fundinduku Secondary in Umlazi and Idundubala Secondary near Sodwana Bay.

The Sunday Times has established that before the exams, a whistle-blower contacted a former council member of Umalusi to tip him off about alleged "wide-scale cheating" at Msinga High School.

One of the worst suspected offenders has been Mpikayizekanye Secondary in Tugela Ferry, where Umalusi's external moderators allegedly identified "group copying" in maths, economics and business studies.

Officials found that there had been "evidence of possible assistance by an invigilator or exams official" in the maths paper, written by 174 candidates.

"Answers are identical or too similar to the memorandum," Umalusi reported.

In the economics paper, it found that all candidates but one scored the same mark and had the same multiple-choice options and the same correct and incorrect answers.

Other examples of cheating:

  • The first batch of 40 candidates' maths papers at Bathembu High had the same answers "word for word"; and
  • Almost all candidates who wrote maths at Mathumbu Senior Secondary in Idutywa "had exactly the same solution". A few, according to external moderators, "crossed out previous attempts and then replaced it with the same as the others".

Umalusi sent 24 external moderators to each province to monitor 110 marking centres.

Yesterday Umalusi sent 15 officials - nine to KwaZulu-Natal and six to the Eastern Cape - to monitor the investigations by provincial education department officials into the schools implicated in cheating.

The Sunday Times has seen an e-mail written by Umalusi's CEO, Dr Mafu Rakometsi, to the education department's chief director for exams and assessment, Dr Rufus Poliah, dated December 13. In it, Rakometsi says: "It cannot be that it is only Umalusi monitors that are able to make these observations."

Rakometsi was referring to the exam irregularities that moderators had uncovered at the schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

"Umalusi remains worried with mass copying in the system and the manner in which these are reported," Rakometsi says.

Poliah told Rakometsi that the department, together with Umalusi, would investigate.

The Sunday Times has established that the department was fuming after Umalusi's announcement that it would be blocking pupils' results in all subjects at exam centres implicated in cheating.

Rakometsi said the department's view was that only the results of subjects where copying was suspected should be blocked.

"But when I do a Bachelor of Arts degree and I cheat in one subject, the BA degree is gone," he said.

He was adamant that there was no bad blood between Umalusi and the department.

The chairman of the Umalusi council, Professor John Volmink, scoffed at comments reportedly made by the KwaZulu-Natal education department to the effect that some implicated exam centres had already been cleared.

"Umalusi has to satisfy itself that the examination results are credible and the council believes that credibility is not negotiable," Volmink said.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who will release the results tomorrow, told the Sunday Times that the similarity in answers could have been the result of teachers' teaching methods.

"In one question we are trying to understand why the whole class made a common mistake," Motshekga said.

She said that in a school where pupils had not written the affected subjects, their results would be released.

Motshekga said the number of implicated schools was being reduced "dramatically".

Ursula Hoadley, an associate professor in the school of education at the University of Cape Town, said allegations of "group copying" raised concerns about the integrity of the matric exams, although the identification, investigation and reporting of irregularities signalled a robust and vigilant quality assurance process.

"One of the most disturbing aspects, should these allegations prove true, is the collusion between teachers and their students in cheating, and the cynicism regarding education that this indicates," she said.

Professor Mary Metcalfe, visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand's school of governance, said that the integrity of the national senior certificate exams had not been shaken because the mechanisms to identify breaches such as copying or "leaking" of the exam papers were robust.

Expectations are high that last year's matric pass rate would drop by a few percentage points after Volmink announced that there was an increase in the failure rate in maths, maths literacy and physical science.

The national matric pass rate was 78.2% in 2013.

Volmink told the Sunday Times that because it was the first time matrics were being examined on the new curriculum, he expected a drop of between 3% or 4% in the pass rate.

Education MECs, with the exception of Northern Cape's Grizelda Cjiekella-Lecholo, were also not optimistic about an increase in the pass rate.

Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer said there "might be a bit of difficulty in reaching" its target of 43000 passes.

North West's Wendy Matsemela said she expected the province's pass rate to drop to either 85% or 84% from the 87.2% in 2013.

Mpumalanga's Reginah Mhaule said: "If we stay where we are [77.6% in 2013] or go up even by 0.5%, I will be really happy."

Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi, whose province achieved an 87% pass rate in 2013, said he would be happy with anything above that figure.

Cjiekella-Lecholo said her department was confident of increasing its pass rate from 74.5% in 2013 to 80%.

"I will faint if we don't get 80%," she said.