Matric cheating: how pupils and teachers colluded

11 January 2015 - 14:40 By Bongani Mthethwa, Prega Govender, Sibongakonke Shoba and Philani Nombeme

The school that has emerged as the worst offender in the matric exam cheating scandal has been getting away with it for years.

Parents of pupils at Mpikayizekanye Secondary School in rural KwaMbono, about 10km from Tugela Ferry, openly admitted this week that group copying has been going on since 2008.

They also said the school's principal, Lungi Shange, had been warned about it several times in the past - including being told that some teachers have colluded with the pupils.

Lakhiza Phungula, chairman of the school's governing body, made the shocking admission on Friday in the wake of an announcement about large-scale audits of exam scripts being conducted in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mpikayizekanye Secondary is among 20 schools in the province whose results are being audited by the provincial and national education departments as well as exam oversight body Umalusi. Similar investigations are being carried out in Gauteng, the Northern Cape, North West and Mpumalanga, where 11 cases have been found. In the Eastern Cape 10 schools are still under suspicion.

Now the 167 matriculants from Mpikayizekanye Secondary face an uncertain future because they will not get their matric certificates to apply for further study or jobs until the investigation has been concluded.

While group-cheating allegations at other schools involve incidents in one or more subjects, preliminary investigations suggest Mpikayizekanye Secondary's scripts involve seven subjects.

The investigation found 107 pupils were implicated in cheating in accounting, 119 in English, 15 in life sciences, 108 in maths, 15 in geography, 108 in business studies and 108 in economics.

Other findings include:

  • "Evidence of possible assistance by an invigilator or exams official" in the maths paper one; and
  • In the economics paper, all candidates but one scored the same mark and had the same multiple-choice options and the same correct and incorrect answers.

Phungula said pupils at the school had confessed when he pressed them to come clean after allegations surfaced last weekend.

"Some of them told me ... that they had been assisted by the teachers with answers," Phungula said.

"We've warned the principal several times that this must stop. Unfortunately, we don't have powers to change the principal."

Cheating 'Standard Practice'

Another parent, who asked not to named, said teachers were acting as a "united front" in helping pupils to cheat.

"Cheating is a standard practice here," he said.

"I saw it with my own eyes. Teachers were smuggling answers to the learners through the windows. Teachers do as they wish because they know this is a rural area and many of us did not go to school."

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that if pupils co-operated with investigators, their papers, excluding the part in which they cheated, would be marked. The score on the unmarked questions would also be removed from the total score.

But she added that teachers or officials found guilty faced expulsion.

"The law will have to take its course.We have to act. If we don't, we'll be breaking the law," she said.

Motshekga was adamant that there had been no such level of cheating in the past and blamed teachers for the scandal.

"In some instances I believe it is an adult who came to class and dictated the answers."

She believed the cheating had been motivated by the new curriculum.

"I think when they saw the questions they [teachers] freaked and gave kids answers. It's not like kids initiated this ... some of the kids who were being dictated to could have passed on their own ..." Motshekga said.

Schools Named

Today, the Sunday Times is able to name the other schools in KwaZulu-Natal that are being probed for alleged cheating.

These include: Kwabhamu Junior Secondary, Matshitsholo High and Felifa Secondary from Zululand; Mziwamandla High and Sompukwane Secondary from Umlazi; Qinisani High (Tongaat); Ndluyesilo High (Eshowe); Mhubheni High (Estcourt); Bhekukwazi Secondary (Empangeni); Mashiyamahle High (Verulam); Mthengeni High (KwaDukuza); and Mphemba High (Nkandla).

Other implicated schools are Mabizela High (Msinga), Emondini (Empangeni), Zinqobele (Mtunzini), Gala High (Mandini), Sibanesihle High (Maritzburg), Zifikele High (Pinetown) and Nsikakazi High (Lower Tugela).

Chief invigilators and invigilators from the affected schools have been summoned to appear before hearings scheduled to take place from tomorrow until Thursday.

They will be asked to make statements explaining among other things the similarities in pupils' answers.

In addition, pupils from these schools were told on Friday to appear before hearings expected to take place on January 20, 21 and 22.

Allegations of matric exam cheating at Mathumbu Secondary School in the rural Eastern Cape village Qwaninga, Willowvale, did not come as a surprise to the community there.

Villagers said some of the 2013 matriculants had been heard boasting at shebeens that they would pass because teachers allowed them to cheat.

Cheaters 'Bragged'

Three community members who asked not to be named said exam cheating had been the norm over the past few years. The school achieved a pass rate of 97% in 2013.

"They bragged even before the results were released that they were guaranteed to pass because they had been given the answers. They would repeat this even when drunk," said one woman.

"We knew some of them had failed the lower grades a couple of times and we were surprised when matric became so easy for them. "

Another resident, who is a former pupil at the school, said: "Some learners claimed that the invigilators explained difficult questions to them in Xhosa."

Another resident, who was part of a delegation that advocated for the school to be built in 1984, said the community had confronted the principal, Nosipho Manxiwa, and the governing body about the allegations when they first surfaced in 2013.

He said this was after a teacher who blew the whistle was hounded out of the school.

Manxiwa would not comment on the allegations, but said pupils had received their marks for other subjects.

However, those for maths, physical science and life sciences had been withheld pending the investigation.

Here too, pupils are facing an agonising wait in their quest to study further.

Vuyolwethu Mviyo said: "I am hurt because I know I did not cheat. We left our homes and camped at the school and studied very hard and revised past exam papers."

School Shut Down

Meanwhile, the community of KwaMbono was so upset over the cheating that they initially resolved to have the school shut down.

"Our concern is that learners get good results but they are empty in the head. We would be happy if action could be taken against this fraud by teachers. They are just not teaching our children," Phungula said.

Interestingly, the school could only muster a matric pass rate of 43% last year, significantly down from 2013 when it notched up an impressive 95.5%.

Shange's cellphone rang unanswered this week and she did not respond to text message requests for comment.