Matric cheats to get three-year ban
More than 5,000 matriculants will have to put their lives on hold for three years if found guilty of cheating in the exams last year.
They will be allowed to rewrite the matric exams only by the time they are already adults.
The Department of Basic Education said yesterday it was possible the results of pupils from 20 centres in KwaZulu-Natal and 16 in Eastern Cape would be declared null and void if they are found guilty of group cheating.
Complicit officials could face criminal charges relating to fraud and misrepresentation.
"Because this is a very serious transgression we expect maximum sanctions to be imposed," departmental spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said yesterday. "All of these [punishments] are provided for in the regulations. We are not making it up."
Hearings into the alleged group cheating, or "assisted copying", began in Durban yesterday.
"Some people are stressing as we speak because they are preparing to appear before the investigating committee," said Mhlanga.
"Implicated matric pupils have not received their results ... there are devastating consequences for involvement in this type of thing," he said.
It would not be the first time the ban would be imposed. In 2010, four Western Cape pupils were banned from rewriting the exams after they were found cheating.
An education expert and researcher at Stellenbosch University, Nic Spaull, said the department had to clamp down on cheating as the number of pupils implicated in the latest scandal was more than 10 times the number investigated in 2013.
At least 5329 irregularities were found in last year's exams.
"There needs to be a very strong signal sent to pupils and teachers that this is totally unacceptable, and if there are already regulations that have been promulgated then those should be enacted against those found cheating, presumably after a rigorous investigation," said Spaull.
Equally strong action should be taken against teachers and departmental officials found guilty of turning a blind eye to or involved in the cheating, he said.
"The department can't take a hard line on pupils if they do not take a hard line on teachers and department officials."
The chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Parents' Association, Vee Gani, agreed.
"The penalty may seem severe but it has to be imposed to deter pupils from cheating in the future. If pupils know what the penalty is, they will not cheat. However, the same strong message must go to teachers. Those found guilty must be fired. It will prevent other teachers from trying to cheat," Gani said.
Mhlanga said invigilators found guilty would be referred to a labour process that could lead to a warning, suspension or dismissal, depending on their involvement.
Suspected invigilators will have to answer a questionnaire and would then be interviewed by the investigating committee.
Implicated pupils will be interviewed at district offices next week.
Lucky Ditaunyane, spokesman for exam monitor Umalusi, said the cheating was identified during marking. Irregularities were found in English first additional language, history, life sciences, physical science, mathematics, geography and accounting scripts.
At some centres, not all pupils were believed to be involved.
"We need to establish how it came about that a certain group in one centre had the same answers and where one made the same mistake everyone else made the same mistake. We can see that there was some sort of coordinated assistance."
He said though it had been argued that the implicated pupils had been taught to answer questions in the same way, the evidence before the committee indicated otherwise.
The investigation is expected to be completed by month end.