Last-minute matric exam shake-up causes chaos at South Africa’s schools

The Department of Basic Education’s last-minute decision to allow matric pupils with Covid-19 to write their exams has caused chaos at schools across the country, the City Press reports.

As late as Monday last past week (2 November), the department said that no matric pupils with temperatures over 38 degrees or with Covid-19 would be allowed to write their final exams at school.

However, on Wednesday evening – hours before the first matric exam was set to begin – the department issued a statement announcing that pupils who had Covid-19 would also be allowed to write, but in different venues.

The department told the City Press that these different venues referred to the isolation rooms which were meant to have been set up at every school in the country.

But schools across the country interpreted the department’s matric examination announcement differently, leading to confusion on the morning of the first examinations.

Many students with Covid-19 were affected by the decision, and a number were reportedly unable to write or were directed to the wrong venues. The decision also drew the ire of teacher unions, who raised questions around who will invigilate the exams for these sick learners.

Matric exams started on Thursday (5 November) and will continue until 15 December.

Curriculum and date changes

The coronavirus lockdown has forced matric exams to start later than usual this year as well as the consolidation of some exams meant to be written in June/July. This means that over a million students are registered to write in 2020.

While the content of the matric exams has not changed, other grades will have to deal with a reduced curriculum and shortened teaching time. Parts of the 2020 curriculum will be carried over into 2021.

In August, Education minister Angie Motshekga said that this curriculum would be covered in subsequent grades over a number of years.

“What we have done for the internal grades is to take parts of the curriculum of 2020 into 2021 so we are going to only teach and assess them on only 70% of the curriculum. We are not going to dump the work we missed, we are going to factor it into 2021,” she said at the time.

Having carried over parts of the 2020 curriculum into 2021, the minister said it is unlikely that schools would be able to complete the 2021 curriculum.

“So it is going to be a three-year programme to see if we can claw back what we have lost. Every school is looking at its own situation with the curriculum, and what are some of the available resources.

“What remains for the Grade 12 is that their paper has been set. They are writing a paper that has been set since two years ago. Because the cycle for the paper is 18 months.

“That is why we pushed the exam to December and we are not giving them a break to allow them to finish,” she said. By pushing back the 2020 Grade 12 examinations to conclude by 15 December, they would have made up the lost time due to the pandemic.

Schools will reopen later than planned in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with teachers set to return on 25 January and pupils set to return on 27 January.

“We are fully aware that the country needs the school calendar for effective planning purposes; and we have worked hard to ensure it is done properly; taking into account the disruptions that have occurred in 2020,” said Motshekga.

“We will need to carry over some of the curriculum work into 2021 and we have done our best to accommodate the interests of everybody.  But our priority is the learner.”

The later start to the year is partly due to the later matric examinations which were rescheduled to accommodate the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Read: Radical overhaul proposed for schools in South Africa – including new subjects and tests

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Last-minute matric exam shake-up causes chaos at South Africa’s schools