Investigation into Delays in the Release of 2008 National Senior Certificate Examination Results: Department of Education briefing

Basic Education

23 March 2009
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education presented the findings of a Ministerial Committee that investigated the delays in the release of some National Senior Certificate results in 2008. It was initially thought that more than 56 000 results had not been processed, but it soon transpired that of those, 29 600 candidates had failed to write their exams. The Ministerial Committee established that the delay in the release of the results of the 26 737 candidates could not be attributed to a single factor but a collection of variables that impacted on examination processes and procedures. The report blamed the delay on factors ranging from the new, later November exam date to teething problems with the new computerised exam system. In addition, the report identified problems with the collection, capture and control of School Based Assessments (SBA) and exam mark sheets from school or District Offices. In a small number of cases, results were withheld because the candidates were suspected of exam fraud and the department needed to investigate each case. As a result of the probe, two officials in Mpumalanga had been relieved of exam duties pending further investigation and one district official in Gauteng had been charged for not ensuring compliance with the rules. Some principals were also under investigation. Provinces were conducting compliance audits to determine possible neglect of duty by school principals or officials and capacity weaknesses within the system were being addressed. Steps were being taken to address all of the matters raised in the report. Those steps would ensure a significant improvement in the release of the 2009 National Senior Certificate results. Members posed questions about the composition of the Ministerial Committee, the number of results that were still outstanding and whether the Department would provide an assurance that there would be no reoccurrence of this problem in the future. A member criticised the Democratic Alliance for making unsubstantiated claims for the purpose of political expediency. The Committee also asked if the Department had provided any assistance to learners that were prejudiced by the delay.

 

Meeting report

Briefing by the Department of Education (DoE)
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director General, DoE, prefaced his submission by acknowledging that this was one of the most “difficult and awkward” presentations that he had ever had to make. Nevertheless, he valued this opportunity to finally put the full report into the public domain and bring closure on this matter.

He explained that on 30 December 2008, it was announced that that the results of 56 351 candidates had not been processed. In response to this situation, the Minister of Education had instructed the Chairperson of the National Examination Irregularities Committee (NEIC) to assemble a Ministerial Committee (MC) to conduct an investigation into the delays and report on this matter by 31 January 2009. The MC commenced with the analysis of the statistics on the outstanding results and identified provinces with high numbers of outstanding marks. These provinces were Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Gauteng. A full investigation was conducted in these provinces and in the case of other provinces, a detailed report was received based on a questionnaire and tele-interviews were conducted to solicit additional information.

The 2008 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination was unique in that a new curriculum, a new examination computer system and associated administrative processes were implemented for the first time. These major innovations were compounded by the decision of the Council of education Ministers (CEM) and Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) to delay the start of the 2008 NSC examination from 15 October 2008 to 3 November 2009 in order to extend the time available for teaching and learning. In essence, the 47 days scheduled to cover the marking and capturing of results was reduced to 27 days.

The MC confirmed that out of the 56 351 candidates that were not resulted, 29 614 were absent from the examination. This meant that only 26 737 results were in fact outstanding, which represented 4.5% of the total number of candidates that registered for the 2008 NSC examination. Of these, many were genuine irregularities, where student students had incorrect exam or ID numbers, had written for a subject other than they had registered for. The overall findings of the MC were that the delay in the release of the results of the 26 737 candidates could not be attributed to a single factor but a collection of variables that impacted on the examination processes and procedures. The report blamed the delay on factors ranging from the new, later November exam date to teething problems with the new computerised exam system. In addition, the report identified problems with the collection, capture and control of School Based Assessments (SBA) and exam mark sheets from school or as well as pupils who changed courses "at the door to the exam room".
Mr Hindle stated that in a small number of cases, results were withheld because the candidates were suspected of exam fraud and the department needed to investigate each case. He said the Department pulled out all the stops to recover missing results and managed by 16 February, when most universities reopened, to have whittled down the list of those still waiting for their marks to 92. Of these, all had since been helped, except some 30 students who had not come forward to claim their results and appeared to have "given up" for reasons that had nothing to do with the administrative process.  Most of these were linked to allegations of cheating.
As a result of the probe, two officials in Mpumalanga had been relieved of exam duties pending further investigation and one district official in Gauteng had been charged for not ensuring compliance with the rules. Some principals were also under investigation. Provinces were conducting compliance audits to determine possible neglect of duty by school principals or officials and capacity weaknesses within the system were being addressed.
Mr Hindle indicated that copies of the Report would be provided to the Public Protector and Human Rights Commission to decide if further action should be taken. In addition, he criticised those that continued to make claims that there outstanding results without providing any evidence. The Democratic Alliance had alleged that examiners were told to inflate marks. This matter was investigated and nobody could substantiate the claim. Claims that the Mathematics paper was of a poor standard were investigated by an independent team who judged it to be of a proper standard.
Mr Hindle highlighted that steps were being taken to address all of the matters raised in the report. These steps would ensure a significant improvement in the release of the 2009 results. Finally, on behalf of the Department, he apologised to all the affected candidates, and invited anyone who had been prejudiced to contact the Department so that it could provide some assistance.
Discussion
Mr R van den Heever (ANC) thanked the Director General and his team for submitting a candid report. It was clear that a lot of work had been done and that a detailed investigation had been conducted. He described the delay and believed that most of the problems resulted from s the system of processing exam results. Also, he stated that it was incumbent on the Department to ensure that there would be no repeat of this problem.

In addition, Mr Van den Heever expressed concern regarding the “spurious claims” that emanated from some members of the Committee for the purpose of political expediency. Specifically, he referred to the statement made by the DA that examiners were told to inflate marks.  He argued that the Committee could not allow its members to distort facts for the sake of political mileage. Lastly, he pointed out that to date, there were no clear facts in support of that claim. 

Given the upcoming elections, Mr B Mosala (ANC) did not find it surprising that there were political parties who sought to gain political mileage out of this situation.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) noted that the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) formed part of the MC, and questioned whether other teacher unions had been invited to participate on this structure.

Mr Hindle confirmed that Naptosa had been invited but had not taken up the opportunity to be part of the MC.

Mr Boinamo found it unacceptable that learners were allowed to change their courses when they entered the exam room. In addition, he sought clarity on whether all the provinces were affected by the delays.

Mr Hindle clarified that not all nine provinces were affected and that in fact most provinces had released all their results on time. Mpumalanga and Gauteng were identified as the two provinces with the highest number of outstanding results.

Mr Boinamo stated that the Department should accept responsibility for the delay and not “pass on the buck”. Also, he asked whether the Department could provide any assurance that there would be no reoccurrence of this problem in the future.

Mr Hindle accepted that this had been a “huge wake-up call” and shock to the entire educational system. While he could not provide any guarantees, he made a commitment that the Department would do all that it could to correct all the issues that had been identified in the report.

Mr I Mfundisi (UCDP) questioned whether the 92 candidates, whose results were still outstanding on the 16 February 2009, had since been released. He asked if officials were subject to the same codes as teachers. He conceded that there would always be irregularities where examinations were concerned but they should not be as grave as those experienced in 2008
On the first issue, Mr Hindle explained that out of the 92 results, 30 were still outstanding. Most of these related to allegations of cheating.
In respect of the second query, Mr Hindle explained that in terms of the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign, there was a commitment for officials as well. Part of that commitment was that officials would visit schools regularly and ensure proper monitoring.

Mr Mosala believed that the entire situation was an embarrassment for the Department as well as for the country. He hoped that lessons would be drawn out of this and that the District Offices would do the job they were established to do.

Mr Mosala sought to determine whether any learner who, as a result of the delay, was unable to gain entrance to higher education. And what was the department doing to assist such cases.

Mr Hindle emphasised that his Department was ready to assist all learners that had been prejudiced in such a manner, and appealed to any such learner to contact the Department.

Mr Boinamo asked whether officials had been sufficiently trained to operate the new computer system.

Mr Hindle acknowledged that this had been lacking during 2008 and would be rectified in the current year. 

The Chairperson welcomed the report and believed that it assisted Members to understand all the issues.
           
Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Committee adopted their minutes dated 27 January 2009, 2 February 2009, 4 February 2009, 10 February 2009 and 17 February 2009 without any amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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