Pretoria – Despite the academic year having been shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic, the first day of matric exams in the city proceeded without hassles yesterday.
It was also all systems go at Amogelang Secondary School, which has the biggest matric class in the province with 406 pupils. The school is one of many that were vandalised and set alight earlier this year.
Principal Nicodemus Kgomotso Hans and school officials were present, helping teachers and staff ensure that pupils were sanitised, screened for Covid-19 symptoms and maintained social distancing in exam rooms.
At Soshanguve High School, another school that was burnt and vandalised during the early days of the lockdown, the pupils were happy, but concerned that they might not have had enough time to prepare for the exams.
In Mamelodi, a pupil at Vukani Mawethu Secondary School, Thabang Mabena, said though the workload was too big, he had managed to catch up.
He said it had been a stressful year, with having to decide whether to go back to school or to stay home for the rest of the year and do matric again next year due to the pandemic.
“At first it was a bit scary going back to school with so many people catching the coronavirus, but I remembered how badly I want to complete the year and get my certificate so I can finally move on from high school,” he said.
His school mate Asskay Mashiane said he had repeated a grade previously and didn’t want that to happen again.
“It was a stressful year, but luckily, we haven’t heard of any pupils who were infected with Covid-19. Most of us were not too concerned about falling ill,” he said.
Aneko Hlungwani, of Tsako Thabo Secondary School in Mamelodi East, said she felt confident about the exams and had been attending extra classes provided by the school.
“Considering that there were assignments that we had to complete and catch up with all the work we missed, it was tough, but I am relieved that we got this far, even though it was stressful,” she explained.
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and MEC for Education in the province, Panyaza Lesufi, visited schools to monitor progress and ensure that staff and pupils were ready for the exams.
Motshekga’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, said they were also working with the Department of Health to ensure that pupils who tested positive for the virus or recorded temperatures over 38°C were also able to write their exams.
Schools had isolation rooms to accommodate those who required them, he said.
Lesufi said being able to save the academic calender despite criticism was cause for celebration, especially because all the critics had now gone silent.
He said: “It’s not about which province will be number one. It’s about celebrating that we have saved this academic year.
“We have saved the future of these children. It’s just unfortunate that those who were making noise that the academic year should be scrapped are so quiet right now.”
He said things were so tough, at one point, that the department had to provide security to schools because some people were threatening to disrupt classes.
“We must remember that we lost almost 32 teachers due Covid-19, so this examination is for them and their families,” he added.
Meanwhile learners who tested positive for Covid-19 were allowed to write their final examinations.
They wrote in isolation, the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Health explained, under secure conditions and in compliance with the regulations.
The departments of Basic Education as well as Health intervened, and learners who test positive at any point become the responsibility of the Education Department.
“The initial protocol was widely consulted and endorsed by the Department of Health, but this change in the protocol has been helpful because it will give all learners the opportunity to write the examination,” Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said.
Initial guidelines stipulated that learners who tested positive would not be allowed to write.
This, however, changed and those who displayed a temperature higher than 38°C will be allowed to write their exams in a different room on school premises.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said almost 32 teachers were lost due to Covid-19-related illnesses, and the exam was being written in their honour.
“This exam is for them, their families and the learners they taught, because we really believe that they paid the ultimate price for us to have these exam sessions going on.
“We didn’t imagine that this moment would ever arrive but we are glad it did,” he said.
He marvelled at how those who doubted the department and wanted learners to skip the academic year were no longer making noise and nowhere to be found.
Lesufi added that they were thrilled that exams were running smoothly despite campaigns to scrap the year.
Yesterday Lesufi’s spokesperson, Steve Mabona, said the exams had been incident-free, and all had gone well.
He said he wished all Grade 12 learners luck in the final exams and encouraged them to give it their best.