The top-achieving pupil in the Eastern Cape was shunned by Bhisho and lost out on an R80 000 scholarship even though she wrote the government’s matric exam, simply because she attended a private school.
Heather Diogo, 18, from the Global Leadership Academy (GLA) in Jeffreys Bay, recorded an overall pass percentage of 96.7% for her National Senior Certificate (NSC) qualification.
That percentage put the soft-spoken teenager in pole position in the province in terms of overall NSC matric passes – 1.5% higher than that of overall winner Reamohetse Mofitiso, from Lehana Senior Secondary in Mount Fletcher.
But while the provincial education department first attributed the anomaly to “systemic error”, it later backtracked to say even if a pupil wrote the NSC exam, they did not qualify for awards such as the scholarship awarded to the top three if they were from a private school.
The department’s deputy director of assessment and examinations, Poovanesa Toovalingam, said the criteria for the selection of the province’s top three overall matric passes were based on national criteria which did not include life orientation (LO).
When removing LO from Diogo’s overall percentage, the straight-A student still finished on the top-three podium, coming in second with 96.3%, 0.3% behind Mofitiso, whose score without LO was 96.6%.
However, while the rest of the province’s top achievers were being lauded by the department in East London two weeks ago, Diogo was at home, unaware the event was taking place.
At the awards, the top three were announced as Mofitiso, Abigail Sieberhagen, from PE’s Pearson High School, in second place, and Mphoentle Piliso, from Cofimvaba Senior Secondary, in third.
The trio produced overall pass percentages of 95.2%, 94% and 93% respectively. When removing LO, they received 96.6%, 93.57% and 93.5%.
The inclusion of Diogo’s results sees Sieberhagen move to third place and Piliso removed from the podium.
The top three each received an R80 000 scholarship, a new laptop, certificate and trophy.
This come as Diogo’s parents, Sharon and Johan, are left scratching their heads trying to figure a way to gather enough money to pay for their daughter’s first year of studying for a BSc at the University of Cape Town.
Diogo said: “It was very disappointing not to get the acknowledgement for all the years of hard work.
“Because it isn’t just matric – I had to work hard throughout high school
to achieve these results.
“I didn’t even know the events were happening or that I qualified to be there. I found out about my results and the awards via a WhatsApp from my English teacher.
“Studying at UCT is definitely going to be a huge financial struggle for my family – we are just a normal household, we aren’t rich.
“The R80 000 would have gone a long way to helping my parents afford the fees.
“But the part that upsets me is despite doing all the same work as every other pupil and despite performing better than everyone, it is not acknowledged.
“Independent and public schools should be given equal acknowledgement – we write the same curriculum.”
Provincial head of assessment and examinations Mzimhle Mabona said: “All the matrics are on system. When we request the top matrics, the system pushes out the top 1 000 and the winners are selected from there.”
Department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima initially conceded there had been a “systemic error” resulting in Diogo’s results being overlooked.
“There will be an investigation launched to see what really happened and check what went wrong.
“The marks are generated by the system but there are people who audit these results.
“We will be approaching these people to find out what went wrong, how it can be remedied to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
However, shortly after saying this, Mtima said he was subsequently informed Diogo was not eligible as she had attended a private school.
“I went back to the director of exams and he confirmed she would have placed second overall.
“However, because she went to a private school she does not qualify for the awards, regardless of whether she had done the NSC curriculum and exams,” Mtima said.
Asked to provide documentation indicating private schools were not eligible, Mtima said: “I can’t provide documentation because that was a decision taken by the department.
“The awards are only for government schools, not private schools, because in most cases these pupils are much better off than those at government schools.
“She [Diogo] is second overall but doesn’t qualify for the awards or the prizes.”
GLA co-founder and director Anna Marie Franken said while the school was a private institution in that none of the staff were paid by the state, it still adhered to all requirements under the NSC curriculum.
“Heather should not be judged on any other criteria. Yes, the school is a private school but it still does the NSC curriculum, tests and exams like any government school,” Franken said.
“Hence she should also be judged, acknowledged and eligible to receive the same recognition.”
The anomaly comes after it was discovered last week that Anathi Mazimisa, from Nkwanca High School in Komani, was one of 33 matrics at the school whose agricultural science marks were missing from their statements.
The department subsequently apologised for the mistake prior to hosting a private awards ceremony for Mazimisa, where he was named the Chris Hani district’s top pupil of 2017.
Mazimisa received the R80 000 scholarship, laptop, certificate and trophy.
Education expert Professor Susan van Rensburg said: “With regard to the overall performers, it is my understanding that quintiles and other criteria do not play a role – the pupils are judged strictly on their academic performance.
“Her [Diogo’s] results should have been taken into account. An investigation needs to be launched and the pupil given what is due to her.
“However, a mistake like this puts into question the validity of all the top performers.”
University of Pretoria lecturer Professor Jan Nieuwenhuis said the situation was not unique to the Eastern Cape.
“When a mistake like this crops up, one questions how and whether the department has the expertise to conduct a quality analysis of the top performers as this situation has happened before in other provinces,” he said.
“The worrying aspect is that prior to the awards there is already a good indication of who the top performers are as these pupils are stored on a database for observation.
“So one questions whether she [Diogo] was on the department’s radar at all.
“An investigation must be undertaken to rectify it if it is the case, because these awards affect the child’s life and career path.”