The Matric class of 2021 is writing its final examinations facing an unprecedented combination of challenges, including a potential fourth wave of Covid-19, loadshedding, lack of access to basic services and internet connectivity, and the fears that come with the news that they will be required to write their exams either in-venue or at ‘special isolation venues’ if they were exposed to the virus.
What is essential, is the maintaining of academic integrity through this process. With all the consideration in mind, technology could be of huge assistance in ensuring the credibility of matric papers, while allowing students to write safely away from crowed halls.
Internationally, proctoring solutions are held in high regard, and have assisted millions of students the world over to continue their studies during the pandemic, because they were able to write all their assessments remotely.
“These international proctoring solutions have often been difficult for South African schools and institutions to consider, due to their price point being in US dollars and the software requiring prohibitively high-tech devices such as laptops and connectivity solutions from their users. But luckily, South Africa now boasts its own solution, the Invigilator App, which is designed to meet the challenges South Africans face every day. It can work in low power, offline mode during loadshedding, or when WiFi or 3G is unavailable, and uses only a tiny amount of data in an exam sitting. Put differently, it’s an all-inclusive solution not just the privileged few,” says Nicholas Riemer, co-founder and CEO of The Invigilator App.
The current reality for the Matric Class of 2021
The main advice that the Matric Class of 2021 has been given by the education authorities is to not expose themselves to COVID-19. Even in the most COVID-compliant of households, there is always the risk that someone in the family gets exposed, thus forcing the entire family to self-isolate for 10-14 days.
The Department of Basic Education advised that “candidates who demonstrate Covid-19 symptoms and candidates who test positive will be allowed to write their examinations at special isolation venues.” This provision is targeted at Grade 12s, and it is therefore up to each school or institution to ensure the safety of their in-venue examinations for the rest of the students.
Exam isolation hesitancy
Now that over 23 million vaccinations have been administered in South Africa, people are seemingly less fearful of Covid-19, and seem to be experiencing lesser symptoms when affected.
“The unfortunate reality is that it is unlikely that a Matric pupil who has been exposed to Covid but is asymptomatic, would come forward to the school requesting to write at the isolation centre. Any Matric pupil will tell you that their biggest examination fear is that either their paper goes missing, or that they are unable to write the examination for any reason. The unknown logistics behind the isolation exam venues may not appeal to them for this reason – they might prefer to chance their luck in the exam venue relying on haphazard temperature screening,” says Riemer, who is also a university lecturer.
“This is not a uniquely Grade 12 issue, it affects every student writing in-venue examinations as the country gears up for the fourth wave of the pandemic. Most schools have been left to decide how best to manage examinations for students. As lecturers, my colleagues and I realised we needed to do better to help these students – we couldn’t bear seeing a lost generation in the making simply because South Africa lacked an accessible exam invigilation solution for the digital era. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say,” says Riemer.
Implement the proven digital solutions
Proctoring is intended to curb cheating and collusion in assessments, yet there has never been a proctoring system created specifically for the South African audience in mind. This is why the founders of the The Invigilator App decided to design technology that would work on even the most basic of smartphones, requiring minimal data and battery to operate, and that did not require a constant internet connection.
The solution is now meeting the needs of some of South Africa’s largest tertiary institutions, including SA’s largest university, the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is currently making use of the app to enable students to write their examinations and assessments from anywhere while still undergoing stringent invigilation that ensures their academic integrity.
“In the past month alone, 350 000 students wrote their examinations using the application, which automatically flags and detects unethical behaviour, and ensures exam conditions are abided by, by replicating the in-venue exam experience from home. Because of the Artificial Intelligence and customisation of each exam, those that try beat the system will ultimately be flagged - a risk simply not worth taking,” says Riemer.
The bigger picture
The Invigilator App is scalable technology that goes far beyond simply solving pandemic-related concerns. It is also a solution that enables schools and tertiary institutions to expand their offerings to eliminate the requirement for in-venue assessments entirely, says Riemer.
“Imagine being able to obtain a Degree from The University Of South Africa (UNISA) from your apartment in Lagos? Using The Invigilator App, UNISA has now made this a reality. Students can write all assessments online using the app and educators are provided with proof that they did not collude in that assessment. These students write their papers at the exact time and for the exact time allocation as those writing in-venue.” The Inclusion of technology allows for students to study international degrees locally, with education becoming more accessible and affordable through the reduction of University fixed costs such as physical venue rentals, invigilators as well as printing of all papers.
“Given the nature of the past 24 months, all students – despite their ages- have endured extreme hardship from the added pressure of the pandemic. If there are innovative solutions that enable institutions to limit in-venue assessments as far as possible, one hopes that stakeholders are looking into them as a viable option for the future,” says Riemer.