THE Grade 12 results of 373 students from eight regions have been withheld because it is suspected that they had prior access to question and answer papers before they sat for last year's examinations.
The Namibian reported on Monday that it was detected during the marking of papers that 278 students may have had access to examination papers, but yesterday the deputy minister of education, David Namwandi, announced that this number had since increased to 373.
Of these students, 272 are from the Caprivi Region, 84 from Khomas, four from the Omusati and Kavango regions respectively, three from Oshana, two from Ohangwena and one from the Erongo Region.
In October last year 12 students and an adult were arrested in the Caprivi Region and are now awaiting trial .
The adult suspect is a former employee of the Directorate of National Examinations and Assessments, where she was responsible for typing question papers and marking answer sheets. At the time of her arrest she was the secretary to the regional police commander in Caprivi.
Namwandi yesterday said that it became clear during the marking process that 373 candidates appeared to have had access to the question papers and memoranda in the subjects of Biology, English Second Language, Agriculture, Business Studies, Economics and Development Studies.
The students are currently the subject of a Ministry of Education investigation and will be informed of the outcome "as soon as possible".
"The ministry has already dispatched a team of competent education officers and subject experts to the regions to work hand in hand with the regional staff for a speedy investigation. The results of the 373 candidates are put on hold pending the outcome of the investigation," Namwandi said yesterday.
He stated that international and local recognition of the country's qualifications is critical and thus strategies have to be in place to root out any malpractice related to examinations, including cheating and leakage.
"The public is informed that the Ministry of Education will use all the available instruments at its disposal to protect the credibility and authenticity of our qualifications. Therefore, the conduct and the administration of the national examinations are crucial and should not be undermined at any level," he said.
Should any of the 373 students be found to have participated in the leakage of the question papers and memoranda, their results in all subjects will be declared null and void and they will not be allowed to sit for the national examination for one year.
Namwandi said the investigation results would be announced in three weeks' time.
At the end of last year, Education Minister Abraham Iyambo ordered markers of Grade 12 examination papers to be on the lookout for candidates who might have been in possession of stolen exam papers.
After Iyambo's remarks, some parents had expressed concern that top-performing pupils might be victimised because of their success in the exams.
"They are putting fear in our children and should stop this before we consider seeking legal assistance," said one parent.
Namwandi said the ministry could not at this stage reveal how markers had identified the suspected 373 students, saying only that such information would be revealed after the completion of the investigation.
Some of the implicated schools in the Caprivi Region include Mayuni Secondary School, Sikosinyana Secondary School, Caprivi Secondary Schoo, Kizito Secondary School and Sanjo Secondary School.
Media reports alleged that the pupils bought examination papers for N$500 a piece.
A similar scandal rocked the education sector in 2002 and a school principal was sent to jail for selling examination papers to students.