Limpopo’s chaos with online school admissions results in POPI complaint by FEDSAS

18/01/2022 - Fedsas

In an effort to rectify chaos caused by its ill-considered online admission system, the Limpopo Education Department has apparently shared the personal details of thousands of learners and parents in a manner that is not compliant with the POPI legislation. The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS), who lodged a complaint at the Information Regulator, says there is evidence that unprotected information was distributed to at least 14 schools.

“Lists with applications were sent to schools to verify information, resulting in the distribution of unprotected information of thousands of applicants,” says Ms Juané van der Merwe, FEDSAS’ Manager of Legal Services. Van der Merwe says the personal details are comprehensive and include names, ID numbers of learners and parents, the identity of siblings, work and home addresses and cellphone numbers.

Van der Merwe says the National Department of Basic Education views the POPI legislation in such a serious light that it did not want to publish exam results. “The aim of the POPI legislation is to give effect to people’s constitutional right to privacy. Access to so many data points puts these people in danger of anything from identity theft to unauthorised access to for example bank accounts.”

The Limpopo Education Department launched the online admission system last year as a pilot project but it was problematic from the start with parents complaining that information was not saved properly or that their children’s names did not even appear on admission lists. Van der Merwe says technical issues with the system forced the education department to extract the information in Excel format, and these lists were sent to schools without any filtering. “The POPI Act requires the Limpopo Education Department as responsible party or owner of the data to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of personal information.” Van der Merwe says in addition the department did not inform the people whose information was leaked.

FEDSAS considers cooperation between role-players as the best way to ensure quality education. “The organisation is always willing to share its expertise but its first priority remains the interests of its members. When role-players like provincial education departments do not adhere to legislation FEDSAS will not hesitate to act.”

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