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South Africa: Odds stacked against matric cohort 2022 as challenges mount

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Pictures: African News Agency (ANA) Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA)

By Hendrick Makaneta

MORE than half a million candidates will sit for their final matric exams this week. It is worth noting that this year’s cohort of matric learners is the most resilient in the history of our education system.

I have chosen the word “resilient” carefully in that when Covid-19 hit the world in 2020, this same cohort was in Grade 10, a grade characterised by a wide range of challenges such as teenage pregnancies and high dropout rates.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, this cohort of learners maintained a presence and were not part of those who fell by the wayside because of the pandemic, which was itself an additional burden on their shoulders.

If this cohort could navigate the new and often difficult terrain presented by the pandemic, our expectation as a nation should be that the class of 2022 is highly likely to improve performance as compared to its predecessors.

But at the same time, it should be noted that the exam season for the matric class of 2022 takes place at the most challenging period in the history of our education system.

It takes place at a time when the nation is still trying to come to terms with load shedding. There is no doubt that Eskom’s challenges have spilled into schools, affecting proper teaching and learning.

Learners who attend public schools in townships and rural communities continued to remain the hardest hit as their schools and homes can hardly afford generators.

Despite all these challenges, it is expected that there will still be an improvement in their performance.

The question that must be answered by society is: What will be the major cause of an improvement in learner performance despite the challenges that they went through?

The answer to this question lies in the lowered standard that Basic Education continues to subject our learners to.

The mere fact that the annual teaching plan had to be revised during the time of the pandemic speaks volumes about the quality of the candidate that will sit for the final exam and ultimately exit the system.

The real test of whether enough work was done in the basic education system during the past three years will be seen in 2023 and beyond when the current crop of learners proceed to universities and TVET colleges.

We are already sitting with a high rate of unemployment, not only of those with just a matric certificate, but also those who have a university qualification.

In its report on youth and the labour market, Statistics South Africa laid bare the serious challenges affecting the youth where the unemploy ment rate within this sector is higher than the national average.

We are talking here about youth aged between 24 and 34 years.

When we look at the National Development Plan with its vision for the year 2030, we are running behind time as we are now literally left with seven years.

On the other hand, we must applaud the Department of Basic Education for taking practical steps to address the question of skills by piloting new subjects in schools to modernise our education system. But the intervention came too late as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is moving at a faster pace.

The gap between basic education and higher education seems to be huge. It cannot be correct that learners who performed well in basic education end up dropping out when they are in higher education. This can only mean that the basic education system does not adequately prepare our younger generation for the world of post-matric.

We really need more interventions at the basic education level where the standard should be raised a little.

But at the same time, high academic standards at universities should not be used as the basis for the massive exclusion of students.

Universities should subject students who performed poorly to bridging courses that can help them to cope with the demand of higher education.

Students need support to succeed, and the support should not only be financial but also psychological in nature.

Although some universities and TVET colleges offer students constant support, not all institutions are able to intervene at this level, and perhaps we should call on Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande to find a way to ensure that there is uniformity across the board with a view to ensure that there is zero dropout rate in the terrain of higher education.

We owe it to future generations to produce graduates with high levels of skills that can compete in the main- stream economy.

The private sector should also come on board to help in the creation of employment, as it is now clear that the government alone is unable to create jobs that are required to fight poverty and end inequality.

We can all lend a hand of support.

* Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist who is completing an LLB degree with the University of Pretoria.