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Township, rural learners in SA still carry inequality burden

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By Hendrick Makaneta

There is no doubt that the past two years of Covid-19 have caused devastation in many sectors of the economy. Undeniably, the terrain of education has not been spared from uncertainties that came with the pandemic.

The current crop of learners who are in matric were the hardest hit in relation to the coverage of the curriculum. We will recall that these same learners were subjected to a revised curriculum in 2020 and 2021, and as a result, they missed some of the topics that are relevant for their success in the final 2022 exams.

If we look at their overall performance in June, we can conclude that had it not been for the curriculum losses suffered during the years of Covid-19, we could be talking a different story. It is worth noting that not all the learners suffered great losses in the curriculum.

Those who were hardest hit are those who come from townships and rural communities where the possibility of online teaching was slim due to a lack of resources such as internet connectivity and relevant gadgets that could have enabled a smooth continuation of lessons even during the pandemic.

The learners who are in the independent schools seem to be doing fine. They have been able to navigate the Covid period swiftly, thanks to the vast number of resources at their disposal. In fact, the gap between learners from independent schools and those from public schools widened during the years of the pandemic. This inequality which further resulted in the curriculum gap will be felt for the next few years.

Despite all the challenges that the learners and teachers faced, there is hope. The hope is inspired by the recent achievement of a 76% pass rate of the class of 2021.

Although the class of 2022 is expected to further improve, the challenge of dropout rates persists. We should not forget that it was during the years of the pandemic that the dropout rate increased, particularly in Grade10. So, this year’s matric results will be different in that for the first time in history we will account for fewer learners, as compared with previous years, due to the challenge of dropout rates.

Of course, the dropout rate in the terrain of basic education is not a new phenomenon. It has always existed, and worsened during the pandemic. In a sense the prediction is that even though there will be an improvement in results for the class of 2022, the reality is that due to the high number of learners who fell along the way, we should be more worried about those who will be absent from this year’s exams because of a wide range of factors.

What will happen to the absent learners? Will they join the long queues of the unemployed? We really need to find a solution to this problem of learners who do not reach the finish line. The other problem is that our education system is setting up our matriculants for failure due to low expectations on grades. We cannot forever maintain the current standard if we are to develop as a nation. An overhaul of the system is required.

The basic education lekgotla held in January produced strategies that must be implemented to equip learners with 21st-century skills, given the fast-changing world of work that we find ourselves in.

Unless we do something drastic to realise the dream of changing our curriculum, the current National Senior Certificate exams will continue to yield fewer and fewer fruits for the nation. Despite all the negativities brought by the pandemic, we can safely say that the state of readiness for the matric exams is pleasing. This assertion finds expression in the current preliminary exams which are proceeding without challenges.

We must accept that our learners and teachers have remained resilient during the storm caused by the pandemic. We should also applaud the Department of Basic Education, in particular Minister Angie Motshekga and her team, for playing their role in ensuring that there is a smooth process that underpins all exams.

It should be clear at this point that as we speak, all processes are already in place to deliver a successful season for the National Senior Certificate exams. Learners and teachers need support to achieve good grades, and up to now the support that is offered is outstanding.

We wish the class of 2022 a successful examination season as they face the difficult battle to create a future for themselves. It is now up to the learners to make it happen and make themselves and the country proud.

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