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Matric results euphoria is both educationally and politically misplaced

Khumbulani Mngadi, Image: Supplied

Khumbulani Mngadi, Image: Supplied

Published Jan 25, 2022

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By: Khumbulani Mngadi

The yearly euphoria around matric results is both educationally and politically misplaced. The matric results excitement veils bigger problems in our schooling system that we should be worried about. This misdiagnosis has been left unattended for the last 27 years, I opine.

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It is high time we confront the elephant in the room. Do not get me wrong, it is necessary that we celebrate the achievement. Every positive step should be applauded, that’s natural.

However, we should not do it at all costs because it can bear undesirable mediocrity. In this article, I will tackle my points of departure robustly and objectively the best way I know how. I dare anyone to debate with me what I think should be done to turn the situation around and put our education system back on track.

Year in, year out, matric results occupy not only the minds of the learners but our television screens, parents, pundits, journalists, and the entire nation for good two weeks or so with media presses left right and centre from the day of announcement of its release right up to the actual ministerial announcement at the press briefing. Is this all necessary? Can’t we focus our attention on preparing these pupils better rather?

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There are a number of issues during and before the attainment of matric results that get swept under the carpet either for political expediency or just plain ignorance on the part of the leaders.

I will touch on a few factors that I think should be occupying our minds way before we celebrate matric results.

First, matriculation as a tuition level is part of the entire schooling curriculum from grade R. For the purposes of this point, I will confine my narrative to the higher school set up as it is immediate in this context. Matriculants should be bred from the point in which a grade 8 learner sets their foot on the school's premises, perhaps more critically when they make their subject choices in grade 10.

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In grade 10, this is where I believe aspirant matriculants should be properly prepared. A grounded grade 10 learner should give us a great matriculant naturally. This point is not new, literature reveals that all the time but it never gets treated with the urgency it deserves. At this level of schooling efforts should be concerted and intensified in grooming these young people holistically if we are serious about being globally competitive.

Of course, this is possible with the help of parents, school governing bodies, government, the private sector, including universities. Resources can be made available in time to all the schools. With properly trained teachers to deal with this specific cohort right up until they sit for their matric final exams.

Second, this links directly to the above, the structural misalignment of the two departments of education i.e., basic and higher education. This misalignment is at the centre of the problem I am raising as part of the missing puzzle. If these two departments were synchronized, a substantial number of problems would be solved at both policy and structural level.

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This tendency of one hand not knowing what the other is doing between these two departments is mind boggling. The reasons advanced when these two were unbundled years back do not outweigh the reality on the ground.

There is a serious problem, the main one being the vertical articulation. Stuff that basic education teaches does not prepare students thoroughly to cope with demands of tertiary tuition. For instance, teachers at basic level have a limited understanding of the developments that are taking place at tertiary level.

This results in a number of problems for pupils at school level. It even gets worse when learners in high school level are pushed into doing subjects that are going to make the school look good on marks (pass rate) yet the university subject combination requires something else. A common trend is that of mathematics literacy versus pure mathematics, this has harmed a lot of prospective students for various mathematics graded programmes or degrees. Ironically there is scarcity in these careers in the country. I may have to add that these phenomena are more prevalent in our public schools.

Third, the glaring lack of foresight or at worst the unwillingness of our schooling system to embrace technology.

The situation we have found ourselves in recent times could have been handled differently had we had the wisdom to introduce technology in schools ten years ago. Again, this points to the structural misalignment at government level.

We have the department of science and technology that is working far away from the department of basic education and ultimately the department of higher education. These two departments have interlocking mandates yet they operate in silos. It looks as though no one sees anything wrong with these silos.

The Covid-19 and the looting unrest could have had lesser impact respectively if we had embraced technology in time. Online learning in most countries is a common practice and it was introduced way before the pandemic, by the time it hit their shores it was easy to transition because teachers and learners were already trained in using this mode of tuition. If we had foresight, we could have prevented this from badly affecting our schooling time.

This has now become a political excuse for poor matric performance. It is now blamed on a lack of normal contact time for at least two years, 2020-2021. I must warn, this two-year gap will be very telling for kids in their post matric studies. It is something that should have been avoided had we planned better. It is something that the universities should be ready for and prepared to mitigate the same way they will do for their existing first and second years in the particular instance.

Fourth, the biggest elephant in the room that most pundits shy away from handling i.e., over-unionization of teachers. In the last 27 years, we have witnessed the gradual erosion of the culture of teaching and learning being replaced by the culture of politicking within school premises.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with teachers joining unions, it is their right enshrined in our beautiful constitution. In fact, principals are encouraged to create a climate that is democratic and free for teachers to exercise their rights. However, in recent times teachers have overly prioritized politics over their civic and professional duty i.e., to teach.

Ironically the militancy that teachers exhibit gets transferred to learners subconsciously. The hours spent in political meetings outweigh time spent in class and the principal cannot say a thing about it because his future is also dependent on this political allegiance too.

The appointment of principals in schools is not even merited but dependent on how many numbers you can gunner for unions. This culture has crippled the system in a big way and that is reflected in a number of incidents where teachers spend most of their time fighting for promotions using union membership. The same culture inevitably gets transferred to learners when they get to university, their priority is to join student politics not for any other reason but for political positions.

This has become toxic. For neutrals, these things should be nipped in the butt and solutions should be negotiated to bring back the culture of teaching and learning in schools.

I may not have exhausted all the points but these are enough to start a healthy debate. A debate that is characterized by the need to create good citizenry, responsible professionals and a better future for all. It is a debate that should elevate itself above everything else including politics, race, or cred. As patriots of this beautiful country, we should be brave enough to look at each other in the eye and say you are wrong. This with no fear of victimization or assassination.

There are so many people out there with genuine desire to see this country prosper and I believe if they can be given space and time to share their wisdom and skills this country will move with vigor in the quest to self-correct. The first prize to that realization is to fix our education system, once we fix it all else will fit into their spaces nicely.

*Khumbulani Mngadi is an independent analyst based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.

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