A Failing Education System

It’s not often I’ll post on consecutive days, except for when world events get me riled and I need to rant. The 2018 matric results were released today. Usually these aren’t of much interest to me. Yes, I am one of your typical “It was much harder to pass in my day”, “Can you believe how easy these exams are?”, “The pass mark is disgracefully low!” people, but beyond that I don’t interact much with that demographic and so it doesn’t really affect my life. However, for the past five years I have been sponsoring my domestic worker’s son’s education and this year he wrote matric, so today, the results were of huge significance to me. Treading as lightly as I can on my white privilege, we have a very uncharacteristic relationship with our domestic worker. I’m about to say a whole bunch of stuff you’ve heard white people say about their domestic workers before, only I genuinely mean them. I love Betty like another mother. I love her son Bongani like a little brother. Our home is their home. Betty has been to our wedding, we have been to her home and met most of her extended family. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

Bongani went to a school in the township that he lives in. I tried to move him to a better school closer to where we live but his English wasn’t good enough to do English as his home language. I sent him to Saturday school for extra English, Maths Literacy, Geography and Computer lessons. I sent him books to read and movies to watch to try and improve his English. It did improve markedly, but not to a point where he could transition to studying English as his home language. His education at school was sporadic. Teachers would come and go. He would be taught in isiZulu but tested in English. He would run out of stationery and out-grow his uniform but be too proud to ask me for a new supply – I had to learn to pre-empt him. His marks were erratic. He would get 60% for a subject one term and fail the next, with no explanation. This continued throughout his schooling. On paper, he failed grade 11, yet in January 2018 he was starting matric.

At the beginning of matric he told me he could no longer go to Saturday school because he had to attend his regular school on Saturdays to get through the syllabus. He couldn’t come to me for extra help during the school holidays because he would be attending classes then too. My heart ached for this poor boy whose childhood it seemed was over. The first term report card arrived and he had failed again. He just scraped through terms two and three. In grade 8 he had spoken excitedly about becoming a teacher, which required university entrance. In more recent years he had tailored his ambitions to possibly pursuing a trade – something where he could start at the bottom and work his way up, perhaps attending a Technikon while he worked. But now we were staring down the barrel of a matric rewrite.

So, imagine my utter astonishment this morning when I typed his examination number into the system and flashing back at me it said “Bachelor Degree Pass”.

Can someone please explain to me how someone went from failing, scraping through, to a Bachelor. Degree. Pass? To get a Bachelor Degree Pass you must:

  • Obtain at least 40% for your Home Language.
  • Obtain at least 50% for four other High Credit subjects.
  • Obtain at least 30% for two other subjects.

I know Bongani worked extremely hard, I have no doubt about this. I am quite confident he achieved points one and three. But the marks he would have needed to achieve point two seemed almost unobtainable.

I know this is the point at which I make enemies but it needs to be said: a university education is not a right, it is a privilege and leading young people to believe it is a right does them a disservice and sets them up for failure. I was lucky enough, privileged enough to go to university, and I know how difficult it is. I know that Bongani would not cope. His level of English is not good enough to cope with lectures. If he were studying a BEd he would struggle to handle the workload and the course content. Inevitably he would fail and be forced to drop out. He would lose years of his life and take a massive blow to his self-esteem. None of this is Bongani’s fault. He has been failed by an education system that did not adequately prepare him for tertiary education and a school system that has somehow made him eligible for something he will not be able to cope with.

I can already hear the cries of racism ringing through the air, but this has nothing to do with race. This useless, corrupt system is colour blind. I have no doubt it is failing children of all colours, creeds and languages the country over. Sending them to university with dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes to fail at courses that they are not equipped for because their high school education did not prepare them for it. It is a lovely notion that everyone is entitled to tertiary education, but tertiary need not necessitate university. It can include colleges, trade schools and Technikons. So please, if you got your results today and you got that Bachelor Degree Pass out of nowhere. By all means go bonkers and celebrate. But then please take a moment before deciding on your next move. Become a statistic for the right reasons.

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