On the last day of 2008, 589 912 matrics received the exam results which would have such an impact on their futures. A staggering 38% of them failed (224 166 young adults) and are likely to add to the 60% unemployment we already have among 18 - 35 year olds in South Africa.
I interviewed some of the lucky few who not only passed, but obtained distinctions and bursaries for their university education.
They were all quick to acknowledge that they owed their success to the tuition they had received. Sadly, that tuition was not at their schools.
The students I spoke to were all part of the Metropolitan Actuaries on the Move Programme which identifies learners in township schools who have a flair for mathematics and science and enrols them in a two-year programme that builds those skills. The programme offers extra English, maths and science training on Saturday afternoons as well as courses in study techniques, computer training, life skills and career counselling during school holidays.
The programme has achieved a 100% matriculation pass rate since 2002, with 2008 being no exception. But they can only do so much: just 177 learners were given the boost they needed to succeed.
As Mamphela Ramphele pointed out in The Times "for all the trumpeting of the matric pass rate, the real picture is one of failure."
The article adds: "For education specialists, the results are seen as a “swindle ... nothing has changed except the complexion of the upper classes ... Patterns of achievement after apartheid mirror perfectly patterns of achievement under apartheid.”
I was struck by Mamphela's comment that "every year about 1.1 million children start grade 1, then why did we have only 589 912 pupils writing matric in 2008? What has happened to the rest of our children?"
Mamphela's comments get even more depressing:
"And we need to remember the low hurdle set for the definition of a pass. A pupil needs to have only three subjects at 40% plus three at 30% to be included in this success rate figure. Where in the world can such a low standard be regarded as adequate preparation for the 21st century knowledge society?"
There's more. Do yourself a favour and read the rest.
The matrics I interviewed were, of course, over the moon with their results, and filled with hope and passion for their futures.
Take Chosen Khumalo who achieved a Matric pass with seven distinctions.
“I'm overwhelmed,” said the 18-year-old orphan who lives with her older brother in a settlement near Umlazi in KwaZulu Natal. “But I know now that anything is possible.”
A jubilant George Phandle earned four distinctions in his matric exams.
“I've seen the results of never giving up. I am the first person in my family to get a matric and it took a lot of strength and courage to do it,” he said.
This young man proved his passion for sharing his knowledge by teaching other learners in his area.
“I was really pleased. All of them improved their results, and of those who were in matric, the majority passed,” he said. “The Actuaries on the Move teachers showed me the way by sacrificing their Saturdays to teach me, and I taught others in the evenings and on Sundays.”
“This programme puts the students on a whole new level,” commented maths teacher Mandla Kweyama. “Its because we teach them at such a high level that they not only cope well with matric, but they are equipped for their first year university as well. Each year, a few of the learners on the programme even achieve 100% marks in their maths exams.”
“The key is the self confidence that the students gain after they have attended extra classes,” said Zwelitsha Magugwana who teaches science on the programme. “Instead of them admiring the criminals with their flashy cars, they come to realise that hard work brings its own rewards. They get an edge over their peers.”
“What would really bring joy to my heart would be if we could increase the number of students. Metropolitan is unusual because it is prepared to invest in the young blood. It's children like these that are going to be at the core of our future.”
Busani Zulu, another of the programme's educators in KZN agreed. “This is just a drop in the ocean of what could be achieved,” he said. “Imagine the future of this country if the programme could reach even more students?”
Imagine the future of this country if our government cared enough to offer this level of tuition to all the children?