The challenge of writing grade 12


The writing of final year school exams does not only mark an important event in the school calendar but it also signifies a moment of achievement and challenge for us a nation. It’s a challenge in many ways and some of the challenges around issues of grade 12 exams is that once more multitudes of learners have dropped out of school due to a myriad of socio-economic problems. Many girls have fallen on the wayside of the school journey because ours is still a society which makes it difficult for women to achieve meaningful educational success. 

The majority of our grade 12 learners pass without mathematics and science which are badly needed in the rapidly changing fourth industrial economic revolution. Probably the greatest achievement is that grade 12 have been granted a once in a life time opportunity to use a grade 12 qualification as a step ladder towards further acquisition of knowledge and skills which would ultimately contribute towards making our country a better place for all of us. 

One other meaningful achievement about the writing of grade 12 exams are the strong emotions evoked on the part of both the learners and parents who nurtured these learners to reach such a huge millstone in their school career. Whatever the outcome the exams perhaps there is something to learn from Winston Churchill when he said: ‘the right person is the one who ceases an opportunity’. We cannot let this opportunity just pass by, as a nation, we are obliged by history to cease the opportunity.

The final year of school brings both the sad and good memories for the class of 2018 and many of us who have been fortunate to pass what was then referred to as matric. In my times (does the phrase ring a bell), being in a grade 12 was a prestigious position and in fact very few townships had a high school which offered education up until matric. Many learners would leave the comfort of their homes to study for matric in boarding schools situated mostly rural homelands of QwaQwa, Natal and Limpopo. 

Stories of learners (most of them now retired or have departed) at matric boarding schools would start with matrics making their journey on the trains along the long meandering beautiful landscape of rural South Africa. Even those who never completed matric would be held in high esteem in the social circles of the townships and would earn the coveted title of being called ‘attempted matric.’

Many schools had and still have rituals which are done prior the first matric exam. The most inspiring ritual at my school was the last school assembly for all matriculants (a position of honour and status). We would all be gathered at the assembly which was in the middle of the square shaped row of classes just in front of the well-manicured school lawn. The school principal, who commanded immense respect, would walk to the front of the assembly.  His were well paced majestic strides, he would be dressed in a black scholarly gown and reading in his trembling loud voice from the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verse 1-2. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

After that scriptural reading followed by a powerful soliloquy, punctuated by relevant motivational quotes, we would know that there was no turning back and that the moment of truth had dawned upon us and the battle for survival has begun. Few students would pass with the desired matric exemption and head universities which consistent with Apartheid rule were based at the so called homelands.

Those who could not pass matric were given the option of attending ‘night school’. A lot more people would attend evening secondary education classes. One criticism of the night school was that in some situations some people would fraudulently write exams for others and this was done in collusion with those responsible for invigilation of night schools. It seems that cheating at matric exams was a challenge since some time ago. One other challenge around the writing of matric exams has been the leak of exam papers prior the actual writing of the actual exam paper. 

This problem was common in the Gauteng Province and it took sometime before the education department could bring an end to this corrupt practice. I was later revealed that leaks of exam papers were not only confined to matric but some universities also had their share of leaks of examination papers. Before the advent of computer technology, some people would generate fake matric certificates and use these certificates to gain entry into the tight job market. We still have individuals who occupy significant positions in both public and private sector on the basis of fake matric qualifications. The class of 2018 should all means shy away from anything that would compromise the integrity of their matric qualification. The recent allegations around an educator who compromised a geography paper in Gauteng Province are a threat to the integrity of our national final school year qualification.

The processes and rituals around the writing of grade twelve examinations are but a microcosm of our nurturing democracy which on a daily basis is faced with socials tensions caused by the legacies of many years of Apartheid rule, namely, poverty, poor schooling system and numerous social ills. Whatever the outcome of the results of the 2018 national grade twelve exams, the matric class symbolizes a nation waiting reclaim its place in the international community of nations bound by common values of democracy, opportunity, equality, freedom and diversity.

Dr. Tutu Faleni (PhD) is a Democratic Alliance Member of the North West Provincial Legislature. He was previously a lecturer in curriculum studies at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North West University. He writes in his personal capacity.