Jansen: Two years to write matric? Will the politicians ever learn?
The Department of Basic Education is mulling over a plan to help struggling matrics complete their Grade 12 certificate over two years. Gazetted on 3 June 2016, the plan proposes that learners who fail Grade 11 twice, but have been pushed through to Grade 12, would be able to write some of their exams in December with the rest being written in June the following year.
The new programme would be put into place in 2017, and learners would need to fulfil certain criteria in order to be a part of the new system, including attending class on a regular basis, and completing all their assessments.
Ever-outspoken on the state of education in South Africa, VC of the University of the Free State Professor Jonathan Jansen is not impressed, to say the least: “If the goal is to sink so low that it is impossible for anyone to fail, hey, make the exam as easy as possible. One subject in Grade 8, one in Grade 9 — you get the picture — and one after Grade 12. That way, everyone passes, we hope.”
Jansen feels that the decision to let matrics write over two years is leadership’s pre-election attempt to improve performance at the polls, rather than a way of actually helping the academically weak.
To demonstrate this point, Jansen draws an analogy to an 800m athlete who has to run twice around the track having failed to meet the expected standard after the first 400m: “They stop the race, send him back to the starting point, and tell him to try again until the struggling athlete is ready to do the next 400m. Ridiculous, right? For the goal of the 800m is to circle the race track twice as a sign of accomplishment in the desired time. And you cannot fix the last 100m of this middle-distance event by putting all effort into the last sprint — in other words, fix the foundations of learning in the first three to five grades and you will not have to come up with these desperate schemes in the final grades of high school. Will politicians ever learn?”
Jansen is not alone in his concerns. Although Equal Education General Secretary Tshepo Motsepe said the policy could have benefits and reduce drop-out rates, he feels that the real problem could be traced to the foundation phases in Grades 1 to 3.
“Our learners are struggling because for the first three years of schooling they remain three years behind. And that is a result of a foundation phase that has not picked up in terms of poor resources, untrained teachers and overcrowding in classes. By the time they get to Grade 10, they start struggling,” he said.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa president Basil Manuel is also worried about the practicality of writing matric exams over two years.
“Writing matric over two years is odd. It does make sense that you need to create a means for children, as opposed to failing and never getting back to have a chance. But I am worried about the practicality.”