Matric results still reflect a racial hierarchy

2015-01-12 07:00

I want to focus on one problem, which comes into sharp focus every time we engage in the annual matric results ritual.

I cannot help noticing the fact that year in, year out, the top matric achievers reflect the racial hierarchy of the apartheid system.

Most of the top performers are white, followed by Indians, then coloureds and then, finally, Africans. Most disconcerting is the fact that nobody has broached the subject publicly, yet it has far-reaching consequences for the rest of the ­education system.

From what I have observed, the school types do not necessarily predict performance. In many of the former Model?C and private schools, children, many from not vastly different class backgrounds, learn together.

Yet the results differ by race. This is not to suggest that there are no African children who achieve at the top, but that their numbers remain minuscule, particularly given that African children constitute the majority of matriculants.

The children who wrote matric in 2014 were all born after 1994. Of course some will argue that the performance of children from different races will continue to differ for as long as we have socioeconomic disparities in the country.

Others will even say that 20 years is too short a time to wipe out the disparities. While these are valid points, surely they cannot be the only explanations for the persistence of racially different performances in our school system.

The explanation lies in two areas – mother tongue education at the entry levels of schooling and the design of the curriculum for the entire school system. Mother tongue education can help solve some of the intractable learning difficulties in our schools, but nothing has been done about it.

As for the curriculum, soon the education authorities have to grasp the nettle and move away from an education system that alienates learners from themselves, their communities and their country.

For as long as the above challenges are not met, the school system, specifically matric, will remain a predictor of life chances for the different race groups.

Top-performing matriculants will continue to get first admission into top universities, while many African students struggle to gain admission or face exclusion for academic reasons.

Differential performance also translates into racial and class segmentation of ­career paths and universities. Within the top universities, study areas such as medicine, engineering and commerce have predominantly white or Indian students.

This self-selection also means that the top universities only have spaces for the top end of the student body, while the rest of the system is almost exclusively African.

Buhlungu is dean in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town

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