Keep your hair on, it's only matric

2010-11-25 00:00

BEFORE long 2010’s school leavers will finish matric exams bringing an end to their school careers. These exams will not have gone without their usual share of media attention, pupil anxiety, parental panic and teacher concern over whether their charges are adequately prepared. A certain amount of hype about matric is acceptable and, in the case of parents and pupils, understandable. However, hasn’t the whole thing become a little exaggerated and overblown?

Many pupils see matric as some kind of stepping stone into an adult world where lots of problems will miraculously fall away. Once they clear this hurdle they imagine that doors will open and everything will be easier. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the over-the-top teenage parties often characterised by alcohol abuse and questionable behaviour that have become common at the end of the school year.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for everyone involved — the media, parents and schools — to scale down the hype a notch or two. This would certainly help the pupils. If we lower the panic level we might be able to help pupils approach what is an important milestone in their academic careers in a more level-headed way that enables them to do justice to their abilities.

We need, too, to take a long, hard look at exactly what this matric or school-leaving certificate offers. It certainly is not a ticket to a life of ease. With the unemployment rate as it is, it doesn’t even guarantee a job. Obviously it is required in order to go on to tertiary education, but beyond that, who knows?

As a more level-headed measure of the importance of matric, ask yourself how many of your friends or acquaintances who run good businesses or are successful in some way were mediocre or even poor pupils at school. You could be in for a big surprise. Start with President Jacob Zuma and then work your way down. How did that nerdy chap in Grade 9B end up heading up that huge marketing enterprise? What about that girl who was always in trouble but is now a successful entrepreneur with a happy family life?

Conducting a survey might be even more revealing the other way around. What happened to some of the school hotshots you envied? Where are the dux, the head prefect and the captain of the first rugby team now?

Two factors are relevant and interesting here. Firstly, schools may not measure the right qualities or talents. To be fair, they can’t be expected to measure everything. Consider a quality called “marketability”. If your Debbie has a part-time job as a waitron tell her to be the best there is. Ditto your boy who helps out at the local supermarket on the weekend. Make sure your children understand the need to be really good at what they do because that’s what people notice and that’s what Debbie and your boy are going to be able to sell in the job market before anyone looks at whether or not they got a B in biology.

Secondly, many youngsters haven’t a clue what they want to do after school even when they are on the point of leaving. This is probably the fault of the system. Efforts to expose senior pupils to careers programmes at schools seem to fall woefully short of the mark and TV does little to help. Some school leavers think the inside track to inflated salaries and big cars is just beyond matric.

Many young people take time to work out or arrive at what they want to do with their lives. Parents, the best thing you can do is keep your ego out of it. You might want him or her to be a doctor like you, but he or she could well turn out as head of a supermarket chain.

So what’s to be done? Not much. Just keep your hair on. Of course matric is important and of course you want your son or daughter to do as well as possible. Provide all the encouragement you can, but just remember that it’s hardly likely to be the be-all and end-all as far as their future is concerned.

And if your matric-writing youngster is likely to read this perhaps you should hide it until the last exam is over because studying might come to an end.

• Raymond Walker is a retired schoolmaster who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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