Praise, when due

2011-10-17 00:00

ONE has to admit that this country is characterised by fascinating debates. Not all of these are political either, and many throw up interesting conflicting views which reflect cultural and ethnic backgrounds as well as differences of opinion that may be linked to the very nature of people­, their varying emotions and perceptions.

One such debate, which was the subject of quite heated exchanges on an SAfm morning programme recently, dealt with the South African­ Communist Party's Youth League proposal that matric results should no longer be published in newspapers. It might have been expected by some that the Department of Basic Education would confuse the matter by announcing that no media organisation had met the application deadline and, in consequence, the results would not be made available to any newspaper for pub- lication­.

Within no more than 24 hours, however, there was a retreat from this position. It will remain a mystery as to why the significance of the deadline lapsed so quickly. It will be no less of a mystery as to whether the department first bowed to the Youth League's pressure, nor whether it backtracked hastily in the face of different pressure from elsewhere.

As I listened to the many callers and drove to my next meeting, I wondered where I stood on this matter. It wasn't one that I had stopped to think about before. Could I identify with those who believed that the publication added unnecessarily and unfairly to pressure on those who failed? The protagonists believe that this pressure accounts for some suicides­, the public disgrace of one's name not appearing compounding the disappointment of failure. No, I could not. Surely, it is the failure that is responsible for a suicide, and if not, then the undue pressure that results from our society's misplaced reverence of the matric examination and its false promise for a young person's future. Others suggested that we live in a highly competitive and ruthless world and that young people must accept their failure, even if made public. This didn't make sense to me either. I don't believe that education is a competitive activity, except against oneself.

What occurred to me was that the argument had been advanced in support of the minority of matric­ candidates, most of whom, I suspect, accept their failure quite phlegmatically because it has been imminent and does not come as a nasty shock to them. (With a few sad exceptions, it is really­ not difficult to pass unless there has been scant effort and very little teaching and learning as a result of the absence of a textbook, the pupil or the teacher, or all three.) I thought of the other seven in every 10 who deserve the recognition for having passed. Strangely, no caller advanced this as a good reason for publication. I think it is. I don't believe it is healthy to deprive successful people­ of due recognition for fear that it might be psychologically disturbing to those who have not succeeded. In any event, in the case of published lists of matric results, failure is implicit by omission, not by a listing of the failed candidates.

Life is full of selections that advance some and retard the progress of others. One person is chosen for a job, many are rejected. There is no other way of looking at it. Whenever there is a test, some succeed, others fail. There is no other way of looking at this either, despite contemporary attempts to use euphemistic expressions to shield people from reality. Of course, failure dents the ego, but this is no reason not to affirm those who deserve the accolades of success. My time in teaching showed me how important it is, especially for adolescents, to be affirmed and praised when they deserve it. There is no better stimulant for self-confidence, and self- confidence is the first quality of leadership.

• Andrew Layman is CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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