Matric is just the beginning: Zama Ndlovu

2014-01-13 10:00

“Your name isn’t in the paper, but don’t panic,” my mother told me over the phone.

“It must be a mistake. But if it’s not a mistake, there are other options.”

A few hours later, I arrived at my school and found my geography teacher standing at the entrance to the main building, beaming.

One person had failed, but that person was not me.

Not only had I passed, but my marks had gained me a university entrance to study a Bachelor of Science in mining geology.

But my mother would have to repeat her words two years later when I told her I was going to fail geology and lose my bursary. Luckily, there were other options.

Matric exams are a significant rite of passage for every young South African, despite the controversy surrounding them.

Matric results often dictate whether you can proceed to further education, what kind of education you can receive and what type of institution you can attend.

For the majority without the means or the access to further education, a matric certificate significantly increases the chances of employment. But unemployment for those with just a matric is still quite high.

While a matric certificate is a convenient standardised marker or pointer of some ability or potential, if I had placed a bet on where some of my friends would be, based on their matric results, I would have been a poor woman.

Without taking away from the importance of a good matric pass, it’s important to also highlight to young people that a matric certificate cannot sum up one’s character.

Just as I learnt that a good matric pass was no bulletproof vest against failure, a bad matric result is not a sentence to failure.

My friends in high school are an example of that.

The one who received four distinctions, including one for passing mathematics on the higher grade, struggled through an accounting degree and eventually dropped out. While another, the one who was least interested in studying while at school, took a year off to improve her marks.

She applied for the Wits University extended programme and today holds a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and economics.

A friend I met at university had scored a C in maths on the higher grade and was only allowed to study actuarial science after an extensive interview with the head of the faculty.

He went on to become one of the youngest people in South Africa to qualify as an actuary.

Another young woman I met while studying for a Bachelor of Science had not made it into medical school and decided to take the longer route by studying for the same degree as me. Today she is a doctor.

Many of my geology classmates came from schools in disadvantaged areas, schools that had limited facilities and access to resources. They were placed on extended programmes.

Today they are qualified geologists and engineers working in large mining companies in South Africa and abroad.

My older brother could not get into university after matric and studied at a technikon. This year is his second year of a master’s degree in development.

Of course, my personal experience is limited to my circle of friends and anecdotes are by no means evidence.

However, these few examples do point to the fact that our lives are not linear. Each one of us has to find our own path using whatever available avenues we have at our disposal and taking however much time we need.

Qualifications are key, but one cannot stress enough how much more vital a strong character will be in determining the course that your life will take.

We must work towards an education system where more young South Africans can choose their own fate.

However, without minimising the extent to which education still fails so many young South Africans, we must encourage young people not to lose hope.

If you did not achieve your desired results, don’t panic. Look around, because for many of you?–?like me?– there will be other options.

»?Ndlovu is the author of The Youngsters: A Bad Black’s Manifesto

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