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Henry PC Meyer
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Are we insulting the intelligence of our matriculants?

08 January 2019, 12:43

If the Minister of Basic Education, her predecessors and current advisors had no intention to insult the intelligence of South African emerging leaders and undermine their gargantuan potential; then why…….?

Why did they drastically lower both the standards and percentages of subjects to a mere 50%, 40% and 30% respectively? According to the department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, the Minister is not done yet; ‘she is seeking to lower the minimum mark required to progress in the senior phase - Grades 7, 8 and 9’. That’s totally absurd and bespeaks the total disregard for the inter-connectedness between basic and higher education.

By subtle inference, they could imply that our young people (especially the majority) are not cognitively endowed to obtain at least 51% in FIVE subjects; a standard oddly set by the detestable apartheid education system. Contrary to the belittling mentality of the apartheid regime, our new education system should have defied that stereotype and instead, raised the standard to at least 60%! The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls raised it to 75%.

Did our government innocuously perpetuate the notion ‘that certain races are inherently more intelligent than others?’ The claim that there is a link between race and intelligence is the main tenet of what is known as “race science” or, in many cases, “scientific racism”. In fact, no one has found genetic evidence indicating that blacks have less innate intellectual ability than whites.

Let’s dissect this narrative of ‘lowered matric standards’…….

“The South Africa’s education system is worse today than the ‘gutter education’ the country had under the apartheid government. Maths literacy… what is that? It’s worse than the arithmetic I did under Bantu education.” This is the statement made and questions raised by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a respected academic, struggle heroine, medical doctor and successful businesswoman of international repute. She boldly did so while addressing the sixth annual Solomon Mahlangu lecture at the University of Johannesburg during March 2012.

Ramphele criticised the much praised matric pass rate saying it was ‘deceptive, consigning thousands to a life that promised neither further education nor employment’. She lashed out at the 30 percent pass benchmark, saying it ‘degraded education standards and was used for political purposes.’

International academic, Professor Jonathan Jansen from Stellenbosch University asserted: ‘Of course, our society and our schools are very good at telling young people, in ways direct and indirect, that not much is expected of them; we have become, as the highly talented journalist Redi Thlabi recently tweeted, “30% pass rate people”.

Question: If the Department of Basic Education (DBE) at best, had only unleashed 50% of our young people’s potential and at worst, a deplorable 30%; then what happened to the 70% latent potential of emerging leaders that could have been utilised to build our country? Lamentably, only a THIRD of the 800 000 matriculants who had sat down for the 2018 exams would be eligible for tertiary education. What would happen to the rest, whose hopes were artificially inflated?

Addressing the AGM of the KZN Central Applications Office during August 2015 - attended by leaders from the province’s four universities and a number of private colleges – Professor Jansen pulled no punches and boldly stated: “You have all become complacent with this rubbish we call education. You have become institutionalised by keeping a dysfunctional system afloat.” Strong words indeed.

He continued: “We need a long-term plan to get out of this mess. We should be thinking like Singapore who looked 20 years ahead, but instead we only see tomorrow. Our role models are also these dysfunctional people in Parliament, when they should be Steve Biko or Robert Sobukwe, instead, we are training barbarians who are racist and sexist. They may be trained in a subject or career, but they are not educated.” He said the country had a “lazy culture”, investing heavily in education but obtaining poor results.

The general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, Mugwena Maluleke said that their organization was worried by a pattern of lowering requirements of the public school system. He said this would hurt public school matriculants in the long run.

Maluleke further stated: “If you keep on changing, lowering the standards, you’re also saying that the children must not apply themselves. You’re saying to teachers, ‘Look, it’s fine that the children perform at that particular level’. The issue here is about the future of the children, nor any other person. The quality of the content at the university will be challenging for these particular learners precisely because we’ve undermined them.”

Without apportioning blame to the  Minister of Basic Education and her department, by lowering standards for political purposes as alluded to by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele - and not challenging high school learners to ‘reach for the stars’ - could they be setting up matriculants for failure? 

In fact, educational psychologist at Unisa, Dr Ramodungoane Tabane added his perspective: “Lowering pass requirements didn't motivate learners. The knock-on effect was that schools would churn out matriculants under-prepared for varsity.”  This notion is supported by the Chief Executive of the Council on Higher Education, Professor Narend Baijnath.

Generally, he said, more students drop out in their first year compared to any other year. “There are costs associated with dropping out - for the state - subsidy, financial aid, the loss of potential graduates to the economy and society; and for the student, unrealised potential and more circumscribed employment opportunities; for parents, massive investments in their children that have come to nought.”

Are our education standards too low?

During the first graduation ceremony of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls at Henley-on-Klip, the US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey said: “The standard of school education in South Africa is too low.” She congratulated the school's first matric class on their 100% pass rate and 188 distinctions. More than half of the school’s 72 matriculants had an average of more than 75%.

In terms of standards, she continued: “The school’s success was due to good, knowledgeable teachers and the girls were not pampered because they came from difficult backgrounds. “I have found that people underestimate disadvantaged children and therefore lower standards.

There you have it; an African American female philanthropist proved the DBE wrong and she did it with a 100% pass rate; 188 distinctions and more than half of the school’s 72 matriculants had an average of more than 75%.

Why should a ‘foreigner’ prove to us on home soil that our emerging leaders can perform at 75%, instead of 30%?

What is the worth of the National Senior Certificate (NSC)?

“A National Senior Certificate is increasingly less valued by the labour market. Ten years ago, an NSC was very highly valued; that’s no longer the case. You need to have an NSC, plus something else (like a short course) to become employable in South Africa. If you want to enter the job market, shorter courses at credible colleges and institutions are the way to go. ” Prof Ihron Rensburg was former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg and now serves as Advisory Board Vice Chairman of EON Reality Education. Institutions across South Africa – ours included – are willing and prepared to cooperate with the DBE and to remedy this situation.

In conclusion, the irrepressible youth of 1976 revolted against Bantu Education; refused to receive ‘gutter education’ and changed the course of the South African history!

Moreover, the untiring youth of 2015 defied the odds; championed a noble cause for free education for the poor and rewrote history!

Nonetheless, would the youth of 2019 become indomitable and demand a raise in standards and quality of primary education in South Africa?

Who among them would defy mediocrity and champion this noble cause? If the youth of 2019 succeed, we could emulate Zimbabwe that was regarded as the African country with the best education system in Africa!

Henry PC Meyer is Founder & President of the Emerging Leaders Institute

Sources: Mail & Guardian, Rand Daily Mail, News24, IOL, The South African, Beeld, The Citizen, History Online & Opportunity Desk.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.


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