Good luck, God bless the class of 2010

‘Next year, I’m gonna become the Pope. Nothing is impossible!” I recently came across this quote in a magazine, and who else could utter such a facetious statement but our own wonderfully zany Brenda Fassie.

Like Julius Malema, the late queen of pop was well known for her unrefined and outrageous statements. And just like the youth leader, her flaky ramblings had a way of making sense once you took the time to decipher them.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the matric exams. I wish I could stand in front of the class of 2010 and blithely chime those words to them.

I wish I could picture faces full of wonder and enthusiasm staring back at me, excited to get on with exams and finally – after 12 long, hard years of schooling – close this chapter of their lives in a blaze of glory.

But the truth is, many of these young school-leavers will not be rushing to take up seats at the school hall.

They won’t eagerly snatch exam papers out of invigilators’ hands in a hurry to get going.

Too many of these teenagers are likely to shuffle into those exam halls with their hearts in their throats, knots in their stomachs, and pictures of doom and gloom for their futures in their minds.

After the World Cup, South Africans went from a state of total euphoria to crashing despair – and no one is feeling the woe right now more than matriculants.

After a crippling month-long teachers’ strike that saw learners valiantly trying to help each other with their curriculum, followed by the uncertainty of the preliminary exams, I think it’s safe to say that matriculants in government schools are not feeling the most confident.

It’s a sad but true fact that kids in township government schools are already dispossessed.

Daily, among other things, they face the bitter cocktail of impartial teaching, trying to concentrate on an empty stomach, fighting off unwelcome sexual advances, long treks to and from school, insufficient textbooks, scant resources, expensive study guides, guidance teachers who know absolutely nothing about their strengths or weaknesses, and aggressive and uncommunicative teaching staff.

Being a learner is hard, but being a township learner is even harder. I know this from my own experience.

I wrote my matric exams over a decade ago, and it boggles my mind how the same issues I had as a high school student in Khayelitsha are still the same problems faced by kids today. What exactly have our politicians been doing about education in the past 15 years?

School libraries are an abstract idea, science and computer labs are a joke, teachers are still fondling girls under their desks, there’s no such thing as career guidance and yet, year after year, politicians and unions are up in arms when dismal results are released.

Children are still committing suicide when they learn that their efforts – the many days and nights of study – have not paid off or that the Holy Grail, a measly 40% (which has now been increased to 50%), was not achieved.

I remember the days when half the neighbourhood would be up at 5am waiting for the newspaper truck to come – whether or not that household had a child in matric.

How we’d club money together for copies and spread them on the ground as we nervously checked for our names.

And the elation and tears of joy when you saw your name and knew you’d nailed that 40% at least.

These days, you find only a handful of pupils buying the paper mid-morning on the day the results are out. It’s a bitter indictment of our headspace right now.

The well of hope is quickly running dry and it’s just too hard to care any more.

So, as much as I would like to tell this year’s matriculants that they can be anything they want to be in life and that nothing is impossible, I’m afraid the lump in my throat and the quiver in my voice may just give my true thoughts away.

All I can say to the class of 2010 is good luck, and God bless.

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