We are a society engaging in “an anthropology of low expectations” with the bar we set for being awarded a National Senior Certificate (NSC). (Eusebius McKaiser, 2012).

South Africa’s matric pass rate was up from 67.8% in 2010 to 70.2% in 2011. To obtain a matric pass in South Africa, a pupil must achieve 40% in his or her home language as well as 40% in two other subjects and three subjects at 30%.

Though we should commend the overall improvement in the pass right, I think McKaiser’s proposition is absolutely correct.

An education system that prepares students for only 35% to 40% of success is truly preparing students for failure. Ask the millions of unemployed youth with matric certificates not worth the paper they’re printed on (if they’re lucky), still unable to read, write nor count simply because the system simply let them down. A 50% pass mark seems a more reasonable floor, as ideally, students should be able to demonstrate comprehension of at least 50% of content.

This is not a partition to bar students from moving outside the classroom but is a partition for us to change the conditions that give rise to low performance. Our pass rate should be a true reflection of student mobility up the learning curve in the meaningful sense. It should be a true indicator of preparedness for entry in multiple environments i.e. higher learning and/or job market, as well as civic duty.

We’re failing our own, year in, year out. This is not just a national crisis, it’s a scandal.

The stark differences in outcomes between public and private schools pass rates are but telling. Whereas learners writing IEB exams attained a 98.38% pass rate, public school learners attained just over 70%. Only 24% of these public school grandaunts qualified for university exemption, whereas more than 80% of IEB grandaunts did.

Just like apartheid, the duality of our education system simply produces and reproduces the gross class inequalities by race we are struggling with today; the very duality that produces a distinctive class of lowly skilled blacks with limited options and a class of white elites with expanded options, perpetuating the racial inequalities.

Mandla, a rural boy from eNkandla (once showing great promise), is now faced with the reality of informal/casual work (if he’s lucky). His dreams of becoming an engineer, scientist, biochemist, teacher have been thwarted by glaring contradictions, relegated to the dark realities of occasional unemployment and poverty. He’s forced to contend with the realities of the 35% pass that’s limited his opportunities; a grade that’s more a reflection of the deficits of his environment rather than his own.

South Africa needs pragmatic solutions for radical change and fast. Simply put, we need to innovate. We need to address institutional ineptness and transform the classroom experience of the poor.

HEI (Higher Education Institutions) have a pivotal role to play. It’s simply not enough to put in place JIT (Just-In-Time) safety nets that catch students nearly falling through the cracks (if they’re lucky) simply because of unaddressed systemic deficits.

Introducing new teaching methods, as well as new technologies/softwares, edu call centre lines and/or indigenous knowledge games seem a necessary trigger in filling evident gaps in the quality of the classroom experience.

What the teacher simply can’t teach and what the textbook simply can’t explain, standardised interactive material can and in languages of choice: teaching complex problems in ways that young students can understand and relate to.

We’re living in the era of socio-technological evolution. ICTs should be at the cornerstones of our education transformation strategy. Surely the poor have rights to benefit from methodological innovations and technological advancements. Lest we forget:

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president.” (Nelson Mandela)

Let’s expand learning opportunities. The doors of learning should be open to all.

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a Masters grandaunt of the University of Sussex. She also completed an MSocsc at the University of Cape Town. She is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She now works for a reputable management consulting firm based in Johannesburg.


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