I have a 17-year old daughter in grade 12 right now, being prepared to write her ‘matric’ exam, amid unbelievable amounts of pressure. As well as the continual weekly cycle of tests, essays, projects and exams, her after school timetable is blocked with extra work: Master Maths for two two-hour sessions per week; extra IT for an afternoon session once a week; and advanced programme (AP) English, also for two two-hours sessions, with the second timetabled from 4:30 to 6:30 every Friday afternoon.
She is not often home from school before 5:00 pm and twice a week, she arrives after dark. I don’t remember working nearly as hard in my final year at school.
Matric is now a colloquial term unique to South Africa. It was the original the university entrance examination. My daughter is writing her National Senior Certificate examinations. For her and her peers, though, university entrance is still the focus. All are anxiously striving for the grades required for entry into their chosen university courses.
Yet by far the majority of students taking the ‘matric’ exam this year, including many of those at the best schools, will not follow the academic university route. And in the case of engineering, far less than half the students who meet the requirements and enrol at universities will graduate with degrees.
The early exit points from the traditional South African school system are mostly ‘failure points’. There are numerous examples of people applying for jobs with a Standard 6 or a Grade 10 school leavers certificate, from which we infer that the candidate has ‘dropped out’ somewhere along the common path towards matric. Anybody not going through the Grade 12 end-point successfully has ‘failed’ in some way.