Dr Muki Moeng
Nelson Mandela University has applauded the matric class of 2021 for achieving success despite the challenges.
The academic year of 2021 will undoubtedly be regarded as an extraordinary year – one that significantly disrupted learning and brought about unprecedented challenges, particularly for the matric class of 2021.
When the time came for the 2021 matric results to be released, one would have expected that the difficulties and pressures endured by matrics throughout the year would have negatively impacted their collective performance and final marks.
However, in her keynote address, the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, announced that the 2021 matric pass rate of 76.4% represented an increase of 0.2 percentage points, compared to the 2020 matric pass rate (76.2%). According to Dr Muki Moeng, Dean of Education at Nelson Mandela University, the 2021 pass rate is a positive outcome, especially considering the challenges that learners were subjected to.
Moeng said: “To think that this is the first class that experienced Grade 11 and 12 under national lockdown measures – which included school closures, rotational timetables, classroom platooning and constant changes to learning environments, you can say that the 2021 matriculants have gone beyond expectation. On behalf of Nelson Mandela University, I would like to congratulate the matric class of 2021 on this remarkable achievement.’’
The pandemic exposed the glaring inequalities in our education system and, at the same time, gave us the opportunities to explore with technology to improve teaching and learning going forward.
“We must not forego the opportunity that the pandemic has presented, and investments must be made in the methodologies that have worked for us during the pandemic. The government must provide the necessary infrastructure and equipment needed in order to do this,’’ said Dr Moeng.
Contributing factors to poor performance
A lack of teaching equipment and resources, as well as oversized classes, all impact on learners’ schooling experiences and resultant performances. There is also a lack of support from the department when it comes to the progression of learners. Learners who do not make the grade are often pushed through to the next grade, without the guidance and support that is necessary to help them grasp the curriculum in the next phase of learning.
‘’Promoting learners in the foundation phase, especially to progress to the intermediate phase, should be avoided as the basic foundations are important for higher grades.
‘’It is better in the long run to rather hold a child back and for them to get the basics right, before progressing to the next grade. To this end, proper support for teachers in the classroom needs to be provided, as well as psychosocial support that will assist in early diagnosis and referral,” she said.
At the same time, a blind eye cannot be turned to the socio-economic factors that impact learners on their journeys to matric. Learners in impoverished communities often experience pitfalls and setbacks unrelated to education, such as a lack of nutrition, a lack of resources and reading material, minimal social interaction in early development years, poor family support, violence and abuse, and on top of this, disruptions caused by Covid-19.
“How can we expect a learner to make it to and pass matric if he or she, for example, lives in a disruptive household or goes to school on an empty stomach? These are the struggles that so many of our learners have to overcome, and is something the government needs to address if our youth are to be uplifted out of poverty and lead a prosperous life,’’ said Dr Moeng.
Another challenge experienced by learners is the undue pressure from family and the schooling system itself. Learners are often forced to take subjects for which they show no aptitude or interest. “We really are fooling ourselves if we think that everyone can become an academic and graduate at university,’’ said Dr Moeng. “Learners are wired differently, and those who show no appetite for the mainstream curriculum should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to pursue vocational careers or entrepreneurial opportunities. The unfortunate reality is that we, as a country, are not doing enough to channel resources into vocational training and entrepreneurship in secondary and tertiary education,” she said.