Angie Motshekga, the Minister of education announces the National Senior Certificate Examination Results (NSC) for the 2019 Top-Achieving learners. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Without fail, the whole country comes to a complete standstill amid the announcement of the matric results. 

To justify this hype, our government tells us Grade 12 provides us an opportunity to assess the general state of the schooling system. Since joining the teaching profession in 2016, I have always been fascinated by the obsession we have about matric.

As the secondary school teacher, you are forgiven for producing lukewarm results in the lower grades but are vilified for a poor showing in Grade 12. This is a huge systemic problem that, if not managed, will sentence this country to an increasingly below par socio-economic showing in comparison to other countries. Top economies understand that if you are to get the best out of your population, focus your energies and resources on top education.

As most teachers report for duty from Monday the 13th, the Grade 12 teachers whose subjects outclassed others will be eagerly awaiting the principal to breakdown their results while those whose subjects didn't make the cut will be sitting on the edges of their seats as the principal outlines their tough journey ahead. This is when you distinguish between visionary and shortsighted leadership. Visionary school leaders emphasise the importance of getting it right in the lower grades. 

They spend sleepless nights worrying about their lower grade teachers and learners alike for they know that's where systemic rot or
turnaround starts. 

Among the funny stories I have heard was when my current principal said whenever a novice teacher is in grade 12, she doesn’t sleep. Basically, what she meant was "I don’t mind a novice teaching lower grades". 

I have heard teachers say as long as they have attended to the grade 12s, they are sorted—learners in lower grades still
have a year or so. 

Until we prioritise lower grades, we should forget about fixing this system-wide rot. We should continue to expect to see a third of our first year students dropping out of varsity.

Granted: access to schooling in South Arica has impressively improved since the dawn of democracy, however, I have a problem with the colleagues who argue that those who perpetually dash the basic education department don’t appreciate their efforts. It’s not about the efforts I am after here—it is neglecting the lower grades that I find highly problematic. As a teacher, I have seen schools channeling all their resources to grade 12 at the expense of other grades. 

Principals don't mind scheduling often ineffective matric camps at the expense of other grades. They don't mind calling expert teachers for the Grade 12 learners but the lower grades. 

District officials don't mind calling meetings with the grade 12 learners, parents and teachers to the peril of the lower grades. We mark
improvements on what is happening in lower grades, not at the exit point. 

The majority of our primary school learners can't read with meaning but we are silent as a nation. Yet, when matric results are announced, we are all in awe of what is often manufactured results. For a change, I decided to watch my soapies last night as the whole country was watching the circus that is the matric results announcement.

* Mofokeng is an author and a Mandela Rhodes scholar.