This is the time of year that draws an enormous sense of anticipation from parents and children. For many people, it creates a sense of dread, too and in some an overwhelming sense of their inadequacies.
People develop and evolve over their lives. To measure someone on a moment — a snapshot in November — often proves an inaccurate assessment of that individual.
How many school failures become great successes later in life?
How many school successes never reach that potential expected of their 18-year-old selves?
I am a matric marker and moderator of many years’ experience and I have just wrapped-up an eight-day process in Johannesburg, during which I have spent my days guiding a team of markers in their assessment of the 11 500 Independent Examination Board exam scripts written by matric English students.
There are a far greater number of learners in our country who write the National Senior Certificate papers and both systems provide an astute and highly credible assessment that is rigorous and demanding of both the students and the assessors.
And yet the process of weighing and measuring can be absolutely devastating to some learners. How often do we read about teenage suicides at this time of year? Does the process of a child’s value and self-worth come down to this moment in January when marks for subjects appear on a document?
I used to be a headmaster and whenever I interviewed a new pupil wanting to come to my school I would ask them to hold up their index finger.
As an English teacher, I couldn’t help but add some drama to the scene. I would look very carefully at the finger that was being held up. I have no doubt that at that point the young boy or girl and their parents were wondering what I was up to. But what I was doing was drawing together a critically important message that everyone should be hearing.
After carefully scrutinising the digit, I would remark: “Yes, just as I thought. I have never seen a fingerprint just like yours … and I won’t ever see one just like it again.”
You see, everyone is an individual: priceless, precious, wonderful, unique, special — and very, very dear to all those people who are associated with that child.
We tend to pin everything on certain specific moments in our lives and it breaks my heart when I read in the paper about the suicides that take place after matric results are released. Every year, it’s the same. Every year, people measure their self-worth on the results of the examinations written over a month in November.
We aren’t summed up by these marks. They don’t represent who we are and, although they are important, there are countless people who have risen to extraordinary successes on the back of dire scholastic performance.
We need to keep everything in perspective. Matric is important. Academics are vital and should be prioritised as the gold standard that all good schools offer. But, although sound academics, coupled with sporting and cultural arms, form the bedrock of a holistic education, it is vital that we acknowledge that not everyone will measure up to the success of the few in the gladiatorial arena of matric.
At the primary core, children should enjoy school. If they enjoy school they will perform better. They will be encouraged to make the most of their opportunities. If they live in fear, as many do, of underperforming on the academic stage, then we do them an injustice. If we measure success on the benchmark of matric results, then we do a massive disservice to so many who will fall short of those expectations.
Children are special. Whether they get an “A” for advanced programme maths or an “E” for life science, each child is a priceless and unique individual who can make an invaluable contribution to the vast tapestry that makes up humankind.
To measure someone on what happens between the start and end of November of their matric year, is to underestimate human potential and it is one of the reasons why our society isn’t close to reaching its potential.
Children are special: no matter what marks they achieve. Let’s get that message out there.
Simon Crane is an English teacher and the deputy headmaster of HeronBridge College in Fourways, Johannesburg. He has been a teacher for 27 years and writes in his personal capacity