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A message to the Class of 2020: You are equal to this challenge

This week more than a million grade 12 learners sat for their final exams. The exams will run until 15 December and the learners will then have to wait until 21 February before they find out how they performed. It is certainly going to be a long wait. 

By its very nature, the matric exam comes with a lot of stress and anxiety. There are very few people who have sat for this exam — even if they were academically strong — who did not experience at least some feeling of fear. This is largely because a lot of emphasis is put on this one examination. It is seen as the exam that can make or break you.

As a country, we have been made to believe that without a matric certificate you cannot go far in life. Of course, this is not true. But a matric certificate is important in the sense that if you want to further your studies you need it and it is usually one of the minimum requirements for many jobs. 

So, naturally, it is seen as the alpha and omega. 

The circumstances under which the class of 2020  finds itself writing are extremely different and difficult. This without doubt comes with added stress and anxiety for those who are writing this exam. 

It does not help that even after losing out on many months of learning, these learners did not have their curriculum trimmed. Once they were back at school in June they had to pick up where they left off. 

If it were not for lockdown in March, which saw schools being closed for four months, many of these learners — particularly those from rural and township schools — would have attended matric camps; they would have been attending school seven days a week and others would have left their homes to move into the school, all in preparation for the big exam. 

But none of this happened. And even though in the past month or so, provincial departments of education had set up matric camps, they were not at the scale they would have been if we were not living through a pandemic. 

Of course, during lockdown some learners from affluent schools and homes continued with schooling without any interruption through online learning. 

They are likely to be writing the exams with the normal pressure of writing matric and not because they would have lost out on any learning.

But the majority of learners of this country did nothing during lockdown. For some, it was not even because they did not want to study on their own, but what circumstances or poverty dictated. 

They live in villages with no network coverage to access any online learning — such as through WhatsApp — that their teachers tried. They live in overcrowded households, where it is impossible to find a quiet corner and study. Girl learners were expected to take care of house chores while at home and there was little to no time to squeeze in their schoolwork. 

For these learners, this is going to be an incredibly difficult time. 

But the beauty about the children of this nation is that they have shown us year in and year out that they are resilient and are equal to any challenge. We have seen children from schools with little to no resources making it to the list of the country’s top-performing learners in matric. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga refers to these learners as the “crème de la crème” of the nation. 

Only 30 learners make it on to this list. And we have seen learners who have gone for a year without a mathematics teacher, without textbooks, or who have studied in dilapidated school buildings go on to dominate this list. 

Maybe the class of 2020 will not surpass the 81.3% pass rate from 2019, but let us not doubt the capabilities of these young people. They are going to achieve even when so many odds have been stacked against them. 

Good luck to the Class of 2020. You’ve got this. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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