The academic year of 2020 was by far the worst year in the schooling calendar on record in democratic South Africa — and the world.
Covid-19 arrived and schooling was greatly disrupted. This also placed immense pressure on the matric class of 2020, which did not have the luxury of a trimmed-down curriculum or postponed exams.
The fact that the class of 2020 achieved 76.2% is no small feat considering the difficult circumstances under which the learners functioned because of the pandemic.
It is commendable that there are even schools that achieved 100% or 98% pass rates, particularly those in rural areas and township schools.
We know that even before Covid‑19 many of these schools had serious challenges of poor infrastructure and lack of resources in the form of textbooks and teachers. And under level five lockdown, when schools were closed, these learners did not have access to online learning. Many of them were waiting for schools to reopen in order to continue with their studies.
Last year was definitely not a normal year and no words can be enough to congratulate the learners who made it against all odds.
But politicians say the strangest things. Some of the public statements they make would be laughable if they were not so tragic. Take the premier of the Northern Cape, Zamani Saul, for example, who “expressed disappointment and anger” at the province’s 66% matric pass rate — the lowest pass rate of the nine provinces.
Granted, the premier is allowed to be disappointed. I am sure many other leaders of other provinces and even MECs of education were not quite happy with the results.
But 2020 should have been the one year when no one had high expectations precisely because of the challenges that came with it. Sure, there are a lot of interventions that were put in place to ensure that the class of 2020 covered the work they had missed out on while at home. The reality is that besides the pressures that came with school, some of these learners had to go through major changes in their lives.
Some lost their parents to Covid‑19; some parents lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus; others were kicked out of their homes because the parents could no longer afford the bond or rent because there was no longer an income. When such big changes happen in anyone’s life it is not easy to move on without them impacting on your mental health.
So even in our criticism of the results we ought to react with the utmost humility.
Many teachers threw themselves into their jobs in an effort to help learners as much as possible. I have teacher friends who, when schools were closed, started WhatsApp groups and were offering lessons to the learners. When schools opened, these teachers — including my own father — sacrificed their time with their own families by coming back late at night from school and spending their weekends at school in an effort to assist the learners.
Everyone did what they could under the circumstances. I celebrate the class of 2020 for their resilience and perseverance. I also compliment all those teachers who went beyond the call of duty to make sure that they helped the learners in preparation for their exams.
Now, is not the time for disappointments and anger. If it was a non-Covid year, surely the learners would have performed better.