A matric certificate unlocks economic participation by increasing a young person’s likelihood of accessing further education, training, and employment opportunities. The yearly announcement of the matric results is an important celebration of learners who complete matric, but we must not forget about the many young people who did not reach or complete this milestone.
About 50% of young people who start school leave without any certification. It is critical to provide resources, support, and options for those young people who drop out of school before completing grade 12 or who need to rewrite their final exams.
The Second Chance Matric Programme is a programme run by the department of basic education for people who dropped out of school between grades nine and 12, and who wish to rewrite their matric exams or upgrade selected subjects.
The programme is an important pathway to certification: according to Youth Capital research, at any given time there are about 250 000 young people working towards their matric certificate outside of the full-time, in-schooling system. An average of 800 000 candidates write matric exams each year, so about a third of the total matric cohort access this second chance pathway.
In my work at Ukhanyo Foundation, an organisation that supports young people to rewrite their matric, I have seen first-hand that the educational journey is riddled with detours and obstacles, and support is often not in place. The impact of lockdown on schooling and learning is another challenge that learners have had to face. In this context, improving access to alternative pathways to certification and support for those who pursue them must be prioritised.
Here are the stories of three young people who decided to rewrite their exams. These are not their real names:
Lerato, 30, Mount Fletcher, Eastern Cape:
I first did my matric in 2012 but I didn’t pass. I rewrote matric in 2015, but I did not do well, and I am rewriting again in 2022.
I loved being in school. I enjoyed English and consumer studies. I also liked maths but I struggled with it; I would have needed to take extra lessons to do better.
Without a matric certificate, I am stuck. When I apply for work, even for shop assistant positions, employers request a matric certificate and not a statement of result. If I could get a matric, iminyango yami eminingi ingavuleka (many doors in my life would open). With a matric certificate, I believe that things will look up.
When you rewrite matric, being outside the school system makes the experience challenging. Unless you can pay for private classes, there is no access to tutoring support to help you prepare. When I rewrote in 2015, bekune pressure enkulu kimi (I experienced a lot of pressure).
When I rewrote in 2015, I studied by myself. I asked my sister to get question papers from the high school I used to attend. I had to return my textbooks in 2012, so I didn’t have any other study material. I was also working in 2015 while preparing for the exam and I was under a lot of pressure. I didn’t do well, so I am trying again this year.
The general feeling is that you hear about your friends going to universities or colleges; they’re moving forward while you have this heavy feeling of being stuck where you are. I think this makes young people not want to go and rewrite. I wish we could, as young people, get the encouragement that failing matric is not the end, but just a bump in the road. A solution is making the matric rewrite programme more accessible, so that more young people can go back, upgrade their subjects and get their certificate.
Thabang, 19, Nyanga
I had a great time at school. I enjoyed interacting with my teachers and hanging out with my friends. When lockdown came in in 2020, I felt there was no transition to home study, and I struggled to adjust to the mindset that I was completely alone to do my work. When I wrote the matric exam that year, I failed physics and I had to rewrite the subject in 2021.
Not passing matric and having to rewrite was quite an emotional journey for me. At first, I blamed myself and my personal work ethic during lockdown, as I should have spent more time on subjects in which I wasn’t doing well. But then I realised that not being able to physically attend classes in school took its toll; all of a sudden, I was home alone. I didn’t have wi-fi where I lived at the time, and I missed out on many Zoom classes. In the end, I didn’t have the focus I would have if I had been at school.
Failing physics affected my confidence, and I found it extremely challenging to trust myself again. I approached a local tutor company called Ikasi Tutors to help me prepare, and I passed physics in 2021. I have now registered to study financial management at Cape Town College.
This journey was an incredible life lesson: even if life gets me down, I can still get up and fight. It has grown me as a man.
Thami, 28, Delft, Cape Town
When I started high school I had moved from Khayelitsha, where we mainly spoke isiXhosa, to Delft, where we mainly spoke English. It was my first time in a mixed school, and I loved it.
When I chose my subjects in grade nine, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing or where I would go with them. My big brother had selected pure maths and physics, and so I chose the same. But I started struggling and I didn’t know where to find support. My brother moved out of our house, and I didn’t have anyone at home who could help me; it was just me and my textbooks.
I wasn’t surprised when I found out that I had failed matric in 2011. I knew I wasn’t coping, but I was hoping for the best. Since I didn’t know what else to do, I spent 2012 at home. The following year, I found out about the Second Chance Matric Programme and applied to rewrite pure maths. But I again did not have a tutor, and again I failed. I decided to give up, and started looking for odd jobs, but most vacancies require a matric certificate. So in 2016 I went to a district office. I spoke to a helpful woman, who advised me to change my subjects and rewrite maths literacy, rather than pure maths. I passed with 48%, without any tutors. When I found that out, I felt like myself again.