Universities could Technically be Admitting Grade 10s in 2022
This may sound strange, but, technically speaking, universities will essentially be admitting Grade 10s in 2022. Unfortunately, the class of 2021 has had to endure two consecutive turbulent years. On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the first COVID-19 lockdown, designed to curb the rise in infections and since then, we have been wobbling between COVID-19 Levels 5 to 1. At the time of the announcement, the class of 2021 was doing Grade 10, and they were robbed of an opportunity to be taught matric content as has been the tradition in previous years.
The Department of Basic Education encourages schools to teach matric content in Grade 11 to better prepare learners for their final matric exams the following year. Furthermore, their exam papers are ordinarily set three years in advance. Considering this, one can argue that, technically, this group is less prepared and unfit for exams. I argue that, unless there are urgent interventions, the ill-fate that has befallen the class of 2021 will have far reaching implications in their careers and academic growth.
In the South African context, matric (Grade 12) is extremely significant and it is often used as a measure of success or as a gateway to success depending on one’s circumstances. Interestingly, it is also used in politics as a tool to campaign for a better future for citizens. In the run up to elections, it could be used, at the very worst, as a form of service delivery or absence thereof as opposed to a basic human right. It has therefore become the norm that each year, matric results form part of a hotly contested political discourse. It is for this reason that it is necessary to interrogate the implications of this year’s results considering the challenges brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the latest report by UNICEF, South African learners are almost a year behind in their schooling. The rotational system and sporadic school closures, including days off for specific grades have resulted in children losing 54% of learning time, said UNICEF South African Representative, Ms Christine Muhigana. The worst-affected have been matriculants and public schools. Granted, the sporadic breaks were undesirable, but necessary to save lives. However, the lack of learning and contact time meant that learners were robbed of this significant period in their lives. The impact will be felt for many years to come.
Schools are organic feeders of tertiary institutions. The fact that the class of 2021 last received full tuition back in 2019 in Grade 10 raises the question of whether they will meet the expectations of Higher Education Institutions. Given the well-documented disruptions, are these learners ready to write exams and produce quality results? Time will tell, but I can only draw one conclusion; in 2022 universities will receive glorified Grade 10s as first-year students, an unprecedented occurrence!
The outlook is even more dire when one considers the sad, but lived reality in the South African context that not only do public schools and private schools prepare learners differently for their exams, but learners write different papers for matric. It is clear that learners at under-resourced and less capacitated public schools have been worst affected by the disruptions to learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these learners have applied to public universities. The question is, are these institutions prepared for this calibre of students? What measures are in place to mitigate this situation? Or are universities prepared to lower their standards? What does the future hold for these learners? The situation also speaks to the lack of synergy between the Departments of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training. If they were in sync, discussions around possible interventions and bridging courses would have already started.
Well-crafted interventions could go a long way in helping these learners to fill the gap and traverse Higher Education curriculum demands with ease. They could prevent watering down of curricula, high attrition rates, and possible unemployability. Open debate is required on these issues to identify solutions and avoid lifelong learning deficiencies amongst our youth as well as ensure that our education system remains competitive.
Mr Khumbulani Mngadi is an independent analyst/commentator based at UKZN.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.