Matric stress, university drama… What’s the point of it all?


For the past few days, your social media was flooded with first day back at school photos by your overbearing parental friends.

Oh, and your newsfeed is obviously also full of stories about 2023’s new admin incompetence, as kids don’t get accepted to schools in their hoods and associated stories of bribery.

That’s before it shifts to the 2022 matric results, and we hear from the DA’s math department about what the “real” pass rate is.

Also Read: 30% pass mark undermines the intellect of SA’s youth – Maimane

Then we’re going to be treated to stories of lines and horror at universities across the country as first years get turned away.

This is the January South African dance. The question is, why do we even bother?

I’m not about to suggest that education on any level should be scrapped, though we do need to put our education in front of the mirror.

Remember in the Ali G movie when he stood up in the UK parliament and asked, “Who here has ever used math, or English?”. It was hilarious because those are things nearly all of us would use in life, but organic chemistry? The skeletal structure? It’s not like you even need accounting in school to study accounting at most universities.

I get that we have to teach kids things and test their analytical abilities, but what then? What are you prepared for following matriculation? Getting into university? There’s hardly room for a fraction of matriculants across our tertiary institutions, so what about the rest?

Would you hire somebody on the strength that they have a South African matric? Probably not.

You’d probably use some other metrics and have a look at the extra murals on their CVs. You’d know you’d have to teach them what they need to know about the job they’d need to do.

That’s likely to be true in many instances regardless of what’s in the school syllabus but we can think about how we create the best foundations.

I wouldn’t know what to change at the moment, but I would know where to start.

We need to start by asking ourselves why we are teaching kids. Forget the where and what for a moment.

We need to know why we’re doing the school thing. It will be easy to pick a reason out of the air – improve futures, better suited citizens, ready for work etc.

But whatever reason(s) you pick, you’re not going to be impressed with our current results. So, maybe it’s time to backtrack and actually come to some sort of agreement what we want to do with our basic schooling.

Even looking at the 4 “strategic outcome-orientated goals” on the Department of Basic Education’s website, most of it is focused on the department itself but doesn’t speak to the reason for education in the first place.

Of course, it feels like it’s something we’ve answered before but I defy anybody to find me any consensus on the issue and if there was some once upon a time, it’s probably outdated by 2023.

We pay about R30 billion for basic education and what do we want for it? When you go to the shops to buy “food” and you have a few hundreds to spend, you’d apply more detail than just picking anything off the shelves.

You’d pick certain foods based on what you want to cook which is based on things like what’s in your kitchen, what you enjoy, how hungry you are, how many people you’re cooking for.

There’s a lot to consider even when the question is so simple.

Similarly, when we want to educate our kids, we know it’s important. What we need to discuss is why.

Because that’s going to inform how. Education for its own sake is all good and well but if we want the most for our kids, we need to actually tackle what we want from it.