BASIC EDUCATION OP-ED
Second Chance — supporting young people to rewrite matric can unlock their economic potential
A growing number of young people are leaving school without passing their matric exams, the entry-level qualification for many jobs. Strengthening support for them to successfully rewrite their matric would help them tap into the world of work.
Growing up in a rural community in the Eastern Cape, Asekhona Mabhulana learnt from an early age the difference that a matric certificate can make in a person’s life. Her mother left school in Grade 6, while her father dropped out in Grade 9, making it difficult for either of them to find steady work to support their family.
With four crowded and under-resourced primary schools and no high school nearby, the majority of people from Mabhulana’s community had no choice but to drop out. Not having access to basic education severely limited their options for a productive career in the area.
When Bulungula College NPC (a no-fee independent school) opened as the first high school in her community in 2019, Mabhulana enrolled in the school’s inaugural class, determined to be the first person in her family to matriculate and fulfil her dream of becoming an early childhood development (ECD) teacher. While finally having a high school in her community was a big achievement, as a first-generation high school learner, she faced the challenges of forging a new path for herself.
Mabhulana had to balance homework with household responsibilities, and studied without electricity or a private space. She couldn’t turn to her parents or siblings for help with schoolwork, and the 45-minute walk to and from school physically exhausted her. Yet, she remained committed to graduating from high school.
When Mabhulana received her matric results in January 2022 and found out that she had not passed, she couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. Even worse, she thought her dream of becoming a teacher was over.
Certification not an easy target for young people
What Mabhulana didn’t know is that most young South Africans struggle to obtain their matric certificate. Zero Dropout reports that four out of 10 Grade 1 learners leave school before reaching matric.
Yet, research shows that young people recognise the importance of a matric certificate. Youth Capital found that in any given year, 250,000 South Africans are working towards their matric certificate outside the full-time schooling system — on their own, with little to no support. With nearly nine million young people not in employment, education or training, supporting them to complete their basic education must be a priority for our country.
To help learners successfully rewrite their exams, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) launched the Second Chance Matric Programme in 2016 as a free route to certification. Candidates can register to rewrite their National Senior Certificate or Senior Certificate in June and October every year. Preparation support includes a limited number of face-to-face centres and online study guides.
Rewriting matric successfully needs tailored support
While the DBE’s programme is a step in the right direction, young people’s experiences show that it is disconnected from the challenges they face when attempting to rewrite.
To register for the Second Chance Matric Programme on her own, Mabhulana would need to pay for a three-hour taxi drive to the nearest district office to register, buy adequate study materials, hire a tutor, and finally coordinate transport on her exam days — a situation that is not feasible for her.
Bulungula College recognised this gap and developed its own Second Chance Matric Programme to help young people like Mabhulana apply, study and rewrite their exams. With the support of the programme, she rewrote the exam in June 2022 and passed. With her matric certificate in hand, she enrolled in an ECD course and is now interning as an ECD teacher.
Three interventions to improve support
The guidance that Mabhulana received is not available in most rural schools but is the reason she was able to graduate from high school. There are three interventions that we believe will help get schools on board and help more learners pass matric:
- Count supplementary passes: Currently, supplementary passes are not included in the overall pass rate for schools. To encourage more schools to run their own Second Chance Matric Programme, the DBE must publicly report on the supplementary pass rate and include it in the overall matric pass rate;
- Learners must have all the resources they need to succeed: The DBE must equip schools with adequate academic resources, like tutoring and textbooks; and
- Make it a team effort: Community-based organisations should also play a supportive role, connecting young people wanting to rewrite with important information and resources.
Regardless of where they live, or the school that they attend, all young South Africans have the right to earn a matric certificate, but the reality is that personal grit can’t compensate for the lack of support that currently exists.
We must urgently improve and better coordinate the existing Second Chance Matric Programme with school activities and the work of local NPOs to promote certification rates for all young South Africans. This will enable young people to unlock more income-generating opportunities and contribute to a thriving South Africa. DM
Sigrid Kite-Banks is the content manager at Bulungula Incubator, a community development NPO on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. Read their toolkit on starting a Second Chance Matric Programme here.