It’s time to focus on the torchbearers of hope, not the gravediggers of despair

It’s time to focus on the torchbearers of hope, not the gravediggers of despair
DM168 Editor Heather Robertson’s son Neo. From left: Neo at his cousin’s wedding, aged 14; Neo in his Pro Arte matric uniform; Neo at home doing what he loves best, aged 18. (Photos: Helen McDonald and Heather Robertson)

I am purposefully focusing on paying tribute to the guardians of our children’s futures as opposed to the broken bureaucracy and misgovernance of basic education that you all know about only too well.

Dear DM168 reader,

How many of you remember jostling with thousands of matriculants late at night outside one of the daily newspaper houses, waiting to buy a copy of the paper to see if you had passed matric?

When I was editor of The Herald in Gqeberha, the matric results edition in 2011 increased our copy sales from 22,000 to 100,000, even after the Department of Basic Education stopped publishing matriculants’ names to protect them from humiliation or harm and instead published exam numbers with the permission of the students.

Unfortunately, we do not publish matric results in this newspaper and most learners now access their results online on the various education departments’ websites, via the SABC’s USSD code and MatricsMate app, and on newspaper websites.

Below are the immediate responses I was stymied by in the early hours of Friday morning when I tried all the digital options to find my son’s matric results:

  • Gateway Timeout;
  • This corporate app can’t be accessed right now.
    Please try again later…
  • All connections are in use. Please try again later;
  • There’s an error connecting to MatricsMate servers; and
  • Service temporarily unavailable. Please try again later E105

I swear it would have been more fun and worthwhile jostling outside a newspaper house with thousands of people, because every online server had crashed. Matric is just that big of a deal. A total of 881,219 learners, their parents and teachers all want to know whether they have passed.

At 2am, the SMS for my son’s result arrived… What a flood of pride and joy I felt when I read the words “obtained admission to bachelor’s degree”. He was fast asleep, but I was relieved – the stress of waiting and his endurance of 12 years of formal basic education were over. No more Maths, English, Afrikaans, Science. He can now focus on his love and passion: music.

In those 12 years since he started in Grade 1 in 2011, he learnt that he is not programmed to sit still and learn the three R’s of Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic. He also learnt from his recorder teacher in Grade 2 at St George’s Prep and from his piano teacher, the head of the music department at the same school, that he loved making tunes from instruments, and that jazz was a liberating force for his fingers and wandering mind. St George’s Prep is a truly learner-centred, empowering and inclusive private Anglican school in Gqeberha.

During a two-year stint at Curro in Roodeplaat, where he completed his primary schooling, his saving grace from bullying and not fitting into a new school and culture was Maxine, another incredibly patient young piano teacher who tapped into his love for gaming music. She painstakingly wrote sheet music for him to play compositions like the Assassin’s Creed Black Flag theme, which he performed at an eisteddfod in Pretoria, thereby gaining confidence in his performance ability.

His last five years at Pro Arte Alphen Park have seen his passion for piano honed, and his musicality developed with hours of practice and tutoring of music theory, aural, sight reading and music history lessons by a team of dedicated teachers from the music department. These teachers were led by Martie van Vuuren, who lost two years of face-to-face teaching and learning in the Covid years of 2020 and 2021. During this time, my son was in grades 9 and 10, which are formative foundational years for all subjects, but Music and Mathematics in particular. It is thanks to these incredible teachers in both public and private schools, who all had his interests at heart, that my son exits the system a confident young man who had the privilege of finding and developing his passion at a young age, and forging a path that is in alignment with the core of what makes him the happiest.

What is most heartwarming and game-changing for me of all the success stories of superachievers with 10 or more distinctions from public and private schools is the hands, hearts and minds of thousands of dedicated teachers, principals and parents in school governing bodies, and at homes across the sector, who have ensured that so many children have a chance at tertiary education.

Of the 881,219 public school population, my son is part of the small cohort of 92,837 learners from the fee-paying quintile 4 and 5 schools who achieved bachelor’s passes. It is no mean feat that 174,676 pupils attending quintile 1 to 3 schools (the poorest schools) achieved bachelor’s passes. These children, with access to bursaries, will have an opportunity to pursue higher education paths to careers and skills that will significantly improve their lives as long as tertiary institutions and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme follow through with timeous payments and psychosocial support networks.

I am purposefully focusing on paying tribute to the guardians of our children’s futures as opposed to the broken bureaucracy and misgovernance of basic education that you all know about only too well, because it’s time to shed light on the torchbearers of hope as opposed to the gravediggers of despair.

Our lead story this week is about these game-changers in schools in provinces across our country who are truly making a difference through innovation, passion, dedication and love. These school leaders are living proof of what award-winning former principal and academic Dr Bruce Damons intimated when he said that the best schools are not just those that produce good matric results, but also those that produce great human beings. And good human beings are what our country needs most of all.

Yours in defence of truth and democracy,


This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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