As can be hoped, matriculants across the length and breadth of the country should by now have settled down nicely into writing the final exam papers of their entire schooling life.
Not so long ago, they sat for their September assessments, what commonly are known as the “mock matric exams”. These (September or Third Term) simulated tests offer good insight into how prepared matriculants really are for meeting the requirements of the National Senior Certificate. They offer teachers, and parents for that matter, real opportunities to gain awareness of possible problems, shortcomings, deficiencies and barriers matric students may have faced or continue to face and experience at school or perhaps even at home.
Armed with this knowledge, educators and caregivers often seek prospective, last-minute solutions that may improve the student’s chances at success. This typically involve things like extra classes, private tutoring, well-planned study sessions, better time management, regular exercise, reduced social activity, wholesome nutrition, the provision of an enabling study environment, or just plain family encouragement combined with lots of prayer.
In certain quarters it will be said that these and much, much more have already been prioritised, long before the matriculant sat for her mock exams.
The mock exams furthermore offer educational authorities (provincial and national) insight into schools that have met up to their tasks and where intervention may be required. Some three months before the actual release of the final results, education officials are in a position to evaluate and compare matriculants’ progressions, possible improvements and accomplishments (or otherwise), and general scores, across neighbourhoods, towns, districts, regions and provinces.
Low attainment levels usually mean swift and decisive action, which may also include the naming and shaming of under-performers, in this instance, usually school principals.
School principals in turn put pressure on their teachers to do all in their power to guarantee the success of the matric student, and in so doing, escape public scorn and disparagement.
Of serious concern, however, is the propensity among certain schools to issue (September) reports while omitting any indication of subject failure. This, so it is reasoned, is to safeguard the student’s chances at gaining entry into a college or university. College and university administrators are, after all, more inclined to accept applicants with clean and healthy slates.
Others argue that an indication of subject failure may even scupper the matriculant’s chances of getting a job, whether casual, part-time, or permanent. It therefore quite often is the mock exams results and not necessarily the final, end of year results, that may have a more conclusive bearing on the student’s future.
Certain educational psychologists for years have cautioned against the explicit indication of “failure”, especially in lower grades, whether for a specific subject or for the exams on the whole. Such negative stipulation (failure) publicly shames the student, thereby diminishing her levels of self-confidence, a crucially important factor in any student’s life.
And we are no doubt aware of the immense pain and suffering the failed student typically experiences, something that has driven far too many to do some seriously drastic things to themselves.
In other words, the omission of the word “failure” on the matriculant’s September report card may in actual fact help her to secure holiday employment, gain entry into university and, what is more, pass the end of year, final matric exams with improved results (given that her confidence levels have not been tarnished too much). Yippee!
But is it really all that simple?
Whose interests are really served when a “pass” appears next to a subject the learner could hardly cope with in class or in the exams? Schools opting to indicate an across-the-board pass, whether for individual subjects or for the exams as a whole, surely stand a better chance of featuring far more positively and impressively on official data sets, than their more honest, often struggling peers? Is this a form of manipulation or just plain and simple deceit?
What of course does not help matters is when matriculants compare their own results with those of their peers from other schools, which is exactly what inspired this commentary.
Whereas a colleague’s daughter “failed” her mock matric exams, her daughter’s close friend, a fellow matriculant, at a neighbouring school, “passed” all subjects and thus the exams on the whole, but with far less pleasing results. Is the education department aware of such unfair, if not dishonest practices? DM