Don’t be fooled, this is why AfriForum wants the matric results printed
White schools dominate the top end, paving the way for public displays of domination and playing into the DBE’s hands
There’s a lot going on in education this week, but let me focus on an absurdity. The most ridiculous thing we can do right now is have anguished debates about whether the media should be allowed to present the grade 12 national senior certificate (NSC or “matric” in the old language) results in print. How did this become an issue when there are schools without running water, electricity and flush toilets? When many schools are reopening without basic Covid-19 mitigations in place, such as PPE equipment? When thousands of children are still not placed in schools in provinces where frustrated parents kept officials hostage? To stress over published results is like debating the appropriate wallpaper colours in the dining room of the Titanic as the distressed ship is taking on water.
Who cares? AfriForum does and I will tell you why. The printed results, accompanied by victorious, smiling faces of children with seven to nine distinctions, is the last remaining public display of white domination. True, there are some black faces here and there, but by and large it is white Afrikaans schools which dominate the upper ends of the annual results report. Having lost everything except economic power, the matric results are not simply a reminder that “ons is nog hier” (we are still here), but that we are still on top, at least when it comes to social and academic status.
The marks released this week should be no different from the NSC results of 2020 and 2021. They are likely to reveal stagnation, but not progress, a performance that cannot put makeup on the ruined face of a school system that was in real decline even before Covid-19.
Don’t be fooled by the finer arguments in law, such as the claim that it is examination numbers and not names that appear in the papers and therefore the act of publication does not fall foul of individual privacy requirements as specified in POPIA legislation. By the way, let me just say that our lawyers have made a glorious mess of explaining POPIA in ways the public can understand; somebody needs to train them in the elusive skill of public communication of their science. Nor should you be distracted by claims of the matriculant who brought the case that she would be at a distance from her school on the release date and therefore would not be able to access her results, except through the printed page. I wanted to laugh.
I have said before that children with bags of distinctions are not intellectually smart; all they have done is learn how to master the art of writing and passing examinations that are far too easy. I know from my work in universities that those students experience great distress when they suddenly get below 50% in their university assignments and tests. It is at that point that these earnest young people realise they were well-schooled, but not well-educated. They could memorise content and rely on simple heuristic devices, but not solve complex problems that required thinking for themselves and thinking out of the box. I still have students reminding me of their 0% in my university classes when in the previous year they were the dux at their schools; they could not think, simply put.
Yet the results of the white majority schools, to put it bluntly, serve another important, if paradoxical, function, this time for the black political classes in charge of education. They raise the national averages in general and in subjects such as mathematics and science so the national catastrophe of the NSC results is given a veneer of decency in the printed press. Unsuspecting readers think the school system is getting better. Make no mistake, the bureaucrats who act like quasi-politicians in the department of basic education have again this season brought extraordinary pressure to bear on Umalusi to artificially inflate the results in the interests of “the black child”; what an abuse of a sacred phrase. Fortunately the officials in the standards-setting body have stuck to their guns and tried to fend off political meddling in their important work.
The marks released this week should be no different from the NSC results of 2020 and 2021. They are likely to reveal stagnation, but not progress, a performance that cannot put makeup on the ruined face of a school system that was in real decline even before Covid-19. No doubt the minister will dress up the results for those who arrive and say nothing about the tens of thousands who did not return to school when lockdown ended. In other words, the ones whose names will not appear in the printed press.