Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
I AM sometimes embarrassed to be a member of the South African media. Too often we tend to frame discussions in such a way that they completely misrepresent the argument we claim to be reacting to.
Take Blade Nzimande's position on matric exemption for instance.
Nzimande told reporters the exemption rate of 18 percent of South Africa's matriculants was too low to be accepted as an accurate reflection of the abilities of South African children.
But if you listened to radio or read newspapers, you would be forgiven for thinking that he wanted a free-for-all at universities.
In his own words: "It is just very abnormal, partly because of what we have inherited and the problems we have . We need to find ways and means of identifying those who have potential even if they did not get a matric exemption.
If we don't do that we are sentencing many students to a life . not in education, not in training, not in employment."
He went on: "One possibility is additional entrance exams in order to identify students with potential who for one reason or another might not have got an exemption."
Nzimande was repeating what Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said in relation to the brouhaha about Julius Malema's matric results.
Fortunately for Nzimande, as a proven academic and scholar, his comments cannot be reduced to his being anti-intellectual or anti-education.
As someone who went to a township school, I agree with both Nzimande and Motshekga that we cannot make too much of matric results in the present climate of unequal education opportunities.
It is pretentious to want to claim that just because township, rural and suburban schools have the same curriculum children at these schools get the same education.
Only denialists will pretend that all other things being equal, race, class and the urban-rural divide have no bearing on the life chances of schoolchildren.
Though I admit to not having done a study, I suspect that if we were to ask for matric results of those individuals who went to township schools but now hold respected offices in business and in the public sector, we would be quite surprised not only of the poor grades they got but that some even repeated the class. And it has nothing to do with their having once been stupid.
The imbalances in our schools are so bad that a child who gets a 60percent pass at a typical village or township school might be argued to have performed better than the one who got 80percent at a formerly whites-only school.
I agree with Nzimande's detractors that the government needs to take responsibility for village and township schools churning out poorly prepared kids.
There is no doubt that early childhood and primary schooling needs to be fixed if the results at high schools are to be better than they currently are.
But that is a societal gap and children should not be punished because the government has been slow in closing the gap between the rich and poor.
Like Nzimande, I am not saying university entrance should be a free-for-all. There needs to some benchmark.
But we cannot allow potential to be defined by King David School when most of our children go to schools that do not help them fulfil their true potential.
I will never excuse mediocrity. But we should not judge people's potential by using yardsticks that ignore their life experiences.