Matric results: time to think of something new, different

IT is that time of the year again where South Africans all line up to see what the matric results of the previous year were. There will be a lot of information coming from the Department of Basic Education telling us about how this years’ performance has changed year-on-year from the previous and how despite Covid-19 something-something has been achieved.

The results from this current cohort should at least be a bit more promising than the results of the previous cohort that were severely impacted by Covid lockdowns in 2020 and if that does not achieve the desired optimistic spin then there will be a rosy narrative of decade-on-decade comparisons and a bit more blah-blah-blah.

This is ceremoniously succeeded by a deeper analysis of the results from outside of the Department. Various think tanks and genuine researchers interested in the progress of education in South Africa will opine on the results and what that means for the country. 

Many will correctly point out that the results are only one very small indicator in the greater scheme of things; that there needs to be greater investment into Early Childhood Development and that there is a constant need for greater systemic interventions such as teacher development and that we need to relook at issues around curriculum etc. 

I expect that even the organisation that I work for will seek to produce some analysis which is invaluable for many of our clients that are heavily invested in the broader development of South Africa.

And then there will be the noise; the cacophony of perspectives from groups seeking to maintain relevance and/or score political points. This noise is usually what most South Africans are bombarded with. 

Expect that this noise will largely focus on the matric pass requirement of 30% for some subjects, or that the subject Life Orientation needs to change or that the number of matriculants passing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects are too low. It is usually from this noise that we get a wealth of memes and other social media content berating our education system and ultimately the failures of Government – yawn.

So to break from tradition; I would like to introduce another perspective far from the inescapable noise and all of the academic debate. I would like us to imagine something new and something different. Instead of focusing on the matric results; how about we temporarily suspend that view and focus on the assets that have been created over this past couple of years.

We have a cohort of school-leavers that have literally lived through a global pandemic. This is a cohort of youth that have experienced first-hand and from varying perspectives how life can drastically change in an instant. This is an asset. When this cohort of youth enter into the workplace, they will have first-hand knowledge of how to adapt to rapidly changing environments; probably faster and more effectively than any preceding generation. Imagine what this can mean for the future of the workplace. This is a cohort that intimately understands many different technologies, especially for communication. 

When these youth enter into the job market; they should be able to easily adapt themselves and their environments with great ease and would be able to easily integrate into geographically spread organisations; and may even demand greater flexibility.

Could a potential labour restructure be imminent through this youth that enters the economy? And in the context of South Africa, will we potentially see this flexibility and agility translate to a positive change in the number of people accessing the formal economy?

We have a cohort of youth that have observed how society “thinks”. Never before has an entire cohort of youth observed so directly how society can develop and galvanize around certain narratives, how society is able to be informed by various forms of media or how society can develop heroes and villains in real-time and how that all influences power structures. 

Imagine the potential marketing professionals that may emerge out of this group of youth, or the sociologists or the anthropologists and historians; a group of youth that are able to use lived experience to better understand the past and the future.

We have a cohort of youth that have a genuine first-hand experience of public health concepts. The current cohort of youth are public health novices that understand basic concepts in virology and immunology, inequities in health, basic health economics, the impacts of health on society and so on. Imagine the level of public health expertise that we could potentially develop out of this group of youth given their initial exposure.

 Also, imagine the decision making that these cohorts of youth will be utilizing when they begin establishing families of their own and amongst their peers as they become more involved in the economy. Imagine the public health revolution that we could be on the precipice of right now. 

Similarly, there are great educators, economists, artists and so on that are waiting to emerge that have been shaped directly by a global shift in almost every sphere of life. There are new “assets” that have been created in the current matriculants that are much larger than the matric results. The challenge is for us to develop ways of mining these precious resources for the development of society.

For social investors in Basic Education, there is a need to see how we can support systems that do not simply resort back to the old ways of doing things. The flexibility and agility that has been brought into the education system and forcibly piloted has produced a lot of success and valuable lessons learnt. 

We need to constantly evaluate the progress that we are making and find ways of furthering the good that is being achieved. Furthermore, the social capital that the past couple of years has produced needs to be maximised and kept at the high levels that it is at currently.

For investors in Livelihoods and Higher Education and Training, the need is more exciting (pronounced -complex-). How do we support programmes that will best unearth these new assets that are emanating out of the basic education system? 

Do we carry on investing in the programmes that promise to create x-number of jobs doing the same-old-same-old, or, do we find the programmes that are developing youth into flexibility and critical thinking? Do we lead the labour market change that could be imminent? 

Do we possibly need to develop local economies that are supportive of more flexible working conditions? Do we need to look at leveraging more of the digital revolution to promote a greater ecosystem of gig-workers? Do we potentially need to dig much deeper into the future and find what new scenarios are playing out?

There are no easy recommendations that can be made immediately but the questions should be posed, and the possibilities explored. These past two years have developed a very different youth that is not reflected in the matric results and whilst those numbers are important, we have to also engage with the broader change that this pandemic has brought about.

  • Riyadh Ebrahim is a social investment specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments.
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