It’s exam season again

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Once again it is ‘exam season’. Examinations and examination results are particularly important in Grahamstown, because this city markets itself as a centre of educational excellence. Obviously, a crucial data set that underpins such claims is examination results.

Over the next six weeks, many young people, including  school learners and tertiary students, both at Rhodes University and East Cape Midlands College, will be writing end-of-year examinations. There is a lot at stake, particularly for the Matriculants (Grade 12 learners) and for those Rhodes students who depend on state funding (in the form of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme or NSFAS).

The importance of Matric results in the South African context is well documented. South Africans who leave school without a National Senior Certificate (NSC) almost invariably go into long-term unemployment. Obtaining a NSC raises one’s prospects of being absorbed into the job economy, and therefore of being able to raise oneself and one’s family out of poverty.  But what’s really important in this regard is the quality of one’s NSC.

There are three levels of pass, which are named according to type of tertiary qualification that they enable one to apply for. Specifically, if one obtains a ‘Higher Certificate’ level NSC then one can apply for Higher Certificate studies (but one cannot apply for acceptance into Diploma or Bachelor Degree programmes). If one obtains a ‘Diploma’ level NSC then one can apply for either Higher Certificate or Diploma studies (but one cannot apply for acceptance into a Bachelor Degree programme). Finally, if one obtains a ‘Bachelor’ level NSC then one can apply for the tertiary qualification of one’s choice, without restriction.

The reason that this is so important is that the labour market places a higher value on diplomas than on higher certificates and it places a higher value on bachelor degrees than on diplomas. Of course the value of degrees vary from university to university. Specifically, the value of a degree from a good quality university like Rhodes is much higher than the value of a degree from a lesser quality university. The latest statistics indicate that 94% of Rhodes graduates access good employment opportunities within six months of graduation. The contrast is thus stark; if one fails to obtain an NSC, then one is doomed to unemployment and poverty, whereas if one obtains a good university degree then employment is virtually guaranteed.

This discussion logically takes us to Rhodes and the challenge facing students as they prepare for their final examinations. At GADRA Education, our main concern and interest lie with students who depend on NSFAS support. Many members of the general public are unaware that NFSAS beneficiaries are obliged to pass the majority of their subjects in order to be eligible for continued support the following year. This contrasts with the situation for most privileged students; if they fail a year, their fee-paying parents are willing to give them a second chance. Students from poor families do not have this luxury. For them, they have to pass in order to sustain their undergraduate journeys. In recent years, Rhodes has prided itself in having the highest throughput rate of all South African universities. That is to say, a higher proportion of Rhodes students graduate than at any other national university. This has been one of its major marketing points. So, good end-of-year results are vital for the ongoing reputation and good name of Rhodes.

On the basis of this explanation, readers will understand that there is an enormous amount resting on the performance of our young people in these final examinations, as there is every year. Our city does not have a lot going for it – it lacks a viable industrial base and it is governed by an incompetent municipality – so it is imperative that we enhance our claim to being a centre of educational excellence. Without education, Grahamstown would have precious little. So we should stand firmly behind every young person in our city during this exam season. Our future is in their hands.

Moreover, as Nelson Mandela famously said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Closer to home, it is the most powerful weapon with which one can change the fortunes and trajectories of families. The futures of many families in our city will be determined, to a greater extent, by the manner in which their younger members perform in the upcoming exams. Therefore all parents should go out of their way to give their children as much love, care, encouragement and support as possible over the next six weeks.

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