In three days’ time the matric class of 2020 will sit for the National Senior Certificate examinations.
It is the culmination of twelve years of schooling and a gruelling final year of preparation. For many this is an exciting moment, but one that is also fraught with anxiety.
This year’s exam will be written under unprecedented conditions. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. The nationwide lockdown we had to impose in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus caused immense disruption to everyday life and cost valuable hours of learning and study.
To accommodate the disruptions the June Senior Certificate exams were postponed and will now be written together with the National Senior Certificate. More than a million candidates will sit for the examinations starting on Thursday.
This makes this combined examination the largest public exam ever administered in South Africa.
The provincial and national Departments of Basic Education are to be congratulated for their sterling preparation to ensure things proceed smoothly. These include the independent and public auditing of examination centres, finding extra venues to accommodate the large number of candidates, and the development of protocols to ensure compliance by candidates and officials with COVID-19 regulations.
The Class of 2020 has had to endure conditions their predecessors never had to confront. They had to adapt in real time not just to finish the curriculum but to catch up with the learning hours lost. Though some had access to online learning platforms and other resources, many had to struggle with access to learning material and teaching.
They had to endure the mental strain of social isolation, and for many months were cut off from friends and their teachers. They were not able to participate in sporting, recreational and leisure activities that are so essential to a well-rounded life and that relieve the stresses of prolonged study.
Yet, despite having the odds stacked against them, our learners are determined to present for this exam that is the pinnacle of their schooling.
It has been equally difficult for our educators. Despite the risk posed by the virus and resource challenges inside our schools, the majority of our teachers heeded the call to return to school to salvage what was left of the academic year.
They presented for work every day to support our matriculants. They put in the extra hours to get our learners over the finish line, making the most of the resources they had to ensure learning continued.
I salute our educators who have been there for their students when they were needed most. They have given so much, personally and professionally. They put our learners first and in doing so affirmed once more that our teachers are among our finest public servants.
This pandemic has brought our nation together in ways not experienced before, and this was demonstrated in the matriculation examination preparations.
Many businesses played a supportive role, assisting with the provision of technology like tablets to schools and assisting to resource school multimedia centres. Mobile network operators established e-school platforms during the lockdown carrying free learning content, including subject content for matriculants.
University graduates set up tutoring platforms online, making much needed supplementary learning support available for free.
The SABC and other TV providers have carried catch-up lessons for matric learners through the Department of Basic Education’s Woza Matrics Programme, enabling learners to prepare for the examinations.
There is the heart-warming story of Dendron Secondary School in Limpopo, where a group of dedicated teachers opened their own homes to their students. During the early days of the lockdown, they provided food and accommodation to small groups of matriculants, and supervised their studies.
There are no doubt many such stories in other parts of our country; of educators convening home-study groups with their students and of parents providing food, learning space and other resources to their children’s friends.
Without the support of parents, families and communities, our young people’s path to the matric exam would have been considerably harder. We thank them for their support.
Despite all the challenges this year has brought, I call on the Class of 2020 to summon their great reserves of courage and strength in this, the final push.
To the Class of 2020, I wish you the very best.
You have overcome difficulties that would test the resolve of even the most experienced and hardened adults.
At your tender age, there are so many demands upon you. There are the pressures of rigorous study, the pressure to excel and to achieve the results you need to study further. And yet you have come this far.
When you enter the exam room in the days ahead, you will be carrying not just your own hopes for success and those of your families. You will also carry the hopes of us, the South African people.
We are immensely proud of you and wish you the very best of luck.