Three young people share their experiences of matrix rewriting

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A matric certificate unlocks economic participation by increasing a young person’s likelihood of accessing additional education, training and employment opportunities. The annual announcement of matric results is an important celebration of learners who complete the matric, but we must not forget the many young people who have not reached or completed this milestone.

About 50% of young people who enter school leave without any certification. It is essential to provide resources, support and options for young people who drop out of school before completing grade 12 or who need to retake their final exams.

The Second Chance Matric program is a program run by the Department of Basic Education for people who dropped out of school between the ninth and twelfth grades and want to retake their matric exams or upgrade certain subjects.

The program is an important route to certification: according to Youth Capital research, approximately 250,000 young people are working towards their matric certificate outside of the full-time school system at any one time. On average, 800,000 candidates take matric exams each year, so about a third of the total matric cohort enters this second-chance route.

In my work at the Ukhanyo Foundation, an organization that helps young people rewrite their matrix, I have seen that the educational journey is fraught with detours and obstacles, and that support is often not in place. The impact of confinement on schooling and learning is another challenge that learners have had to face. In this context, improving access to alternative certification pathways and supporting those who pursue them must be a priority.

Here are the stories of three young people who decided to retake their exams. These are not their real names:

Lerato, 30, Mount Fletcher, Eastern Cape:

I did my first matric in 2012 but I didn’t pass. I rewrote matric in 2015, but didn’t do well, and I’m rewriting again in 2022.

I loved being at school. I liked English and consumer studies. I also liked math but struggled with it; I should have taken additional lessons to do better.

Without a matrix certificate, I’m stuck. When I apply for a job, even for sales positions, employers ask for a matrix certificate and not a certificate of results. If I could get a matric, iminyango yami eminingi ingavuleka (many doors in my life would open). With a matrix certificate, I believe things will improve.

When rewriting matric, being outside the school system makes the experience difficult. Unless you can pay for private lessons, there is no access to tutoring support to help you prepare. When I rewrote in 2015, bekune pressure enkulu kimi (I felt a lot of pressure).

When I rewrote in 2015, I studied on my own. I asked my sister to get quizzes from the high school I used to attend. I had to return my textbooks in 2012, so I had no other study materials. I was also working in 2015 while preparing for the exam and I was under a lot of pressure. I didn’t do well, so I’m trying again this year.

The general feeling is that you hear about your friends who attend universities or colleges; they move forward while you have this heavy feeling of being stuck where you are. I think it makes young people want to go rewrite. I wish we, as young people, could be encouraged to say that failing the baccalaureate is not the end, but just an obstacle in the way. One solution is to make the matrix rewrite program more accessible, so that more young people can go back, upgrade their subjects and earn their certificate.

Thabang, 19, Nyanga

I had a good time at school. I enjoyed interacting with my teachers and spending time with my friends. When the lockdown came in 2020 I felt there was no transition to home study and I struggled to adjust to the mindset I was completely alone to do my job. When I took the matric exam that year, I failed physics and had to rewrite the subject in 2021.

Failing to pass matric and having to rewrite was quite an emotional journey for me. At first, I blamed myself and my personal work ethic during lockdown because I should have spent more time on topics I wasn’t doing well in. But then I realized that not being able to physically attend classes at school took its toll; suddenly I was home alone. I didn’t have wi-fi where I lived at the time and missed many Zoom classes. In the end, I didn’t have the concentration that I would have if I had been in school.

The failing physics affected my confidence and I found it extremely difficult to trust myself again. I approached a local tutoring company called Ikasi Tutors to help me prepare, and I passed Physics in 2021. I have now registered to study Financial Management at Cape Town College.

This trip was an incredible life lesson: even if life gets me down, I can still get up and fight. It made me grow as a man.

Thami, 28, Delft, Cape Town

When I started high school, I had moved from Khayelitsha, where we mainly spoke isiXhosa, to Delft, where we spoke mainly English. It was my first time in a mixed school and I loved it.

When I picked my subjects in ninth grade, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing or where I was going with them. My big brother had chosen pure mathematics and physics, so I chose the same. But I started to struggle and I didn’t know where to find support. My brother left our house and I had no one at home who could help me; it was just me and my textbooks.

I wasn’t surprised when I found out that I had failed the baccalaureate in 2011. I knew I wasn’t doing well, but I hoped for the best. As I didn’t know what else to do, I spent 2012 at home. The following year, I discovered the Second Chance Matrix Program and applied to rewrite pure math. But again, I had no tutor, and again I failed. I decided to give up and started looking for odd jobs, but most vacancies require a matric certificate. So in 2016 I went to a district office. I spoke to a helpful woman, who advised me to change subjects and rewrite math rather than pure math. I passed with 48%, without any tutor. When I discovered this, I felt like myself again.

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