“I refuse to celebrate mediocrity!” says Pot to Kettle

I don’t understand the reaction to the recent matric results. Have we gotten so used to complaining? Are we so easily fooled to even complain about the good things that happen in our country? We are truly a twitter nation, making snap judgements based on headlines, dropping comments like they were change, and moving on to the next story to vent about.

The context

The grade 12 pass rate in 2012 was 73.9% and it increased in 2013 to 78.2%. That is a significant improvement by any measure. This has made people very excited, but the wrong kind of excited. The immediate reaction from some quarters was that the results were cooked before you factor anything else into it. Now add the fact that the Western Cape did not occupy one of the top two positions as it had in previous years. It did not come third either. It came in fourth place. Once you’ve absorbed that then factor in the fact that in 2013 the pass mark was dropped to 30%. That means you only need to know 30% of what you have been taught to advance from grade 12. These facts have strengthened the perception that the results were tampered with.  No wait, that’s a bit of an understatement. These facts have convinced people that the results were doctored. No, that’s not quite right either. These facts have solidified the fact that the ruling party have been for years now tampering with not just the results but with the students themselves and the teachers and the markers to ensure that in 2013 the pass rate would be 78%.

The Da Angie Code

Yes, there is a national conspiracy to ensure that weak students never write matric and thereby guaranteeing that the government can celebrate improved pass rates. It is a conspiracy that involves teachers, students and their parents. They have agreed, under coercion from the government, to hold back weak students in grades 10 and 11 so that they do not sit for matric exams the following year. Robert Ludlum, were he still alive, would be impressed with the ingenuity to pull this off. Imagine the number of people involved in this, and there has not been a single leak on social media! Think of the efficiency of the government agents that have infiltrated the school system. Here in South Africa! I cannot wait for the movie to be made. To the Conspiracy Theorists (now on referred as CT) this project is called ‘culling’ (yes the same word used to describe the practice of controlled killing of animals).

Is the dropout problem new in 2013?

The high (extremely high) dropout rate in students after grade 9 has been cited by them for this assertion (it is no longer a hypothesis, or even a theory it is now a fact as far as the CT are concerned). Roughly 500 000 students wrote the grade 12 exam in 2013. Twelve years prior when the class of 2013 started grade 1 there were about one million students who registered. That means 500 000 students did not even make it to matric to write the exam. That is a ridiculously high number. A study was done a few years ago and a committee formed to investigate the reasons for this drop out. One of the things they found was that the dropout rate in primary school is so small as to be negligible. Their findings are detailed in the above report. This was done in 2007, it is interesting that no one talked about culling back then. Another report is available from 2011. Again there was no talk of culling. One has to wonder why there is talk of it now. As if to suggest the high dropout has only affected the class of 2013 (less than half the kids who started school in 200 wrote exams in 2012). And it clearly shows that there is something seriously wrong with education in this country and how it is being managed. I am not disputing that. But to suggest a nation-wide government-led conspiracy, really?

Some say we are lagging behind other nations in the world and in the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe with all its problems has been used as an example for comparison. It has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, significantly higher than South Africa and this is rightly due to their fantastic education system. Except it’s not so fantastic. In 2011 the primary school pass rate was 45%. The pass rate for O-levels (which is what they do after form 4 or grade 10, an equivalent of grade 12) was 19.5% in the same year. So maybe let’s stay clear of using Zimbabwe as a comparison.

What about the rest of the world? We are so far behind the likes of the UK that any comparison is ludicrous. From what I can gather, students are free to do whatever after grade 10 (form 4). Apparently only about 20% go on to form 6, our grade 12 equivalent. And then they decide how and when to complete their studies, with the average being 3 to 4 subjects being taken a year. The point is there are so many differences to the system itself that one cannot compare the two. Although in the states grade 11 and 12 are compulsory it is much the same in terms of comparison. Even between different states in the US there are differences in policy.

The (sudden) call for an investigation

Before we go on let’s address the other two factors that have led to conspiracy talk. Why is the fact that the Western Cape has dropped from number one to four matter in this case? Because it is the one province run by the opposition party and they just happen to be the ones screaming for an investigation into the results. As I’ve mentioned before this was the first year a call for an investigation has been heard regarding the improved results. If you take one and put it together with the other you can only come to one conclusion. Contrary to what other defendants of the results have said, I do not believe it is a race issue although I understand why they would say it is. Let’s face it as soon as you shout race it muddies the waters a bit and makes everything difficult from there onwards. It is purely a political decision. It is an election year and no good news from any party can be celebrated, especially when my party has not done as well as expected. That, I believe, is the reason for the call to investigate.

“And the other thing that everyone has been going on about?”

“Oh yes, the drop of the pass mark to 30%! Almost forgot about that.”

This article from a retired headmaster is the perfect read for you if you are in the stable that believes the drop to 30% is criminal and eroding the quality of education in this country. The pass mark in the previous regime was, wait for it, 331/3%.

“Wait, so we are complaining about a 31/3% drop?”

“Um, yes. Yes we are.”

“But people have been going on about 50%?!”

Yes they have, and they have been, and continue to be, wrong. The same people who went through that very same schooling system.

Some went to the trouble of quoting the FS University VC, “You no longer need 50% to pass certain subjects, which means that you can be completely ignorant of more than half of the subject matter content and still pass.”  Yeah, you never needed 50% on any subject, ever! I urge you to go into the DoE website and find out for yourself what the requirements for passing at each level are.

But the poor kids will struggle at varsity!

The final point I want to address is this fear that university students are being compromised by this. There is concern that kids going to university are being set up for failure. As in “these kids will get to university and fail.” Huh? The pass mark was dropped, not the university entrance requirements. A kid who passed with 34% or 30% is still not going to make it to tertiary. None of the kids who pass between 30% and 34% will be at university, so how has it affected university dropout rates? Again, you just have to check the DoE website and you will see that to get to university you need a 50% pass mark in at least four of your subjects, subjects that carry 20 credits. Keep in mind that universities determine their own entry requirements; this just makes you eligible to attend a university. So if they (the universities) have lowered their admission requirement to accept kids that are not suitable to study at university then they should be held to account (with Bra Blade if he’s involved). It’s got nothing to do with matric pass marks.

Cause for celebration

I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 8 provinces with greater than 70% pass rate and 4 at over 80%. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 61950 more kids who passed matric than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 35708 more kids who achieved a bachelor’s pass and 20411 more who achieved a diploma pass than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that the non-diploma and non-bachelor passes only account for 9.4% of the improvement from 2012. And if you believe in the conspiracy theory and the culling, then I suggest you get Dan Brown on the case although you may have more luck with Tom Eaton for this one.

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Twitter strikes again… and again

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It is sometimes such an excruciating experience but I always go back to it. It’s not quite an addiction yet but it’s getting close. It is true that it sometimes makes me laugh, and I can always find interesting (useless but interesting) facts about stuff and things. I can catch up on the latest sports news, find out how my team is doing (but I have the Supersport app for that?) and just read through people’s thoughts about anything and everything. Mostly nothing. These are people I don’t know, have never met and will never meet. But I want to know what they think about whatever. It’s a craving, but only sometimes. I can stop whenever I want. I can delete it whenever I want. I just choose not to. The fact that this is what every addict says is immaterial to the point I’m making. So you can stop looking at me with those judgemental eyes. Well you’re not looking at me because you can’t see me but I can feel you reading this with eyes full of judgement.

Anyway, where was before you interrupted? Ah yes, the excruciating pain of visiting twitter. I must admit it is nowhere near as bad as News24 and IOL. I mean if you want to be truly depressed and be driven to the verge of giving up on the human race then go read the comments section on IOL and News24. It doesn’t matter what the story is. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Just pick any story and scroll down to the comments section…

Depressing right? Twitter is not so bad. Perhaps because it’s designed for people with (a little) attention disorder and has such limited space and you need tons of attention and acres of space to spew out the negativity like the guys do on News24. Don’t get me wrong they do give it their best shot. But at least they choose their stories very carefully. Anything that is political is fair game. This includes any mention of any politician or pseudo-politician. Any good news about South Africa is also up for attack. And they will never strike alone, they get shipped in The Band Wagon with their fingers ready for war.

The latest band wagon: the matric results. How painful it was to read the tweets! And sure enough The Band Wagon rolled in, full steam (for some reason this band wagon runs on steam, strange). Until about 09:30 (that’s when it ran out of steam). And then everyone remembered they were at work or simply forgot about it. I’m going with they simply forgot. Tomorrow when something else is announced they will become experts in that too (everyone on twitter is an expert). A quick Google search and then they are throwing numbers on their timeline and barely-understood facts to make their point. Logic be damned! And dare to be the one being positive in the midst of all the negativity. They will attack you relentlessly; well they’ll stop and slink away once logic defeats them. But you get my point. Before you know it you are typing furiously asking questions that should be common sense.

I remember Heritage Day fondly. That was incredible. As in, it was beyond belief and not in a good way. The righteousness I witnessed that day was biblical (except it was on twitter so that’s a bit of hyperbole). People who were having a braai were called weak, lacking self-esteem, victims, confused, allowing our culture to be destroyed etc. It was so much fun to read! One person went as far as to say that we should be holding debates and discussions and reflecting and not braaing. I don’t know, I guess because September 24 is only one hour long and South African law dictates that there will be no discussion while having braai, the only talk allowed is sports, but no national teams must be mentioned, only clubs and provincial teams. But I’m moving away from the topic. The pain. The twitter pain.

But I can’t stay away from it. It gives such insight to the people we are living with. And this is important. If one day these people decided to use more than just their fingers for protest and a real revolution started it will be important to know how they think and their views on running the country and the world. Maybe they will start the revolution on twitter. Send so many tweets all at the same time that the government just breaks. So I’ll keep checking in, just in case.

The ascension of woman and the fear of man

This question of sexism and more specifically feminism keeps coming up. And then dies down a bit, and then comes up again. Every time there is this back and forth and there never seems to be an answer. Or maybe it is because of the back and forth that there is no answer.

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The three faces of the argument

I have noticed that there tends to be three types of arguments regarding this and articles have been written for all three sides: there is the extreme feminists who insist that men and everyone else must drop everything they are doing to not only acknowledge women but also elevate them to positions of power. These extremists come just short of asking that men neuter themselves or at least just lie there and let the women do it to show their willingness for change. The second side is the polar opposite of the first, where men resort to what they do best in conflict; try to win at all costs. These guys will trivialise the feminist agenda, make jokes about it or just completely ignore it – this is when they are not launching full out attacks at women who even hint at feminism and women’s rights. The third type is very rare. This is the argument that is not really an argument, not even a debate, more like a sharing of ideas of how to move things forward collectively. This is different in that it is not the women feeling the responsibility to implement change rests with them solely, or the men feeling that there is no need for change and that they will decide when it becomes necessary, but where both men and women agree on something relating to feminism in its true definition. I got a chance to witness a smidgen of this on twitter the other day.

Men are Obsolete?

A writer for the New York Times posted an article titled Men Are Obsolete the other day and a prominent woman in South Africa shared it with her followers on twitter. This woman is recognised both publicly and privately as a very strong and independent woman. (I wasn’t sure whether to use the word independent or not as it has become a cliché, but just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true!). Now I don’t know whether she is or not but we recognise her as being independent.

As you can see from the sensationalist title the article belongs to the first group, that of extremist feminists. Since she shared this article it was only natural to assume that she subscribes to this thinking or supports it. This pleasantly turned out to be far from the truth. One of her followers challenged the article in response to her. He called it the “one of the worst articles he has ever read” and that it was “bordering on being silly”. The exchange that followed fell squarely into the third group of arguments mentioned above. She highlighted the good points of the article and what she thought the author was trying to express. He, on the other hand, pointed out the competitive and almost vindictive nature of the article. In the end they both agreed that in going for sensationalism the author missed her own point, that a more woman focussed title would have sufficed and that resorting to thinly-veiled man-bashing and glorifying the fact that women are now just as capable of aggression and violence was not the way for the author to put her point across, whatever it was. I really enjoyed reading that too-short exchange. I would have enjoyed more seeing other like-minded people join in the conversation but it wasn’t to be.

It’s a competition!

It got me thinking beyond the conversation and I think I understand why the issue of sexism and feminism is still a long way from being resolved. It’s a competition! In sport you do not play for a draw (except that one time that Bafana Bafana did, but we won’t go there for our own sanity). You play to win, and you win by scoring more points than your opponent. In really tough competition it is often necessary to wear your opponent down psychologically and physically to allow you to score points easier or for them to lose points. This is where the man vs. woman fight is currently being fought – we will work hard to wear down the opposition until they give up. The irony here of course is that we are in the same team!

Who are we playing against?

I’ll use rugby to illustrate this point. In a rugby team you have two types of players: forwards and backs. Each group has a very specific job to perform to ensure three things happen: the team keeps possession of the ball; the team goes forward and scores points; and when they don’t have possession of the ball, to make sure that they defend their try line and prevent the other team from scoring.

Well in the feminism battle the backs and forwards are playing against each other, unaware that this is keeping them from moving forward. What makes it difficult is the question, so who are we playing against if not each other? I think as soon as this question is answered we will a drastic change in how the feminism battle is being fought.

If we continue with the rugby analogy for a second more, what we have seen from the most successful teams is that they have managed to change the way the game is played, they have merged the traditional roles of players. A forward is still a forward and still has to perform the basics expected of a forward but now a flanker is just as comfortable playing out on the wing and a centre has no problems in the rucks and mauls. If you’re a soccer fan, think of how left backs are now being used effectively as attacking wingers and how wingers are often found in the box scoring goals. (If you’re not a fan of either, then ask someone who isJ). As times have changed it has become critical for each player to master their role, to have the necessary technical ability to do their basic jobs well. And then only once they have mastered their primary role are they exposed to the sider range of responsibilities. No matter how good a prop is on the wing, if he cannot scrum you have lost the game. At the same time if your prop is not dynamic enough and able to play outside the traditional scope then you’re not likely to win the game either.

But the one thing that sports has that we do not is a common enemy, an opponent.

Survival and Progress

The opponent is right in front of us. It is the same opponent or goal that has always been there: the survival of the species. Not the survival of man or woman but the species. If an alien race were to attack us now would it matter who was shooting at them, man or woman? So why does it matter who the CEO of a company is?

More than survival, lack of progress is what we are fighting against. If the cure for cancer was found, would it matter who discovered it, man or woman? If you suddenly discovered today that the creators of your favourite were women would you enjoy it less?

If this makes sense then why the resistance to change? Because we have built a society that put labels on everything. And the labels are there to set things apart even if they mean nothing. And men are the biggest prisoners of these labels. The word ‘man’ itself has such a fine, narrow definition that people have died trying to live up to it. Although all animals are equal, there must always be animals that are more equal than others.

So what is my conclusion?

Traditionally men built things because they had the strength to build and women gave birth because they had the strength to do that. But we have evolved, haven’t we? Yes men are still doing the physical work of laying bricks and women are still carrying babies for nine months and giving birth. But the idea of providing a home has become so much more than a mere building. The builders have become unknown entities, shadows that are never seen. The provider of the home has become that person who can provide the finances to have the home built. This person no longer need be a man. So inevitably the men have questions of themselves and society: Will I lose my place as a man in society? Will I be made obsolete? The extremist feminists have also reacted out of fear. Upon seeing the resistance from men they have gone on the offensive and all this has done is driven (some) men deeper into their fears and they have dug their heels further into the ground.

Yet, why is it important how society sees me as a man or a woman? Why must I abide by society’s labels and in the process lose my own identity? If I am father to my children and a husband to my wife, what else matters? The fact that I am also a CEO of a company, or a pilot or a captain is incidental. None of these things will make me a better husband, a better father.

This is the battle that as men we need to fight with each other: the realisation that we do not have to live our lives according to society’s labels. That what society expects of us and what we expect of ourselves will always be mutually exclusive. Maybe this is calling it too black and white and maybe there is some grey in there but I don’t think so. After all, society is a fictional place, a fictional group of people who are made up of all the dreams that have been shattered and unfulfilled fantasies (when was the last time you heard of any society being spoken of in a positive light?).

At the same time this is the precaution women should be taking. So that when that moment has arrived, when we look around and we realise that this equality of the genders has been achieved, we don’t find mothers and wives have been casualties of this battle.

If we lose mothers, wives, husbands and fathers we would have lost the war. The progress of our people will be assured but so will its extinction.

Heritage Day

So there are still people out there who are oblivious to the real world. These people have become very adept at playing victim. And as they go on their race rant they know they have supporters who will jump on the band wagon and sprout the same nonsense. 

The latest of these is the once a year debate on braai day vs heritage day. Its like those guys who only pray and go to church on Christmas day. Or those that only remember they’re fighting for women’s right in August. A month from now, hell a week from now, these same people would’ve forgotten the debate. Until September 23 2014 when some newspaper or radio station will remind them that promoting a braai on heritage day is tantamount to burning our constitution and the return of apartheid. They will voice their outrage at this gross injustice while making sure plans for the braai they are going to run smoothly. They will tweet about how its become commercialised and how that’s taken away from the meaning of the day while they send out invites to a braai at their house on Facebook. And of course its just a matter of re tweets before someone throws in the words ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’. And the ‘victims’ come out in full force. It’s understandable really since government officials will be making rounds to every house in the country to dictate how the day should be celebrated. And they will be carrying charcoal and braai tongs just in case.

Just to be clear I will be going out to buy the thickest fillet and rump steaks I can find today. And I will be having a braai tomorrow. In fact, I will start a movement to make Heritage Day as big a holiday as Christmas. I want people to be sharing gifts with each other that expose their friends to their cultures. I want businesses to take their employees to Heritage Day dinners like they do for Christmas. To have work functions celebrating our South African culture. I want DSTV and SABC to play exclusively South African content during Heritage Month. Radio stations dedicate days to SA music. Small businesses must spring up that sell authentic(or otherwise) Heritage Day stuff months before the actual day. Heritage Day events (read parties) must be announced in July already. South African artists (music, TV, authors etc) must band together to create a truly unique experience.

 

 

I will in all likelihood fail in this endeavour. But if there’re two of us our chances double. And perhaps if enough people take charge it can succeed. There are many south africans who hold their own destinies in their own hands. They cannot be defeated by the ignorant minority. We are surrounded by negativity daily in the media, when we walk the streets, on our way to work. On this one day when our diversity should be uniting us, when we should be celebrating the unique and difficult heritage our country has, we manage to fuck it up. I would refuse to partake in this debate if I thought it was meaningless. But its not. Its another opportunity for those sowing division to plant yet more seeds. And every time we say I’m not getting involved we are giving them license to continue. Remember that if nothing else.

 

 

Happy Heritage Day. May it remind you to be tolerant of others and encourage you to learn about the cultures of not just our country but of Africa.