Christina Watson: CEO of Via Afrika

Christina Watson: CEO of Via Afrika

As the class of 2015 collects its final Matric results the air is thick with the disappointment of a second drop in the national Matric pass rate in as many years.

This year’s pass rate dropped 5% to 70.7% with a total of 799 306 pupils sitting down to write the final exams according to News24.

South African political party, Economic Freedom Fighters spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi pointed out to EWN that while 455 825 learners had passed Matric, 1.3 million children had enrolled in Grade 1 in 2004. This means that only 35% of learners that started school in 2004 made it all the way to the 2015 Matric exams.

It is this problem that has many South Africans looking at the Matric results every year with apprehension, including Chief Executive Officer of Via Afrika, Christina Watson.

Focusing on Matric to solve problems in Matric

Watson has seen that year after year South Africans applaud or commiserate with the Matric class once the results have been released.

“There is an over emphasis on Matric results”, Watson tells us, “we need to take a more holistic approach to education and consider the importance of what learnings need to take place across all 12 school years with a particular focus on primary school level.”

Often, once poor Matric results have been released the following class is bombarded with additional work (the 2015 exams were said to have been some of the toughest set for the National Senior Certificate) in an attempt to get the pass rate up for the next year.

According to Watson this is not addressing the problems we face in education, it is just addressing a symptom and it could easily take our focus off the real responsibility of preparing learners with 21st century skills they can only acquire across all 12 schooling years.

“We are still using the same teaching methods we used 200 years ago and learners are leaving school with a pass mark but without key transferable skills such as knowing how to interpret and apply facts and analyse and use data”, says Watson.

Primary technology

Focus needs to shift toward ensuring the required skills are being mastered at a primary school level giving learners a firm foundation to build onto and Watson believes this can be helped along by technology.

Via Afrika has found that using technology in school helps learners engage more actively with the learning material. During a study conducted at schools in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Free State as few as 16% of Grade 6 learners across the schools achieved the minimum level in Maths to move on to Grade 7. After implementing a digital learning programme for six months, this number rose to 51% of learners.

Watson tells us, “Via Afrika has seen that technology encourages learners to participate and engage with the subject material. They take responsibility for their own learning. We’ve even seen learners insisting on coming to school on Saturdays so that they can continue learning”.

Life after Matric

For many that have passed the next stage of their academic life begins today. Many people still have the perception that entering university is the only key to success but Watson believes differently.

“There is a great deal of emphasis on university education as the ultimate way to secure a job and that is problematic because once you’ve got a degree you start looking for a job and there are is no guarantee of one”, the CEO tells us.

“We should be showing our kids other options such as  enrolling for a TVET course, becoming an artisan, employing yourself and starting a business rather than having to look at being employed by someone else. We need more people actively participating in growing our economy.”

The harsh reality is that improving a national pass rate cannot be done in a single year, especially if that is the year in which a learner is in Matric.

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