Sometimes, in life, there are those people who step into the room and you can just feel their amazing presence. Today, I was privileged to attend a talk by one of those people, Professor Jonathan Jansen, the current rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State. I must be quite honest – I’d never heard of him before (I vaguely remember reading an article on IOL quoting something or other he had said and it sort of clicked today that it must have been him when he mentioned being misquoted in the media last week) and while I was walking to the conference room where the talk was happening, I overheard a few people comment on how brilliant he is and, boy, were they right!
The talk was on the challenges facing our education system. He started off with a shocking statistic…of course, we’ve all read in the media that the pass mark increased in 2012 (yeah!) and thereafter, that the pass mark is 30% (huh?!?!)! He showed us a graph for Maths, Physical Science and Accounting today where he reworked the calculations according to the 50% pass mark, the minimum pass mark in most other countries, and the revised calculation showed that if the pass mark was a minimum of 50%, the actual pass mark for matric 2012 would be roughly 25% of the matriculants and he further emphasized that the students who would have passed would have come from the “upper class, white communities” meaning that most of the “black students”, especially those from impoverished areas and backgrounds would fail outright. He further told us that students were passing at the current 30% pass level and hoping to be accepted into a university for “higher education” but that a lot of students had left his office with tears in their eyes early this year as he had to tell them that not only did he not accept people into the university with a 30% pass mark but that Maths Literacy is not in fact “pure Maths” and passing Maths Literacy does not qualify them to study at university.
The Professor went on to say that we as parents and adults in our communities should be pushing students to achieve better marks. We shouldn’t be telling our children what they shouldn’t be doing e.g. you shouldn’t do Maths, rather do Math Literacy because it’s easier, but rather what they can achieve because it’s been proven that in giving people a higher level to aim towards, in most cases, they rise to the occasion. He used a simple analogy between black, disadvantage students who achieved a pass in Maths Literacy and black, disadvantaged students who were on in the Promaths class of 2012 that Investec sponsor and who achieved marks 78% and above – how pushing kids and encouraging to them to achieve bigger and better things drives them so much more. Another example he used is of a girl from Umlazi who studied in a shack via candlelight and yet received 7 distinctions – he personally found the girl, contacted her and flew her to Bloemfontein where she’s now started attending university studying towards a tertiary education on a bursary that he offered her. Another point that he spoke about was how we should nuture and encourage children and make them see that we believe in them.
Of course, like any person who enjoys talking and giving public speeches, he did digress a bit from the topic and went into our government and how things are looking at the moment. He used the FNB ad that’s been in the media at the moment as an example and told us that he will be writing an article next week where he’ll mention “the zebra” and the fact our Promaths class has what we call a “decent pass rate” of at least 50% – he told us not to apologise to the government like FNB did if there should be issues around our minimal pass rate being 50% as opposed to the 30% pass rate that the schools in our country have in place. He stressed that we as individuals need to make a difference in our country and if there are things that we are against or disagree with, we should stand firm against them instead of cowering at other people and going with the proverbial grain.
The Professor touched a bit on the fact that in order for children to trust adults and therefore allow them to be encouraged and driven by us, we need to constantly show them love and support. He used our current president as an example (surprise surprise!) and compared him to President Obama of the USA. Our president (as most of us have probably noticed by now) is just sitting quietly doing his thing…we never see him, we hardly hear about him or from him in public and a lot of the people in country have very little faith in him probably largely because of exactly that! On the contrary, President Obama is always visible to the Americans – constantly in the media commenting on events all around the country, he appears when there are disasters like Hurricane Katrina with the people who are suffering and his opening line is always “my fellow Americans” when he talks making the American people feel loved, cared for and on equal terms with him.
All in all, the talk was probably too short but good food for thought and very insightful. I asked him afterwards what difference it makes if we as individuals try and help our children and communities when the government and education system stay exactly as is – my point being that it could take a million years to instill these good values, even with education, in our youth and in turn better our country…why can’t the politicians and government also see these things that are happening, start these processes and help better our country as well? He replied saying that unfortunately our government is the way that it is and now with the election that went down at Mangaung, it probably isn’t going to better in the very near future but that if we as individuals start making a difference, slowly but surely, we will start helping our children and the generations to follow. He also said that he was not prepared to stand around and wait for our government to do something when he feels so strongly about it…my type of guy 🙂 Now if only we could all do that – truly inspired!!