It’s exam time in South Africa and thousands of pupils in the final year of their schooling — known as matric — have been putting their knowledge to the test.
For some 275 matric pupils in the country’s North West province, however, exam season started on a disruptive note on Oct. 23 after violent protests swept through the area.
The students had to be evacuated and relocated to other centres where they could sit their exams in peace.
The North-West province has been experiencing on-going service delivery protests, and some have become violent.
A spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Elijah Mhlanga, said on Oct. 23 that there will be measures put in place to ensure that pupils are able to write their exams.
He added that the department has “noted with concern” the disruption to the matric pupils in the North-West province.
The final year of school is often in the headlines in South Africa, whether it’s debates about the quality of the education; the fact the pass mark is just 30%; or, lately, if matric should even remain the highest level of basic education that students should have.
Meanwhile, South Africa experiences regular protests that can have an impact on access to education — mirroring a global trend of violence and conflict presenting a serious obstacle in ensuring that every child can access a quality education.
According to Prof. Mookgo Solomon Kgatle, of the University of South Africa, being exposed to violence both at home and in the community can “contribute to both reduced academic progress and increased disruptive of unfocused classroom behaviour” for learners.
Kgatle added that schools can become easy targets when communities are protesting.
“Protest action does affect the right to a basic education, particularly when protestors descend into acts of criminality,” he added.
Another example is the community of Zebediela, Limpopo, where more than 3,000 pupils could not go to school for four months earlier this year following a total shutdown called by community leaders.
Mhlanga continued that the DBE is on high alert for any disruptions both in the North West and around the country.
“The department strongly condemns any form of prejudice towards learners and is committed to ensuring that all learners stand a chance of obtaining their matric certificate,” he said.
He added that the department is appealing to members of the public to “safeguard the interests of the class of 2019” and make efforts not to disrupt school exams.