I will be 42 this year, and I still from time to time have nightmares about my matric exams. I’ve dealt with a lot of stressful situations since then, but nothing quite compares to that feeling that what happens in those few weeks will determine the rest of your life.
The truth? It won’t. And it doesn’t matter even half as much as we make out that it does. I had months of sleepless nights and tears and panic attacks to get those good results that in the end have had absolutely no impact on the course of my life. My brother, in opposition to me, did absolutely no work, dropped out of school in Standard 9 and went on to technikon and is doing brilliantly as a computer programmer. We’ve both done just fine in our lives and matric had nothing to do with it.
Added to this, my first high school I attended had one matric for every year I was there who committed suicide during the matric exams. Why? Because of the unnecessary pressure that we put on our kids to perform and the false assumptions that we fill them with that if they don’t do well at this they will be a failure. This is not ok. Not ok at all.
In calm, rational reality, if a child fails their matric, or even doesn’t do as well as they would have liked, they can always repeat it later. If they don’t take the right subjects for a chosen career, they can always catch them up later too. It may even be that what they really want to do with their lives (not what we have decided they should do) may not even require a matric at all.
My kids spent 5 years in a homeschooling environment where I have watched countless kids who have been homeschooled or unschooled getting their matric without any stress, drama, tears or terror. They simply write their subjects as and when they are ready; they focus on things they enjoy; and they have support but not pressure. Some of them complete their matric when they are 9, some when they are 19, and some at 29. Without the erroneously prescribed timeframes they simply do it when they are ready and when they feel comfortable tackling the challenge.
Of course we all want our kids to succeed. But what does their success actually mean to you? And what are you prepared to do to them to get them to achieve it? Does it mean straight A’s even though your child hates you, school and themselves by the end of it? Does it mean pushing kids beyond their limits until they run away, retreat into drugs, or commit suicide? Do you really care about what is right for your child or do you care about what looks good for you? Who are they actually getting those marks for? And why?
These are tough questions and they may have the hairs on your neck standing up, but I have watched children die trying to achieve the lost dreams of their parents. A child who grows up happy and with a somewhat ‘mediocre’ life is infinitely more successful that a dead child who failed to live up to their parents’ expectations.
We have to redefine what is important and what success actually means. There is no report card on the planet that justifies alienating your children, pushing them beyond their limits or creating lifelong anxieties.
We need to start putting matric in perspective. It is one round of exams, that in no way defines who you are or what you are capable of. What they really measure is how well you fit into the system, and 90% of people don’t.
And I’m not saying you shouldn’t encourage your kids to do their best. Please do. But include in that helping them to see how well they can do while still keeping their lives in balance. Are your matrics eating well, sleeping well, getting some exercise, keeping their stress levels under control, enjoying their relationships with family and friends, finding time for spiritual and creative pursuits, and having some fun? If not, it’s time to back off with the pressure and help them to get their studies in line with the rest of their lives.