Listie-Anne Kamm was one of the first students in the Kurland Learning Center. A graduate with honors from Stellenbosh University, she is deeply concerned with the political, educational and social future of her country. Like her fellow South Africans, she prays for a better, healthier country in which her children can grow up.
A few weeks ago, while visiting some family in Kurland, I asked my 16 year old cousin if she passed her June exams. She smiled and said, “Yes, of course.” I told her to bring me her report card so that I could see her grades. Without hesitation, she went into the room to retrieve it. As I opened it, she knelt down beside me looking on as I scanned the paper in my hand. What struck me the most was not her poor grades signified by a 40% average, but the look of pride on her face as if she had earned an A+. I asked if she thought her grades were good, which she obviously did by the look on her face. To make matters worse, at the bottom of the report card where the principal is supposed to write his remarks regarding her high school progress, I read: “Well done. Keep up the good work!”
That is the standard that South Africa is setting for its children today. Our society, schools and universities have adjusted expectations downwards, especially in relation to black and Coloured students, which is dangerous in a country with so much promise for excellence. My cousin has been taught that learning less than 50% of her work is acceptable. The message being conveyed to young people is that it is fine to be an underachiever, and that we will applaud them for doing less than is required. Will my cousin strive to do better than 40%? I don’t think so. Indeed, she is being handicapped by the very system that is meant to equip her, as well as tens of thousands of other learners.
Slowly we are digging our collective graves as we fall into a sinkhole of mediocrity from which we are unlikely to emerge. We make excellence sound like a ‘white thing’. Behind a massive wave of populism and in the misguided name of “regstelling” (setting it right), we give young people new levels of access to resources and universities without exhibiting the hard work necessary to achieve these privileges and to succeed once there. Of course, you are labelled a racist if you question this kind of mindlessness. How else can a politician defend himself against the critics of mediocrity in an election year?