Later re­sults release failed to avert tragedy

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

THIS week’s sui­cide of a Soweto ma­tric­u­lant may dash ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties’ hopes that re­leas­ing ma­tric re­sults in Jan­uary will re­duce such an­guished acts.

Min­istry of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion spokesman Panyaza Le­sufi ac­knowl­edges that the gov­ern­ment has no re­search to back up this be­lief – other than anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that sui­cide rises among teenagers dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son.

“We don’t have his­tor­i­cal em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence,” con­cedes Le­sufi. “But there does seem to be a rise in De­cem­ber, which is the most dif­fi­cult pe­riod for young peo­ple. We hope that by mov­ing our ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults to Jan­uary, we’ll con­trib­ute to nor­mal­is­ing, or at least de­creas­ing, the pres­sure that young peo­ple have in De­cem­ber.”

How­ever on Thurs­day, Nomsa Mokone, an 18-year-old from Soweto, hanged her­self at home. She had failed ma­tric, but passed five sub­jects.

A news­pa­per with ma­tric re­sults lay on the floor of the store­room where Nomsa, a pupil at Thabo Se­nior Secondary School, took her life.

But Le­sufi hopes the de­lay in the re­sults will curb more of th­ese tragedies.

“It be­came very clear to us that De­cem­ber is a high-pres­sure pe­riod when chil­dren are re­quest­ing presents and many other things from their par­ents. When they’ve re­alised they’ve failed, this puts un­due pres­sure on pupils. If you have a dam­per like a child fail­ing, it kills spir­its, in­ten­tions and dreams.

“We’ve found there is a high num­ber of girls who im­me­di­ately van­ish from their homes af­ter the re­sults are an­nounced. Other acts are more ex­treme, and you find chil­dren com­mit­ting sui­cide.”

A failed ma­tric, he points out, is of­ten not a re­flec­tion of a pupil’s poor per­for­mance. “Many fail not be­cause they’re not tal­ented, but be­cause there was no qual­ity teacher at their school, no re­sources like text­books and com­put­ers, and they can’t ex­plain this to their par­ents. The easy way is to take their own life.

“We can’t re­solve the prob­lem in its en­tirety, but we can at least con­trib­ute to min­imis­ing the pres­sures they face. This is the first time we are do­ing this and we’ll mon­i­tor it.

“If this doesn’t change the sta­tus quo, we’ll relook at the man­ner (in which) re­sults are re­leased.”

But Le­sufi stressed that the main rea­son for re­leas­ing ma­tric re­sults in Jan­uary was to re­duce the po­ten­tial for mis­takes.

Last year, Min­is­ter of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Angie Mot­shekga an­nounced that her depart­ment would re­tur n to re­leas­ing ma­tric re­sults in Jan­uary be­cause hav­ing to pub­lish the re­sults in De­cem­ber put of­fi­cials un­der ex­treme pres­sure, thereby in­creas­ing the po­ten­tial for er­rors.

The op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor at the SA De­pres­sion and Anx­i­ety Group (Sadag), Cassey Amoore, wel­comes the move, say­ing the fes­tive sea­son is the worst time to release ma­tric re­sults.

“You have kids who are ec­static, and when New Year’s Eve comes, they take part in risky be­hav­iour. Those who fail and are on hol­i­day with their par­ents may turn to al­co­hol and drugs to es­cape how up­set their par­ents are.”

She said 9.5 per­cent of all teen deaths were due to sui­cide, but there were no statis­tics to il­lus- trate a spike in De­cem­ber. Ev­ery day, Sadag coun­sel­lors re­ceive up to 300 calls.

“This time of year we get more calls from teenagers. We had a pri­vate school ma­tric­u­lant’s mom phone us the other day. She was wor­ried about her son, who didn’t do as well as he wanted to and couldn’t go to uni­ver­sity. He can now only do a diploma, and not a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture. He was iso­lat­ing him­self and she didn’t know what do.

“The big­gest thing is that par­ents don’t know how to sup­port their chil­dren at a time when they are un­der so much pres­sure from fam­ily and friends to do well and have a good fu­ture.

“They are com­pletely over­whelmed. It’s not only the im­pact of re­sults, but about what the par­ents are go­ing to say, what the girl­friend is go­ing to say. Ev­ery­thing snow­balls.”

But there are op­tions. “A lot of peo­ple don’t re­alise they can ap­ply for a re-mark, sup­ple­men­tary ex­ams – or redo ma­tric at a com­mu­nity col­lege or through cor­re­spon­dence,” Amoore added.

The warn­ing signs of sui­ci­dal be­hav­iour in­clude a change in eat­ing and sleep­ing habits, iso­la­tion from fam­ily and friends, and deep de­pres­sion.

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