Later results release failed to avert tragedy
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.