Var­si­ties must put full stop to im­punity

Daily Dispatch - - Opinion - Jonathan Jansen

It was even fun­nier than watch­ing Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May re­cently at­tempt a Mr Bean-like dance rou­tine on African soil.

Up there in the north at one of our in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing, stu­dents in an ex­am­i­na­tion room ex­ploded with rage be­cause the test they sat down to write in the Phi­los­o­phy of Ed­u­ca­tion was “too dif­fi­cult”.

The dark­ish record­ing on so­cial me­dia show stu­dents scream­ing and pa­pers fly­ing into the air as an adult voice tried to calm the re­bel­lion with the ap­pella­tive “com­rades!”.

This was of course em­bar­rass­ing to cit­i­zens of the Univer­sity of Lim­popo and shortly there­after there was an at­tempted ex­pla­na­tion on so­cial me­dia – it was the wrong ex­am­i­na­tion pa­per.

You do not need much brain­power to fig­ure out that this made no sense. In any civilised place all a stu­dent needs to do in such a case is to raise a hand and point out the “wrong-test-forthe-course” mis­take and the is­sue would be im­me­di­ately re­solved.

The univer­sity lead­er­ship would later con­firm it was in fact the right test; if there was a mis­take it might have been that the wrong course num­ber was on the cover but the con­tent was ex­actly what they were taught and on which they were now be­ing ex­am­ined. The stu­dents were re­volt­ing against some­thing else.

There is a creep­ing cul­ture of aca­demic dis­re­gard on sev­eral of our cam­puses when it comes to the in­tel­lec­tual de­mands made on stu­dents in the acad­emy. Not too long ago there was a re­port at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare that some stu­dents were de­mand­ing that they be com­pen­sated with marks and be al­lowed to pass given the im­pact of the union strike on the aca­demic cal­en­dar.

This no­tion that marks can be handed out in the ab­sence of any aca­demic as­sess­ment is not new at all. Those who lived through the stu­dent ac­tivism of the 1980s would re­mem­ber a com­mon re­frain: “pass one, pass all”.

But you do not have to go back that far in his­tory or blame stu­dents for the may­hem be­cause aca­demic dis­re­gard is, be­lieve it or not, gov­ern­ment pol­icy. A stu­dent in school is not al­lowed to fail a grade more than once. This pol­icy of au­to­matic pro­mo­tion for what lo­cals call “pro­gressed learn­ers” is pre­cisely that – you pass with­out the need to meet and ex­ceed the rigours of aca­demic as­sess­ment.

No doubt some of those stu­dents at Lim­popo were ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this largesse by the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion and were sim­ply ask­ing for a re­peat per­for­mance. In other words, the test or exam ex­ists to make our lives eas­ier – so what’s this non­sense about set­ting dif­fi­cult as­sess­ments? We are sup­posed to pass!

No­body finds it out­ra­geous that uni­ver­si­ties from the East­ern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal can lose months to strikes and still have the temer­ity to host grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies. It might not mat­ter for now un­til the mar­ket hits back and busi­nesses and the pro­fes­sions refuse to em­ploy grad­u­ates from some of the sus­pect uni­ver­si­ties.

The lead­er­ship of Univer­sity of Lim­popo is cor­rect in their con­cern – this type of be­hav­iour tends to spread and I guar­an­tee that such ob­jec­tion to aca­demic de­mand is go­ing to be­come more and more com­mon in South African uni­ver­si­ties. We did not get here overnight. To this day univer­sity lec­tur­ers, un­der pres­sure from stu­dents, spend time dis­cussing “the scope of the exam”. What does this mean? That you ba­si­cally tell stu­dents what they do not have to learn. How pa­thetic. In­stead of broad­en­ing stu­dent’s in­tel­lec­tual hori­zons, we nar­row it down so that it be­comes eas­ier to pass.

White lec­tur­ers will tell you how eas­ily stu­dents use an­other handy weapon to en­sure they pass – the de­mand­ing aca­demic ex­am­i­na­tion can only mean the lec­turer is racist. On oc­ca­sion that might be true but far too of­ten it is an ex­cuse for be­ing un­der­pre­pared.

What is to be done? Quite sim­ply, uni­ver­si­ties must take an un­com­pro­mis­ing stand and de­fend the aca­demic stan­dard. There are enough remedies that of­fer stu­dents a sec­ond chance in­clud­ing tu­to­rial sup­port and sup­ple­men­tary ex­am­i­na­tions.

There is one very sad thing about the Lim­popo protest – these were ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents. I shud­der to think that these young peo­ple will even set foot in a South African class­room.

This was of course em­bar­rass­ing to cit­i­zens of the univer­sity

EM­BAR­RASS­ING: Univer­sity of Lim­popo stu­dents walk out dur­ing an ex­am­i­na­tion

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