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Matric class of 2021: Pregnancies, Covid-19 and sex scandals, but education department is optimistic

'More stringent measures to curb compromise of the examination integrity and credibility are in place,' says Umalusi. File photo.
'More stringent measures to curb compromise of the examination integrity and credibility are in place,' says Umalusi. File photo.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

The start of matric exams today marks the beginning of the end of a 12-year schooling career for many pupils.

However, for some, the final matric year has not been without challenges.

TimesLIVE highlights some of the struggles the grade 12 class of 2021 have experienced.

The first is a 19-year-old girl who turned to a Facebook support page, saying she was repeating grade 12 after leaving school last year, but in July found out she was pregnant.

“I’m scared to disappoint my mom, family and teachers because I am repeating grade 12 and will write my final exams when I am four months pregnant. I don’t know how I will face this,” Thandolwethu said.

Thando’s situation is not unique. Earlier this year, TimesLIVE published the shocking story of how 23,000 teenagers had reportedly fallen pregnant between April 2020 and March 2021.

Thando, a matric pupil, shared her struggles with a Facebook support group.
Thando, a matric pupil, shared her struggles with a Facebook support group.
Image: Screengrab

At the time, Gauteng health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi said 934 pregnancies were recorded in children aged between 10 and 14, while 19,316 were recorded in girls aged between 15 and 19.

Another matric pupil who will be sitting from today is an 18-year-old boy from Pretoria Secondary School who in September told TimesLIVE about the trauma he had faced when sexually assaulted by a teacher at school.

The matric pupil was distressed, saying the school and department of education had said their hands were tied because the teacher resigned before disciplinary action could be taken. The department said he was not their employee but had been hired by the school governing body.

Speaking to TimesLIVE ahead of his first exam, the boy’s mother said the incident had marred his schooling career but he was looking forward to putting the incident behind him.

In another case in Pretoria, a teacher was dismissed after it was found he was in an intimate relationship with a grade 12 pupil.

Some matric pupils who are writing their finals will be doing so without their classmates this year.

While a number of schoolchildren died in various incidents, some lost their lives to Covid-19.

In May, TimesLIVE reported that a grade 12 pupil from Lephola Secondary School in Thabong died after contracting Covid-19. This was during the height of the third wave of Covid-19 infections which claimed the lives of many  people across the country.

Thoriso from Benoni, who lost his dad in January from Covid-19-related complications, on Monday told TimesLIVE he had a different kind of motivation to pass this year.

“Losing my dad was tough, but I owe it to him to pass the year. It’s my gift to him,” the 18-year-old told TimesLIVE. [full name withheld by request].

“There is a lot of pressure on me to get it right and losing my father made things even tougher for me. I was so conscious of Covid-19, more than my classmates. Studying with others, attending school, it made things tough, but I am going to give it my best,” he said.

Schools across the country made headlines for a variety of reasons this year — from deadly bullying incidents to teachers losing their lives, some on school premises. 

Despite it all, the Department of Education expressed confidence in the matric class of 2021, saying pupils were ready and well equipped for the exams.

The department encouraged those who experience Covid-19 symptoms to write the exams.

“Candidates who demonstrate Covid-19 symptoms and candidates who test positive will be allowed to write their examinations at special isolation venues,” the department said.

More than 700,000 of the 897,786 matriculants registered for the exams will write their first paper on Wednesday. The pupils are sitting for their English paper.

While previous exams have been marred by an array of challenges, including leaked papers and cheating scandals, the department said it believed things would be different this year.