Psalm 139 : 13-14
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
A typical June in Cape Town signals the start of the rainy season and mid-year exams. I love the arrival of the rain, but even though I have not sat for an examination since 1998, I still dread exam season. This year I have found exams to be even more demanding than other years. Both IseeU founders have a daughter in matric, and with five IseeU mentees also in matric, we experience the stresses of this significant year with our girls at home and at work.
Matric marks the end of an era for young people. When they entered the school system at the start of this journey, their lives were mapped out for the next twelve years. At the end of each year, they knew where they would be and what they would be doing for the next twelve months. Matric brings an abrupt end to this predictable rhythm and routine; instead uncertainty marks the future. In their final year matriculants are told by everyone ‘how important’ their matric exams are, while at the same time having to make major decisions around their future education and career. The pressure to “do well” and make the right decision is immense. No wonder it is near-impossible at this point to separate your matric results from your identity.
It is this intersection, between identity and outcomes (of the matric exam) that I’ve been pondering as our mentees and daughters have been busy with exams. What, if anything, does a matric certificate say about the matriculant? Put differently, what value should a matriculant ascribe to this document? How much of their identity should be determined by their matric results. A difficult question I admit, as at this point the two are so entwined that it seems impossible to separate.
These musings sent me to my filing cabinet looking for my matric certificate. I eventually found it in a forgotten envelope. I was reminded that many years ago, this paper stood between me and my future, but once it had served its purpose, it was relegated to a file gathering dust for the last 30 years. My first conclusion – a matric certificate can be likened to a driver’s license. It does not determine how well the candidate “drives”, or perform in life after school; it merely allows her to “drive”, to access opportunities after school. In this sense it should not shape the matriculant’s identity, but it does shape her future and therefor feels so closely linked to the essence of who she is.
So, how do we use this insight to help our matriculants manage the pressures of this year? We discuss this at length in the office and whilst we don’t have a definitive answer, we are trying to address the issue through our curriculum. This year we have introduced a Self-Care Workshop for our matriculants where our fabulous facilitator has created a safe space for the mentees to share their anxieties and explore appropriate coping strategies. Through this we hope that they start to see their personal worth as separate from their performance in an exam.
Instead of advising matriculants, and all learners, to “do well”, we should be encouraging them to “do your best”; to see the results as feedback, not a definitive pronouncement of their personal value. For me, by nature deeply driven by results, this realisation has been rather liberating. Perhaps now, I’ll be able to enjoy the rain in June without the accompanying feeling of dread.
In the next blog, I will explore a few other questions I’ve been pondering. Till then, enjoy the holidays!