Ebrahim Moosa - Opinion | 06 Rabi uth Thani 1438/ 05 January 2017
The vividness with which I remember the day makes me giddy.
Thursday December 29, 2005. It’s just after the crack of dawn, when a squawking telephone breaks the morning silence. I don’t answer, but do recall the rollercoaster that the call sets into motion.
It’s my maths tutor on the line, who’s managed to catch a glimpse of my matric results, well - well before I anticipated them. As a fatherly figure, he maintains a keen interest in the progress of all his students.
For all the anxiety welling up within me, I can only gauge his voice to be cheerful and exuberant at this early hour, on the other end of that line.
I have passed, I soon discover – with distinction. 7 distinctions, to be precise.
There is bewilderment, and then congratulations at home. And then, there are more phonecalls. It’s a regimen that plays itself out religiously for the remainder of the day: compliments and congratulations from friends and family - from far and wide. Ebrahim Gangat kicks off his matric results special by featuring me on-air. I head off to school where I am greeted yet again by a volley of cheers.
From all sides, it appears that I am the blue-eyed boy of the day, basking in the limelight of the moment.
But there is only so much mileage that compliments can buy.
It is just a few hours following the release of my results. Throughout the holidays, I have busy doing some vacation work in Lenasia. Today, just like every other day, I need to get there. My regular lift is not available. I am yet to learn how to drive.
A colleague from the area informs me he’ll be taking a taxi to get to work. I have no choice. I pitch in. It’s the first ride on a common taxi I am taking in my life. I sit sandwiched between aloof strangers, as clouds of steam from the puffy vehicle condense on its windows. We wait, seemingly forever, for the taxi to fill up. I subsequently recall disembarking in the heart of Johannesburg, quickly scurrying over to a connecting taxi. It’s all a blur. It is no exaggeration to say I’d be totally hapless were it not for the guidance of my street-savvy friend. The certificate was in my hand, the A’s were under my belt, but in an instant, it flashed that all that seemed wholly inadequate.
I had been brought back down to earth.
In the months that followed, I was to embark on a new chapter of learning and settle upon a career path. Conflicted and confronted by an assortment of choice, I was hasty and impetuous. It was the first time I was to take such a bold decision for myself, and I didn’t fare well in how I went about doing it.
Ending up at university, I was soon to encounter the cold shock that characterises the leap from pond into sea. If I thought entering campus with a clean slate of A’s conferred me a sense of entitlement, was I in for a rude awakening. No doubt, my results certainly did open for me the doors to a full first year tuition bursary, no trivial privilege it should be said, in a time when others are literally dying in the quest for a free and dignified education. But equally, I did realise soon enough how insignificant that embellished senior certificate was in the greater scheme of operations at university: How there were scores more who achieved similar or even better results; how many had attended better schools with advanced curricula, effectively placing them paces ahead of myself; and how beyond the initial access benefits it afforded me, a pristine matric result could not open many more doors at university – only adapting to new learning styles and developing an unflinching sense of discipline would.
In the years that followed, I reassessed my path of study, and was confronted with yet more complex choices. Eventually, I found somewhat of a niche in the broadcasting space, growing and learning rapidly, albeit through experience. And as tides turn, just as I begin to grow a sense of complacency regarding my vocation, again am I forced to reassess, restrategize and even return to the gruelling grind of studies to sharpen my skills, explore other callings and remain relevant.
A rollercoaster decade it has been, absolutely epitomising the idea that “in school one gets a lesson and then is tested, whilst in life, the test comes first and then the lesson”. And even with my mistakes and all, I am thankful for the learning and exploring opportunities this experiential phase has presented.
I hold no grudges, but as my worldview matures, I do feel a bit vexed at what I feel to be a somewhat mythical sense of the post-matric world that is cultivated by the schooling system and society in general.
When I entered high school, I recall being drip-fed the idea that participation in as many extra mural clubs and activities coupled with academic success itself was the key to a glorious future. These achievements, it was promised, would embellish one’s CV and make one stand head and shoulders above the rest. Having graduated from the system and lived up to many of these expectations, I do feel somewhat short-changed. Perhaps, it was myself being naïve to consider the matric certificate alone to be one enchanting wonderpill. But I do also find myself recurrently reaching the inescapable verdict that an impressive matric result is over-glorified as the sole route to unlocking opportunities in the wider world.
Daily, we witness a plethora of individuals soaring in the ladder of human achievement – a considerable percentage of whom lack complete secondary education. There are yet others, like some of my schoolmates whom I can identify, who are graduates of the system, but were at best reckoned by it to be mediocre or even jaded. Yet, in spite of this clear evidence of the pitfalls of using absolute academic prowess as a pointer for success, the mantra of matric marvelousness continues to be parroted. Only high-flying exemptions are exulted, whilst equally commendable endeavours in other domains, even success in FET colleges and other vocational training programmes largely go unnoticed.
I do not seek to undervalue the utility of matric, its role in establishing benchmarks in employment and education, nor am I promoting a culture of academic slothfulness. My experience through my high school years had indeed been instrumental in shaping the person I am. But in variance to the view that posits its excessive veneration of schooling outcomes, I find its real utility to lie in the life skills, willingness to question and learn, and discipline that should be cultivated during this period.
The rapid advances in technology have forced many to reconsider conventional models of education and employment. This, if nothing else, should compel us too, to reconsider the slanted emphasis placed on attaining excellence in certain outcomes of schooling. As the philosopher Eric Hoffer noted, “in a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists”. Cognisant of this reality, our schools, educators –indeed our society desperately needs to make this transition from perpetuating ‘learnedness’ to cultivating a culture of lifelong learning.
Equally important, diagnoses community activist Rehana Moosajee, “is a real problem with an education system that raises you to be about you and yourself.”
Drawing from her tapestry of life experiences, success, Moosajee says, cannot solely be measured by the number of degrees one puts on a wall, an ideal nurtured by the prevailing educational model. What is missing is the altogether more fundamental element of gazing inward, and refining human character. “Your ability to be a compassionate caring human being way surpasses multiple qualifications that some may have,” she says.
A parent recently posted online a reflection what had crossed her mind when considering her child’s slow progress in memorising the Qur’an. They had been in the process of recital when the child unexpectedly paused and shared a profound explanation on the verse he had just recited with the mother. The parent was taken aback:
“Sometimes as parents, we concern ourselves so much with the immediate, quantifiable results and forget that raising children is a lengthy process and that our success isn’t measured in how much Quran my son has memorised or if he has all of his math facts down, or even how neat his handwriting is.
“The true fruits of our labour lies in our children’s characters, in their connection to Islam, in their love of the prophet, in their morals and interactions with mankind. These aren’t the small things. This is what matters most”.
Her reflections resonate deeply with our societal constructs around education.
As Mark Twain purportedly said, we should not allow schooling to come it the way of real education. Learning is an attitude, a willingness to grow from real life experiences.
My matric romanticism long gone, my mantra on learning nowadays, if I were to coin one, would go something along the lines:
‘Let the world be my university; my experiences and opportunities my subjects; and Allah my Guide.'
I just have to make sure, when I get up each morning, not to forget to go to school!