Alternative High School pupils.

A matric qualification in South Africa could mean the difference between employment and unemployment.

The National Senior Certificate is a school-leaving qualification signifying the successful completion of 12 years of learning. It is a prerequisite for most formal jobs and post-school education learning opportunities.

But what happens when a learner fails their grade 12 subjects or passes with below-average marks? It certainly does not spell the end in our view.

At least 111 749 grade 12 pupils have registered to rewrite their matric exams with the Department of Basic Education in June 2022.

The class of 2021 was the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, having endured its impact for two consecutive years. Face-to-face learning was prohibited due to lockdown regulations. And for a country like South Africa – deemed the most unequal country in the world – remote learning was not a viable option for thousands of learners, especially in townships. According to Unicef, South African learners are behind by about 75 percent to a year of learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Partial or complete school closures have undoubtedly affected learners’ numeracy and literacy skills. Marginalised youth are the most affected.

Having seen the impact that school closures had on learners in Soweto, YouthBuild South Africa launched its Alternative High School programme at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Birthed from a partnership between YouthBuild International and the Oak Foundation, our Alternative High School programme offers support to youth between the ages of 17 and 29 who want to complete or upgrade their grade 12 qualification. More than 20 learners have completed the programme and successfully registered for post-school education opportunities.

Before joining the programme, Lesedi Mangena had passed his matric with 42% for Mathematics and 39% for Physical Science. During 2021 while in the programme his marks improved by more than 20%, qualifying him to pursue a multimedia computing degree at the Tshwane University of Technology in 2022.

‘When I received my marks, I was very excited because they were good. I received 59% for Physical Science and 71% for Mathematics … YouthBuild South Africa helped me grow in my confidence, and my perspective in both subjects changed for the best, and that enabled me to get the marks I desired even though I was aiming for distinctions,’ says Mangena.

Another YouthBuild SA participant, Lebohang Ntsele, credits the programme for helping her improve her marks for Physical Science and Mathematics.

‘Joining YouthBuild was a blessing in disguise. I joined the programme feeling bad that I could not go to varsity to study nursing with the marks that I had. YouthBuild changed my perspective on that part of my life. My understanding for Mathematics and Physical Science improved. I grew confidence in myself.’

Ntsele got accepted into the BEd for Foundation Phase programme at Wits University for 2022.

Mangena and Ntsele are testament to the impact second chances can have on a young person’s life. Programme Coordinator Dineo Mokoena says, ‘No one leaves having learnt nothing. What I love about the programme and my role is that it allows YouthBuild SA to make a small difference that can change the direction of young person’s life.’