Cultural shift needed for tertiary registration
All Gloria Sekwena wanted to do was to register her child for studies at a good university.
She joined the long queues that formed overnight as young people slept on streets to ensure they could do "walk-in" registrations the next day.
Excitement mixed with anxiety: "My child is going to university!"
By the end of the day, Sekwena would be dead, crushed in a stampede for that precious gift - education.
This has been a bad week for education in South Africa.
A mother dies in a University of Johannesburg queue.
A Unisa professor is arrested on charges of raping homeless men.
Hundreds of children are turned away from crowded coastal schools.
Thousands among the 147835 who failed Grade 12 register for supplementary examinations.
And thousands who did obtain a university entry pass will discover the hard truth that passing is different from passing well enough in a class in which a higher percentage of writing students crossed the National Senior Certificate hurdle than in 2010.
My Facebook inbox, twitter account and e-mail address contain hundreds of desperate messages from prospective and current students from all over the country.
Some did not expect to pass, and did, and now inquire about late application.
Many, many students did pass, but do not have money to embark on university studies for the first time, or to continue their studies.
Thousands learn for the first time that they do not have the right subjects (mathematical literacy when their preferred discipline demands mathematics) to pursue their dream careers.
The scores of heartbreaking stories - dead or dying parents, parentless households, starving families - reminded me of the harshness of well-intentioned words at the ANC's Mangaung celebrations last weekend: "We will eat the cake on your behalf."
You want to help every individual student but places are limited, financial aid is tight, and even personal resources are stretched to as many students as you can help out of pocket.
We have to find a more imaginative system for funding all students at the levels required, and in such a way that young people feel that their tuition, accommodation, books, transportation and basic living needs are met.
We must not mislead students with politically enticing messages of many more seats at university unless we remove all enrolment capping for higher education institutions and invest even more aggressively in expanded infrastructure at existing universities.
We can no longer wait to introduce more effective guidance and counselling services in every school so no child has any doubt as to what is required to study towards particular jobs. We must be honest with high school learners and no longer inflate their expectations through enhanced results.
This means telling a student that a distinction should be a normal pursuit and is no longer an exceptional achievement.
It means dropping Life Orientation with its ridiculously high pass rate of 99.6% and replacing it with subject and career counselling. It means reversing the ratio in favour of 70% students in pure mathematics classes and only 30% in mathematical literacy.
It means gradually raising the bar for a subject pass from 30% to 40% to 50% (at least) until our messages about attainment in school matches our expectations about attainment in post-school learning. But universities must also get their house in order.
It is unacceptable that students stand in long queues to register in the 21st century. Online registration should be the norm.
Day allocations for registrations by surname or discipline categories constitutes Management 101.
But over the years, in one university after the next, I found an astounding disrespect for students who travel for hours from rural areas to stand for hours in the sun. I am not sure a central applications office is the answer, in the short term.
We first need a cultural shift in schools and society where young people, their teachers and parents, are socialised into understanding and accepting that advance applications using technological applications will be the norm.
This in turn means providing accurate and timely information on choices of university and fields of study are provided in advance - especially in rural and marginalised communities.
In the meantime, "walk-ins" are inevitable in our society.
We just have to hope people get to "walk-out" alive.