As just over a million South African Grade 12s prepare to write their first matric exam on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa has saluted the learners and educators for persevering through the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the academic year.
In his weekly newsletter on Monday, the President said despite having the odds stacked against them, the learners were determined to be present for this exam, which is the pinnacle of their schooling. The first exam paper will be written on 5 November, while the last paper will be written on 15 December.
"It has been equally difficult for our educators. Despite the risk posed by the virus and resource challenges inside our schools, the majority of our teachers heeded the call to return to school to salvage what was left of the academic year," President Ramaphosa wrote.
"They presented for work every day to support our matriculants. They put in the extra hours to get our learners over the finish line, making the most of the resources they had to ensure learning continued."
He paid tribute to educators, who have been there for their students when they were most needed.
"They have given so much, personally and professionally. They put our learners first and in so doing, affirmed once more that our teachers are among our finest public servants. This pandemic has brought our nation together in ways not experienced before, and this was demonstrated in the matriculation examination preparations," he said.
Many businesses, the President said, played a supportive role, assisting with the provision of technology like tablets to schools, and assisting to resource school multimedia centres.
Mobile network operators established e-school platforms during the lockdown carrying free learning content, including subject content for matriculants.
University graduates set up tutoring platforms online, making much needed supplementary learning support available for free.
The SABC and other TV providers have carried catch-up lessons for matric learners through the Department of Basic Education's Woza Matrics Programme, enabling learners to prepare for the examinations.
President Ramaphosa conceded that the 2020 exam will be written under unprecedented conditions, amid the global pandemic.
The academic programme was severely impacted after government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March in an effort to contain the spread of Coronavirus, which caused immense disruption to everyday life and cost valuable hours of learning and study.
To accommodate the disruptions, the June Senior Certificate exams were postponed and will now be written together with the National Senior Certificate. More than a million candidates will sit for the examinations starting on Thursday.
This makes this combined examination the largest public exam ever administered in South Africa.
The President also congratulated the National and Provincial Education Departments for their sterling preparation in ensuring things proceed smoothly.
This includes the independent and public auditing of examination centres, finding extra venues to accommodate the large number of candidates, and the development of protocols to ensure compliance by candidates and officials with COVID-19 regulations.
"The Class of 2020 has had to endure conditions their predecessors never had to confront. They had to adapt in real time not just to finish the curriculum but to catch up with the learning hours lost. Though some had access to online learning platforms and other resources, many had to struggle with access to learning material and teaching.
"They had to endure the mental strain of social isolation, and for many months were cut off from friends and their teachers.
"They were not able to participate in sporting, recreational and leisure activities that are so essential to a well-rounded life and that relieve the stresses of prolonged study," President Ramaphosa said.
The President said without the support of parents, families and communities, the youth's path to the matric exam would have been considerably harder.
"We thank them for their support."
He called on the Class of 2020 to summon their great reserves of courage and strength in the final push.
"To the Class of 2020, I wish you the very best. You have overcome difficulties that would test the resolve of even the most experienced and hardened adults.
"At your tender age, there are so many demands upon you. There are the pressures of rigorous study, the pressure to excel and to achieve the results you need to study further, and yet you have come this far.
"When you enter the exam room in the days ahead, you will be carrying not just your own hopes for success and those of your families - you will also carry the hopes of the South African people. We are immensely proud of you and wish you the very best of luck."