Parents also have an important role to play in ensuring that their children perform optimally

While the Matrics from the Class of 2019 hunker down in front of their books in preparation for their final school exams in a few weeks’ time, it is worth remembering that parents and guardians also have an important role to play in ensuring that their children perform optimally when the time comes, an education expert says.

“There is so much focus on the learners themselves, and how they can prepare mentally, emotionally and academically, but as most of their parents can attest, this period is also a nail-biting one for them, to say the least,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.

“Because, while parents understand the importance of performing well and the consequences of not performing well or worse, failing, they can’t do much more than play a supporting role during this time,” she says.

However, parents and guardians should not underestimate the value of this support and the size of the contribution they can in fact make, she adds.

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“By tackling this challenge together with your child, and by ensuring your actions and responses support rather than throw up further challenges, the next two months will be much easier to navigate and conquer,” says Mooney.

She says that there are a few ways for parents to support learners in the lead-up to the finals:

Keep your cool

Lack of sleep, anxiety, fear about the future and concerns about how well prepared a child is are all factors that have an impact on the emotional state of parents. It is therefore of crucial importance that parents also take good care of themselves during this time so that they can regulate their own emotions and not contribute to heightened tensions and anxiety in the house. While it is important to sort out issues, arguments should be avoided as far as possible.

“Guide your child and assist with practical advice. Encourage them to get enough sleep and exercise, and talk them through frustrations when they arise. But aim to not let your own concerns create an additional emotional burden for the studying child,” says Mooney.

Keep your perspective

Related to the above, it should be noted that much of the anxiety around final exams arise as a result of the belief that it is an all-or-nothing, watershed assessment for young people. While it is certainly of great importance, the big picture is also worth bearing in mind, Mooney says.

“Too many parents don’t understand the options available to learners should things not go as well as expected, and many don’t even know that there are options at all. So for instance, if a learner does not achieve a Bachelor’s pass, redoing Matric in the hopes of doing better isn’t the only option. They could, for instance, enrol for a Higher Certificate, which is a bridge towards pursuing degree study without having to repeat Matric.

Matric final exams should not be tackled in isolation

“Or, in the event that a learner performed less than satisfactory in a specific subject, rewriting that subject will be an option. Speaking to education professionals either at school or at a good institution of higher education about the myriad options out there will provide a sense of perspective in terms of outcomes, and will allow parents to calibrate their own emotions,” says Mooney.

Keep in contact with other parents

Another way to maintain perspective, is to keep in contact with other parents of Matric learners, Mooney says.

“Matric final exams should not be tackled in isolation. Touching base with other parents will allow you to talk through issues and challenges, and more often than not you will find that you are not alone in your experience. So if your child is panicking about a specific subject or just exam writing in general, enlisting the support of other parents will allow you to determine whether you have a real, unique problem that needs to be addressed, or whether your experience is par for the course.”

Keep on top of your child’s schedule

Learners focusing on their studies can easily lose focus of the bigger picture, which is why it is important for parents to know exactly what paper is being written when, and also what the child’s revision schedule looks like.

Mooney says that this is where parents can make a real difference to the effectiveness of their child’s efforts.

“With little time left before the exams, now is definitely the time to study smarter and not just simply more. Sit down with your child two or three times a week to assess how far they have progressed, and advise them on additional ways in which they can prepare optimally, for instance by completing past papers, or by getting additional help with sections of work that are starting to take up too much time.”

Keep it real

Finally, parents should know what their approach will be if the results come in and they are not what they hoped for.

“If it becomes clear that a learner may, despite their best effort, potentially need to rewrite a paper, it is not for instance a good idea to book a holiday in a far-flung paradise when the family may need to be back for the learner to be able to sit for a rewrite early in January,” says Mooney.

“Additionally, remarking of papers is rarely a good investment as it mostly does not make a material difference to outcomes. So understand the options for whichever outcome may arise when results come through – also the options for learners who may perform better than expected and therefore unexpectedly qualify for further study.

“Understanding the different routes available under various circumstances will assist greatly in coming weeks by helping to temper anxiety and fear of the unknown, which in turn will help keep the focus on optimal preparation instead of worry about the future.”