Today, many young people in my home country, South Africa, and across the southern hemisphere, are back to school and have started a new year. This can be an emotive day for parents and young people alike, especially for those who are entering pivotal years at school – none more so than those entering their final year of schooling. In South Africa this year is called Matric, and even at the beginning of the year the focus is on the final set of school leaving exams.

But there’s a danger in using these exams and the marks young people will achieve as a proxy for the success of the education our children have experienced over the past 15 years of their lives.

Education is what remains when you have forgotten the content you learnt at school. And that happens pretty quickly actually. It’s sobering to note that school leaving results are a very bad predictor of future success in life. People who do badly at school go on to success in future endeavours, and sometimes the people who succeed at school struggle later – even at university. Some studies show that success at school really only predicts how well you’ll do in first year university results. After that there is very little statistical correlation with anything.

Your final school examination results definitely have little bearing on what line of work you end up in, how well you do in university (after first year), who you marry, how well you’ll parent, what type of person you are or how happy you’ll be in life.

School booksSo, to all the young people who started their last year of school today: I hope you are educated. By this I don’t mean that I hope you have a lot of data in your head that you can dump onto a set of examination pages later this year. I hope you’ve been educated. I hope you have been shaped, formed and moulded into a person who can make a success of whatever life holds for you. I hope your character has been well formed. Whatever marks you get this year, I hope they open the door you want to be opened and I hope you walk through it confidently and excitedly. And if the door you want is closed, well, find another way or kick it down anyway – there’s a life lesson right there. And regardless of your marks, I hope you know that you are loved and cherished for WHO you ARE rather than what you DO.

Knuckle down and do the best you can for this year, but know that this isn’t actually the last year of your schooling – it’s the first year of the rest of your life. Don’t wait until the end of this year to start living your life and impacting the world. The world is waiting for you and your friends to do something amazing. The results you achieve this year are not the final adjudicator of your worth.

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