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That’s interesting, I assume


This eureka moment was always capped off with the phrase: “If this was a snake, you would have been dead!”

Black mamba.

Here’s something to consider. If you are reading this sentence then you are somewhere in the 20 to 40 percent of the population; but I will explain this later.

Have you ever been berated for simply doing your best?

Sometimes Mom would send me to find something in a specific drawer somewhere in the house.

I swear, the most intense, methodical search on my part would fail to unearth the item every single time. I would go back and tell her that we’d been burgled again. I suggested that someone must have come in, scratched through that drawer and taken the item she was looking for.

Then the strangest thing would happen. Mom would get up, walk over to the drawer, open it, lift a sheet of paper and produce the “stolen” item. This eureka moment was always capped off with the phrase: “If this was a snake, you would have been dead!”

To this day I am still terrified of drawer snakes.

However, I was relieved to learn that this problem of not being able to dig through a pile to find what you’re looking for is not unique; in fact if something is under something else the chances of finding it are reduced considerably.

This phenomenon was highlighted by British comedy troupe Monty Python decades ago. In one of their sketches Python, made up of Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and John Cleese depicted a society that would “put things on top of other things”, which seems ridiculous at first, until you consider that Jones and Palin were at Oxford University, and Chapman and Cleese met at Cambridge University – two esteemed colleges so I would suggest that they knew what they were talking about.

What you put on top is important, because most people won’t look any further.

To me it’s sometimes amusing, sometimes embarrassing, when a colleague at the newspaper asks me if I had read about a trending news story. More often than not, because I am so busy trying to get my work done, I usually respond: “I saw the headline, but never got around to reading it.”

I was relieved to learn that I am not alone.

An article in the Washington Post claims that roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in any given week.

In some countries it’s even worse, I have seen some suggest that eight out of 10 people don’t bother to read past a headline. That is alarming, and it puts me under immense pressure.

You see, some people who know that I work at the newspaper will see one of our posters on a pole in the city and want me to tell them what the story is about. I usually try to be as vague as possible because I need them to go out and buy the newspaper so that I can get a raise.

But imagine speaking to me after all I did was read headlines. Can you picture how dull and uninformative the conversation would be?

Why am I saying all this?

I am worried that our schools – over 12 years of teaching – are producing crops of “educated” youth who have only got as far as reading the headlines of their subjects. The new requirements for entry to degree studies at a university would suggest that.

All a student has to do to get in to varsity is pass one official language at Home Language level at 40 percent; pass four subjects at 50 percent; pass two other subjects at a minimum of 30 percent; and meet the language requirement (around a 30 percent pass in the university’s language of instruction) for admission to further study.

In fact they need only pass six out of seven subjects.

I shudder when I think of being treated by a doctor who only learned the headings of his medical textbooks I think that would be worse than being bitten by a drawer snake.