There has been considerable debate in South Africa recently concerning what has been dubbed the “school exiting certificate.” These discussions refer to the introduction of a General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) at the end of compulsory schooling at the Grade 9 level. The certificate is intended to offer pupils an ‘alternative’ pathway to completing a National Senior Certificate (matric).
The GETC is not a new proposal, as a school leaving certificate at the end of Grade 9 was debated post-1994, and in 2003 the South African Qualifications Authority recommended a GETC policy. To implement the GETC, the then Department of Education experimented with the Common Tasks for Assessment (CTAs) to form the basis of a standardised test to issue the GETC. Yet, concerns over both the concept and implementation of the GETC allowed the proposed policy to die a natural death.
The recent re-emergence of this debate begs the question of whether there is merit in re-examining the viability of this certificate. A Department of Basic Education ministerial task team, which assessed the quality of the National Senior Certificate, recommended this “exiting certificate” as a response to the high dropout rate of pupils after Grade 9. The certificate is intended to firstly act as an exit from Grade 9 and entry credentials into traditional schooling or vocational education through Technical Vocational colleges and technical secondary schools. Scholars could graduate with a National Senior Certificate at the end of each of these pathways. The second intention is for it to act as proof of educational qualifications for entry into the labour market.
Let’s further examine the viability of such a certificate:
Firstly, one of the intentions of the Grade 9 schooling certificate is to encourage alternative routes to the Grade 12 (or equivalent) examination. Most educational systems around the world have the traditional and the technical vocation education and training pathways, and dual streaming is a common practice internationally (for example, in Europe, Egypt, China). The dual pathway allows a route for scholars with different abilities and interests to be educated. In addition, a wide range of skills are produced for the economy. Currently, South African pupils do have the option of leaving compulsory school after Grade 9 and registering at a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college. They can then complete the National Certificate Vocational (NCV). This is not an option taken by many students –because of either the poor image of TVET colleges, or the lack of awareness of this pathway among Grade 9 pupils. Scholars should be made aware of the 50 public TVET colleges in the country which offer this option.
Secondly, there is no guarantee that the certificate will provide entry into the labour market. The task team report states that the certificate will provide proof of educational status, and thus grant access to employment opportunities by providing signals to the labour market about the competencies of an individual. However, research published by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation found that on average, South Africans who complete Grade 12 have earnings between 40% and 70% higher than those with less schooling. These percentages increase with higher levels of education. The Annual National Assessments (ANA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results show a very poor quality of mathematics achievement at the Grade 9 level. Taking this into account, the value of the certificate in the labour market is questionable.
Thirdly, the government cannot allow for exiting the education system with a Grade 9 certificate to become a socially acceptable choice for pupils. Globally, governments and societies are encouraging higher levels of education due to the extensive benefits which it provides. The 2011 Census statistics show that only 40% of citizens 20 years and older have a Grade 12 or higher education qualification. We must continue to strive to increase educational levels of the population to further promote the development of the country.
Fourthly, the certificate has the potential to mask the high levels of drop-outs. This is because pupils would have successfully exited the educational system with a qualification. Leaving school at this point would therefore technically not be considered as “dropping out”. This is what Professor Volker Wedekind calls a ‘statistical solution’ to a major social issue.
The introduction of a new qualification has major cost and logistical implications. If we want to improve the quality and outcomes of our education, along with other initiatives, we need to create a greater awareness of the existing technical vocational routes, and introduce a repetition policy that provides additional assistance to pupils who are not passing Grades 10 or 11 to help them achieve the competences required at that level.
Andrea Juan – Post-doctoral fellow
Tia Linda Zuze- Senior Research Specialist
Vijay Reddy- Executive Director
Sylvia Hannan- Junior Researcher
Education and Skills Development research programme of the Human Sciences Research Council
* This article appeared in The Mercury on Friday, 4 September 2015.