The introduction of a General Education Certificate (GEC) did not mean pupils could leave school after completing Grade 9, the education department said.
Instead, the move was aimed at sending more people to technical education institutions.
In an address to the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Thursday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga outlined plans for the certificate and the introduction of other qualifications.
“The first cycle of systemic evaluations in grades 3, 6 and 9 will be finalised by June 2020. The field trial for the general education certificate at the end of Grade 9 is scheduled for completion at the end of July 2020,” she said at Sadtu’s national congress at Nasrec, near Soweto.
But departmental spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said Motshekga’s announcement was misinterpreted.
“The GEC at the end of Grade 9 acknowledges a broad foundation of knowledge and skills as a basis for further learning and study, which could happen in a range of further education institutions.
“Offering a GEC is not an indication of the exit of learners from a learning pathway in schools but provides better decision-making for and access to further learning after Grade 9,” Mhlanga said.
The certificate is meant to offer pathways between schools and colleges at a level below Grade 12.
He said the certificate is based on a three-stream mode that includes the academic pathway, the technical vocational pathway and the technical or occupational pathway, adding that the move was aimed at attracting more students towards technical education.
“Under the technical vocational stream, there was a target of 10,000 artisans per year. The department has also introduced new subjects – technical mathematics and technical science – which could be referred to as applied mathematics and applied science.
“These were relevant in supporting areas of specialisation and schools that offer these subjects were currently being unveiled in different parts of the country with the majority of them presently launched in Gauteng,” he said.
The department said the discussion relating to the certificate was not something new and had been raised since January.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also mentioned it in his speeches at the basic education lekgotla and his State of Nation Address in February.
Mhlanga said the GEC would be an NQF-registered qualification to be awarded after the completion of Grade 9.
He said the certificate would recognise that pupils acquired a structured set of competencies built up from grades R to 9 and, possibly, inform pupils of pathways they may want to take.
“More importantly, as learners’ circumstances change and influence their participation in FET (Further Education and Training) programmes, so the access to various learning pathways can match those circumstances and prioritise how they access learning versus exiting programmes. This means that learners continue learning even if the programme or institution where they learn further changes.”
Wits School of Education Professor Brahm Fleisch said the country’s education priority at this stage, should be on getting early grade literacy right.
He said Ramaphosa had made it clear that the priority for his administration was getting pupils to read for meaning by the age of 10, adding that the GEC plans would be a huge distraction in the attempts to achieve this goal.
“There is evidence that suggests that there is little economic benefit for additional years of schooling below Grade 12. We also need to recognise that substantial real cost of an additional examination system and the potential capacity it would require to operationalise,” he said.
Fleisch added, however, that an additional examination in Grade 9 to obtain the certificate could hold schools accountable for pupil outcomes at an earlier point.