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By Zanele Mbengo


Experts question new education certificate’s impact on academic standards

Education specialists challenge the efficacy of the new general education certificate.

The department of basic education’s (DBE) piloting of the new general education certificate (GEC) will likely lower academic standards, potentially diminishing the aspiration for pupils to complete Grade 12, experts say.

Education expert Brahm Fleisch questioned the rationale behind implementing an expensive and complex new certificate which will enhance employment opportunities for pupils who did not continue with their school studies.

“They need to have evidence from the pilot study that it actually does benefit those pupils. If there isn’t enough evidence then there’s no purpose for it,” Fleisch said.

Intensify piloting of new GEC

The DBE announced its intention to intensify the piloting of the new GEC, emphasising the certificate’s role in tackling South Africa’s high youth unemployment rates.

The department said the GEC would serve as a standardised qualification for pupils completing Grade 9.

DBE head of communications Elijah Mhlanga said South Africa was refocusing the curriculum towards a competence-based approach, which integrated 21st-century skills and competencies across the subjects.

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The department was introducing new subjects and programmes in response to the evolving demands of the modern world, he said. These included coding and robotics, marine sciences, aquaponics, aviation sciences, design mathematics and science and aviation studies.

“We are working with industry and are developing the curriculum for these subjects that will assist pupils to enter [into] job markets which lack skilled workers.”

However, Fleisch argued a general education training certificate was not crucial for entry into the labour market.

“If the argument is that the certificate is a significant pathway for pupils to enter the labour market, then we need evidence to support this claim,” he said.

“It needs to be demonstrated it serves as a vital ticket for accessing employment.”

Certificate could encourage pupils to continue beyond Grade 9

Merle Mansfield, programme director for the Zero Dropout Campaign, said the department believed obtaining this certificate could encourage pupils to continue their basic education beyond Grade 9.

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But, Mansfield said, the continuation required more than encouragement and was contingent on the implementation of policies and interventions which addressed the root causes of pupil dropout in South Africa.

“The further education options the department has alluded will lead from the GEC must be accessible, affordable and with enough support to empower pupils to grow and graduate with skills relevant to modern employment markets,” she said.

No benefits for introducing GEC

According to Foundation for Education and Social Justice Africa deputy chair Hendrick Makaneta, there were no benefits for introducing the GEC.

Makaneta said: “If anything, the GEC will just be used by the department as a scapegoat for the rising number of pupils who drop out of the system.

“This time, the DBE will report the number of dropouts has been reduced since those who receive the GEC will not be counted amongst dropouts.

“And this creates problems as most pupils will want to end at Grade 9,” he said.

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“The government should move towards modernising our education system with a view to ensuring [pupils] are able to go out of the system with the necessary skills which can assist them to create a future for themselves.”

Increased number of subjects

Mhlanga said the increased number of subjects would motivate students to stay in school instead of dropping out.

He explained that achieving the GEC-enabled pupils to pursue an academic path by completing the national curriculum statement (NCS), which led to the attainment of the national senior certificate at NQF Level 4.

“To choose a vocational route through completion of the national certificate: vocational qualifications at NQF Levels 2, 3 and 4 [contain] vocational specialisations,” Mhlanga said.

“To access occupational specific qualifications at NQF [national qualifications framework] level 2 [requires] knowledge, skills and workplace experience and learning,” he added.

Mansfield said the GEC was a level 1 qualification in terms of NQF.

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“This is three levels less than pupils who obtained the NSC, so can place future GEC graduates at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers, who have matriculated when entering already highly competitive and limited employment markets,” she said.

Skills shortage

Makaneta emphasised the necessity of a system which tackled the skills shortage in the country.

“We are sitting with structural unemployment as a result of skills mismatch that affects not only those who completed grade 12 but also those who completed university degrees,” he said.

“Grade 9 qualification will not make a dent in the labour market, despite the department introducing the three streams. The country needs innovation more than anything,” Makaneta said.