New school certificate to enable learners to leave after Grade 9

Connie Queline

New school certificate to enable learners to leave after Grade 9

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JEREMY MAGGS: Ahead of matric results day tomorrow, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is pushing ahead with its plans to introduce a new school certificate for Grade 9 learners, but the full rollout is now going to be a year later in 2025. Is this concept a good idea, I wonder?

Well, with us now is respected educationist, Professor Mary Metcalfe, and firstly, professor, what are your expectations for the matric results tomorrow, particularly in the light of current ongoing educational reforms, do you have any optimism?

MARY METCALFE: Firstly, I think we can expect to see the ongoing impact of the loss of learning and the socio-emotional consequences of Covid. Secondly, I think that it will again give us an opportunity to interrogate inequalities across the system.

JEREMY MAGGS: So in what way does that need to be done then?

MARY METCALFE: It needs an analysis of the results by socioeconomic quintile, by province. We need to understand the patterns of performance relative to disadvantage.

The public school system must have effective mechanisms to ensure that all learners receive a quality education that takes into account the socioeconomic poverty that is a legacy of apartheid, as well as takes active education steps to intervene to ensure that all children get a quality education.

JEREMY MAGGS: And just very quickly before we get to the Grade 9 issue, it’s regrettable, isn’t it, that we haven’t got to grips with those concerns that you’ve raised anytime soon.

MARY METCALFE: I think that that is consistent with the ongoing socioeconomic inequalities in the country. If you look at a map of household poverty by municipality and you superimposed that on a map of where the previous Bantustans were, we still have a match.

Now that is because the consequences of that disadvantage are persistent and enduring and its needs to constantly remain on top of our consciousness and in the actions of government.

JEREMY MAGGS: Professor Metcalfe, moving on to the other issue now, a lot of talk, it’s not new of course, but it seems to be reigniting as the introduction of this General Education Certificate (GEC) for Grade 9 learners. What’s your sense of the impact on the South African education system? Is this something to be welcomed?

MARY METCALFE: It is absolutely essential to the design of the system. So when we approached 1994, the question was could we afford compulsory education for all learners all the way to the National Senior Certificate. That was a difficult debate in the public. It was a difficult debate in political circles because the aspiration is for everyone to do up to Grade 12.

Now, our compulsory education system is the General Education and Training system (GET), it’s not part of the public consciousness, but education is compulsory until the year in which you are in Grade 9 or turn 15. So that is what we can optimally fund in the education system.

So the notion of the general education period and the further education period from Grade 10 has been fundamental to design.

In order to then look at the personal options that follow compulsory education, whether you wish to work in the technical field, whether you want to go to university, whether or not you want to pursue a degree or a diploma or a certificate, all that’s accommodated in the national qualification framework.

But I am one of those who absolutely strongly believes that we need a Grade 9 exam at the end of the GET period, which is therefore the General Education Certificate, to assist learners in making those choices.

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JEREMY MAGGS: Those choices are all well and good, professor, but do you think this GEC would effectively prepare learners for real world problem solving and practical skills that are needed for this 21st century workforce, particularly as we look at issues like artificial intelligence, for instance?

MARY METCALFE: That’s a different question. The General Education Certificate should say all learners across the system, this is where they’ve reached. There should be a recognition that they’ve achieved that.

Whereas at the moment, if learners leave before Grade 12, they have no piece of paper.

That would be based on the curriculum. Now, the curriculum would be the policy mechanism to ensure that we meet the demands of 21st century and so on. The General Education Certificate can only reflect what was taught in the curriculum.

JEREMY MAGGS: Professor, given the high unemployment rate in South Africa right now, particularly with those without matric certification, do you think this GEC might improve job prospects for learners?

MARY METCALFE: What matters to me, I think, is that learners leave school with a sense of achievement and with a sense of hope.

JEREMY MAGGS: And Dignity.

MARY METCALFE: Absolutely. Thank you for adding that. So if you leave school, because suddenly you find yourself in Grade 10, you find that you’ve repeated a few years, you are struggling, you leave school with a sense of failure. I think that to have a certificate that says, I completed the period of compulsory education, I have a certificate that says I did so successfully, or at whichever level, it then gives you something in your hand that you can take out into the range of possibilities that exist.

Of course, as long as we don’t have a labour absorbing economy, there will still be challenges. But that sense of I’ve been in school, l’ve repeated several times, I’ve been in school for eleven years, and I have nothing to show for it, it’s not good for dignity.

JEREMY MAGGS: I’m going to leave it there. Professor Mary Metcalfe, thank you very much for the assessment.

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