The Department of Basic Education says it is currently working on the introduction of the General Education Certificate (GEC) for Grade 9 pupils.
In its 2021/2022 annual performance plan, the department said that the policy framework for the introduction of the GEC has been drafted and submitted to qualifications regulator Umalusi for review and approval.
It has also commissioned a blueprint for assessment options that will inform learners, teachers, parents and the system about the suitability of learners to undertake an academic, vocational or occupational track in senior secondary schools (Grades 10–12).
The GEC is the qualification at level 1 on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) that is intended to formally recognise achievements of learners at the end of the compulsory phase of schooling (GET).
Its primary purpose is to facilitate subject choices beyond Grade 9 and articulation between schools and TVET colleges.
While the department has reiterated that this is not an exit point for learners from the school system, Grade 9 is seen as a point where pupils may shift focus to more technical subjects and trades instead of a singular focus on a college or university education.
“South Africa has inherited a tradition of associating success (and value) in education with a university qualification,” the department said. While university studies are obviously valuable, alternative educational pathways have not received the focus they deserve, it said.
“In particular, vocational training options within schools and beyond basic education were not sufficiently available and when available, were undervalued by many teachers and parents.
“This is partly a symptom of the history of unequal access to both university and vocational training under apartheid and the legacy of race-based job reservation.”
Today, in the National Senior Certificate examinations, white learners are six times as likely as black African learners to take one or more of the four key technical subjects, the department said.
“Going forward, there is a need to provide learners with better access to vocationally-oriented subjects and for schools to play a more proactive role in alerting the youth to new training and job opportunities so as to move away from the notion of university studies as the sole post-school study option.”