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Academics slam Angie Motshekga's plan for grade 9 exit-level exam

27 September 2019 - 16:02 By PREGA GOVENDER
Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga told Sadtu delegates this week about a draft framework for the General Education Certificate (GEC),which has been heavily criticised.
Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga told Sadtu delegates this week about a draft framework for the General Education Certificate (GEC),which has been heavily criticised.
Image: Cebisile Mbonani

Academics have slammed moves by the department of basic education to introduce an exit-level exam for grade 9 pupils.

The minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, told delegates attending the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) national congress this week that a draft framework for the General Education Certificate (GEC) had been developed.

During her budget speech earlier this year she also alluded to the introduction of a GEC.

This means that high school pupils who pass the GEC would get a national qualification similar to the matric certificate.

The department plans to implement the certificate to help pupils choose a "curriculum stream" for grades 10 to 12. They can opt to follow either the academic, technical vocational or technical occupational stream.

Technical vocational and technical occupational streams refer broadly to skills training for the labour market.

The technical vocational stream includes construction, woodwork, electronics, automotive, fitting and machining, welding and metalworking.

The technical occupational stream includes agricultural studies, arts and crafts, office administration, hairdressing and beauty care, as well as hospitality studies. 

Prof Felix Maringe, head of the Wits School of Education, said a school-leaving certificate should be an acknowledgement of accomplishment and readiness to tackle the next levels of education.

"The one being proposed does neither of the two. Young people who have no ambition to matriculate are being offered an opportunity to leave with a valueless piece of paper, unvalued by employers and by higher education institutions, not to mention by society."

He said that resources and new approaches need to be invested into the lower grades to enhance the capacity of the majority of pupils to read and write.

"It would not surprise if a large percentage of these learners exiting schooling at grade 9 will, in fact, be issued certificates of diminished competence in reading and writing."

Prof Linda Chisholm from the Centre for Education Rights & Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, said: "While it will relieve the schools of students repeatedly failing, it is neither an educational nor human solution to this challenge."

Leana de Beer, COO of student crowdfunding platform, Feenix, said that SA has not performed well on international studies and that the plan "could potentially only further worsen the situation".

"Surveys have shown our grade 12 learners are generally performing poorly in terms of mathematics and science abilities. It makes no sense then to allow learners to leave the system even earlier which would rob them of three extra years of schooling."

De Beer, who will be writing to the minister to express her concerns, said that Motshekga and her colleagues from the department of higher education should focus their attention on improving the entire education pipeline.

"We need to deliver the best possibly educated learners into our higher education system, to help prepare students for the challenges they will face in a rapidly changing world."

De Beer's organisation has helped raise almost R27m since it was established two years ago to assist needy students get into higher education.

But Prof Servaas van der Berg from the economics department at Stellenbosch University said if pupils passed grade 9 after writing a common exam "it means a little more to the employer than a grade 9 exam which every school sets at its own level".

"It will bring a little more consistency into our grade 9 exams."

Umalusi spokesperson Lucky Ditaunyane said it endorsed the introduction of a GEC at the end of grade 9 not as an exit qualification "but to inform the learner's choice of a learning pathway".

He confirmed that pupils who passed the grade 9 exams would receive certificates from Umalusi.

"Umalusi will encourage learners to remain in the school system after completing grade 9 which is the end of the compulsory schooling phase."

Ditaunyane said that the department had approached Umalusi about the GEC, adding that it had to first evaluate the qualification before commenting on it.