New school of thought: exit-level exam for Grade 9 planned

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The Department of Basic Education plans to implement exit-level exams in Grade 9. Image: Phill Magakoe © Sunday Times

Prega Govender

High school pupils will soon be able to write an exit-level exam in Grade 9 which, if they pass, will get them a national qualification similar to the matric certificate.

The Department of Basic Education 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. Technical vocational 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. This stream, aimed mainly at disabled pupils, is being piloted at 74 schools this year, with plans to expand to more schools.

But Umalusi, which is responsible for the development of the general and further education qualifications sub-framework, has warned that the exam should not be regarded as a school-leaving certificate, but rather a chance for pupils to decide how they want to spend the last three years of their schooling.

The date for the implementation of the exam has not yet been confirmed.

Currently, most pupils choose the academic stream after Grade 9, which has led to a high failure, repetition and dropout rate.

Being awarded a certificate would also make it easier for Grade 10 pupils to seek admission at one of the country’s 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

Although pupils who complete Grade 9 can enrol at a TVET college, this does not generally happen because the colleges insist on enrolling only pupils who have passed matric.

Basic Education director-general Mathanzima Mweli said the plan was to “activate” the implementation of the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC), which had always been in the department’s policy document.

“It will help guide parents and pupils. The GETC will be able to say to you, it’s better to follow the academic or technical vocational or technical occupational pathway. You will be able to see the subjects  you are good at.

“There are also critics who are saying this [exit-level exam] is going to discourage pupils from proceeding to Grade 10, but this is not true. I had a certificate in Standard 4 but I did not leave school; I went up to Grade 12.”

“There have never been public exams at the end of Grade 9 before. There are still discussions around when this public exam will take place because that requires resourcing. Running public exams is very expensive,” he said.

Philip Reddy, principal of Glenhaven Secondary in Verulam on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, applauded the department’s move: “It will augur well for education and future development. At the end of Grade 9 the pupil will receive a certificate, which has not happened before.”

Of the 737 pupils in grades 10 to 12 at his school, 600 are pursuing technical vocational courses.

A senior lecturer in the electrical electronics field at the Ekurhuleni West TVET College in Gauteng, who spoke on condition of anonymity, endorsed Reddy’s view and said South Africa’s 50 TVET colleges rarely enroll pupils who leave school after Grade 9.

“For the national curriculum: vocational (NCV) level two course, which is the equivalent of Grade 10 at school, we only take in pupils who have completed matric. We hardly ever take a Grade 10 pupil.”

Lara Ragpot, a professor in the department of childhood education at the University of Johannesburg, quoted the example of the German schooling system where pupils were offered the academic or vocational stream.

“It’s not seen as elitist if you’re going into the one stream or the other. It depends on where you want your future to be.

“There should be a future for these kids so they don’t just leave Grade 9 [and drop out]. The articulation into some other qualification needs to then be made much more accessible and available for them, like these TVET colleges, so that we can get a skilled workforce.”

Umalusi spokesman Lucky Ditaunyane said they would evaluate the GETC once it had been formally submitted by the department.

If it met the requirements of the qualifications on their sub-framework, it would be recommended to the South African Qualifications Authority for registration on the national qualifications framework.

“Umalusi is of the view that this common exit-level exam at the end of Grade 9 should not be primarily a school-leaving certificate but one designed to help 15- and 16-year-olds gain insights into how they envisage the last three years of their schooling and how they wish to proceed.”

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