Creating a second (and third) chance

Well into the second decade of South African democracy, the need for significant alternative opportunities to completing matric have never been greater.

Schools have roughly 12-million learners, but they lose about 20% of them between grades nine and 12. Of the 537 543 who wrote the national senior certificate (NSC) last year, only 364  513 (67,8%) passed and 126 371 (23,5%) achieved university entrance passes.

But of the million learners who entered schools in grade one in 1998, only about 44% are accounted for by these figures. The rest are either still at school or have left before achieving their school-leaving certificate.

This large group of young people who leave school without matric, or with a poor one, have limited options for returning to learning as a means of improving their life chances. Alternative post-school interventions, such as learnerships and extended public-works programmes, have been on so small a scale that they have not really made any difference in the system.

South Africa requires a training system that supports occupational learning for adults and that responsibility now resides with the department of higher education and training, the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations and the Setas.

But it is equally clear that South Africans also need a second chance to get that coveted school-leaving certificate awarded by Umalusi, because this is one of the critical roles of the further education and training (FET) sector: colleges and adult learning centres, both public and private, must provide general academic and vocational learning opportunities as well as occupational ones. While occupational qualifications open up access to a specific job, general and further education qualifications provide a broader learning base that, ideally, opens up the possibility of more learning and access to work.

Yet there are very few options in the system for an individual to acquire a matric beyond the school system. People who registered for the senior certificate before 2008 still have the possibility of completing their matric because it seems likely that opportunities for part-time candidates will be made available until the end of 2014. But there is little systemic educational support for such candidates, so enrolling with a private college may be the only way to get the necessary help.

The introduction of the three-year NSC in 2008, with its stringent internal assessment requirements, has made it much more difficult for adults to study part-time for a matric, but private colleges are being proactive about finding ways to register, teach and examine individuals who failed some of their subjects.

The need for adult learning opportunities is such that Umalusi has proposed two new qualifications for the FET sector. The first is the so-called “second-chance matric”, formally the national senior certificate for adults (Nasca). This is a set of challenging exams in a small number of subjects.

People registering for Nasca will not need to attend a programme at a college or adult learning centre to register for the exams, even though doing a course will probably be advisable. They will be allowed to accumulate the subjects over a number of years, if need be, and be certified when they have achieved sufficiently well in four Nasca subjects.

Based on the highly successful American general educational development (GED) model, which accredits about 500 000 learners annually with a high-school leaving diploma, Nasca is intended to be a high-quality alternative to the NSC. In the United States employers and institutions of higher education accept the GED as an equivalent of the high-school diploma and Nasca should come to be the same in South Africa.

The second qualification, the national independent certificate (NIC), will provide general subjects and opportunities to learn more in vocational areas such as office administration and home care. The certificate sits on the national qualifications framework at the same level as Nasca.

NIC programmes will provide an opportunity to sharpen up language skills and knowledge to function better in a working environment, for instance, and to do the same with basic mathematical skills. They will also provide introductions to learning areas such as basic computer literacy and accounting or to the travel and tourism industry.

Although these two qualifications cannot on their own serve all the learning needs that are currently not addressed, they will be able to provide stepping stones to new opportunities for study and in the workplace. They will play a critical role in South Africa’s post-school system by serving young people and adults who are not employed or involved in some kind of further training or learning.

Liz Burroughs is a senior manager in the qualifications, curriculum and certification unit at Umalusi ( This is the third in the six-part series in the M&G by arrangement with Umalusi, the council for quality assurance, aimed at promoting greater awareness of Umalusi’s function.

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