Second-chance matriculants need support

COMMENT

It’s crucial that we focus on the young people who didn’t reach matric, failed their examinations, or need to improve their marks. A matric certificate has a lot of value in enabling them to unlock work opportunities and further education and training. 

The latest National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey Wave 3 findings confirmed that among people aged 18 to 24, those with a matric were more likely to be employed after the Covid-19 lockdown level 5, and those without a matric were worse off.

Before the pandemic, researchers at Stellenbosch University had estimated that about 300 000 people leave the schooling system each year, mostly between grades 10 and 12, without any formal qualification to show for their efforts. The lockdown has exacerbated this situation and led to increased rates of disengagement and absenteeism, with the director general of basic education, Mathanzima Mweli, announcing that 15% of pupils had reportedly not gone back to government schools in 2020.

The Second Chance Matric Programme by the basic education department is the only pathway to certification for those who need to complete their matric qualification outside the full-time schooling system, and for those who want to improve their grade 12 results. If properly managed, the programme could unlock life-changing opportunities for these young people.

Youth Capital, a youth-led campaign with an action plan to reduce unemployment, this week released its findings drawn from a technical report by Stellenbosch University’s Research on Social and Economic Policy group. The research critically reviews the programme and offers an evidence-based estimate of people’s pathways to second-chance matriculation.


The research analysed government administrative data and reports, surveyed online second-chance material and conducted a small qualitative study with Second Chance learning centres and candidates in the Western Cape.

About second-chancers

Second-chancers may be on the fringe of the education system, but they are not a minority. 

Our research shows that, in any given year, about a quarter of a million people are working towards a matric through the Second Chance Matric Programme. Numerically, in a year they equal about a third of the total matric cohort. But because their journey is not tracked, their difficulties go unseen and their matric results are not reported. 

Although we know that about 40 000 people complete their matric yearly through the programme, the lack of individual tracking data means we can’t establish their success rate over time.

To qualify for a national senior certificate rewrite, people must have reached grade 12 within the schooling system and have left school less than three years ago. These candidates are largely people who recently failed their matric exams. 

Senior certificates are for candidates who are 21 and older and who have been out of the formal school system for more than three years.

The findings from the research indicate that every year about 170 000 people register for the national senior certificate exams and about 11 000 obtain it. 

Each year, about 100 000 candidates sit for the senior certificate exam and about 6 000 candidates achieve their qualification. Although the completion rate may seem low, the available data makes it difficult to understand how many part-time candidates complete their matric over time, because they may take a number of years to finish the qualification.

Because they are outside the full-time schooling system, these young people don’t have access to textbooks; after registering, they have to find the correct learning resources and develop a study plan alongside juggling a full-time job and family responsibilities. 

Institutional support is available from some private colleges and at the 3 300 community learning centres and high schools, but costs and geographic location determine  who can use these institutions. Notwithstanding these difficulties, hundreds of thousands of people are making use of these pathways, picking up where they left off by registering for a national senior certificate or a senior certificate. 

It is clear that the bridge to success is expanding support.

Second-chancers’ support

With concerns about the long-term effect of the pandemic on learners and the urgency for a youth-centred economic recovery plan, supporting and expanding these alternative paths to certification must be a priority. The report highlights three solutions:

Track, measure and manage second-chancers.
The saying “what gets measured gets managed” applies here. Reporting on second-chancers would help set out benchmarks and improve on them year on year, as well as provide the support people need. Tracking second-chancers is necessary to evaluate how effective and user-friendly matric e-services are, to follow the journey of part-time candidates as well as to understand pass rates for individual subjects and the reasons for exam absenteeism.

Create a centralised information platform.
Information is power, but details on registration and eligibility for the Second Chance programmes are incomplete, confusing and often outdated. A “Do I now qualify for a matric?” calculator would assist people understand whether they qualify for a national senior certificate or a senior certificate. In addition, a strengthened e-service for second-chancers should leverage platforms such as SAYOUTH.mobi, to make pathways to learning, earning and volunteering opportunities visible.

Provide a portal with study material and expand support.
The cost of data makes online research for study material unaffordable for most second-chancers. The department could centralise the preparation material; the platform must be further zero-rated by cellphone network operators. Academic support is needed, because access to community learning centres and high schools is extremely limited. Expanding support in the short term will require the department, district offices and schools to work together.

Young people have been adversely hit by the pandemic and those pursuing second chance opportunities are a testament to their perseverance. With Covid-19 a part of life, it’s now, more than ever, critical to support people wanting to attain a matric certificate. 

Expanding alternative pathways to certification offers decision-makers and civil society an opportunity to focus efforts and strengthen resources to help young people succeed.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Kristal Duncan-Williams
Kristal Duncan-Williams, who has a master's in public health from the University of Cape Town, is the project lead for Youth Capital, a project incubated by DG Murray Trust. She has over 10 years’ experience in research in the fields of molecular biology, public health and youth employment. She is passionate about unlocking the untapped potential of young South Africans and believes that quality education, healthcare and employment are the critical building blocks for a thriving society. She has experience in research-driven advocacy and is passionate about making data accessible and engaging for everyone, so that they are able and equipped to advocate for themselves

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