/ 9 April 2024

Grade 9 certificate to be rolled out at 1000 schools, but shouldn’t be seen as ‘exit option’

A space to grow for Westbury youth
File photo by Delwyn Verasamy/M&G

The department of basic education says it is on track to pilot the general education and training certificate (GETC), which it plans to launch fully in 2025.

The certificate will recognise learners’ achievements at the end of the compulsory schooling phase in grade 9, a level 1 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). 

“Many of the approximately 40% of learners who exit the education system without any qualification would now achieve a GETC, and this would provide them with some currency upon entering the labour market and would positively impact youth employment,” the department said in a statement. 

Although the department has previously warned that the certificate is not an “exit” qualification, it has referred to it as one of two exit points in the schooling system in its performance plan.  

“The expected introduction of the GETC in 2025 would ensure that every young South African leaves the schooling system with a national certificate,” it said, noting that currently, hundreds of students drop out of the school system annually without a qualification, which hinders them from finding jobs.

The pilot project was trialled in a few schools in 2022 and launched in 2023. 

“The work that needed to be done prior to implementation has now been completed and we are confident that we will proceed as planned,” department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told the Mail & Guardian.

The certificate forms part of the department’s new “three-stream” model, aimed at placing learners in different educational paths — either academic (traditional NSC), vocational (broadly aligned to a profession) or occupational (for a specific job) — based on their performance in school.

“We have decided to step up the GETC pilot in schools, including Schools of Skill in 2024/25,” the department said.

According to Mhlanga, the department has been preparing students who opt for the certificate for the “real world” through its curriculum. 

“The department has introduced more than 35 new subjects in the FET (further education and training) phase in the past seven years. This was done to expand the curriculum offering and give the learners more choices,” he said.

However, the department’s decision to roll out the certificate has met with criticism from academics. 

“The argument that learners with a grade 9 exit certificate are equipped to enter the world of work can only be made by those who have not spent time in the majority of our schools,” Jonathan Jansen, a professor in the department of education at Stellenbosch University told the M&G. 

According to Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey 2022, over 40% of South African students do not make it to grade 12, which marks the end of high school.

The survey estimates that the average dropout rate across the board is 4.5%, with most of this taking place between grades 9 and 11.

From 2019 to 2021, approximately 30% of learners dropped out from grades 9 to 11, with only 57.9% of learners completing the National Senior Certificate (NSC) awarded after matric.

Addressing a basic education sector conference in March, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed concern over the persistently high rates of learner dropouts, saying the government was actively pursuing policies to address the obstacles to progress in basic education. 

“As the government, we have continued to pursue pro-poor policies to systematically tackle the multifaceted factors impeding progress in basic education. These policies encompass the establishment of non-fee-paying schools [and the] national school nutrition programme, free textbooks, scholar transport and child support grants,” Ramaphosa said at the time.

The department of basic education said it was confident that the GETC qualification would curb youth unemployment as learners would now have a certificate when applying for jobs. However, critics argue that it will merely cause the social gap between young people from poor and well-off families to widen.

“This policy will of course largely affect poor children, thereby deepening the race and class schisms in school and society,” Jansen said.