Grade Nine Exit Plan – here’s what you need to know

Grade Nine Exit Plan – here’s what you need to know

The Department of Education announced its plans to roll out the Grade Nine Exit Certificate and parents are confused about the programme. Terence Pillay unpacks what this means for school children.  

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Listen to the audio here: 

There’s been a contentious plan underway by the Department of Education to allow learners to exit school after Grade 9. But the fact that the department has not been very forthcoming with information about this new plan has parents confused.

One thing it has done is: it’s polarised the audience. Firstly, a lot of people don’t know about it yet so what you've ended up with is a lot of misinformation about this Grade 9 certificate, which is essentially what it is. The fact is, it's been in the legislation and the structure of the schooling system, which has been set up for it for a while. But typically, it hasn't been utilised. And, what I imagine the Department of Education is trying to do is sort of disentangle.

First of all, let’s take a step back and look at what we have in place already – it’s a new three stream system. So the idea is that we should be encouraging young people to pursue different kinds of future careers.

You've got the academic stream, which will be your typical schooling, where you do maths and physical science and your academic top subjects which are matric subjects. Then you have the technical stream, where you would then also do those subjects to matric but you would do technical maths and technical science instead. And lastly you've got the vocational and occupational stream, which would then give you the option to go and do a trade or one of those kinds of things. It's vocational so we’re looking at job readiness and things like that.

What you find is that kids will go through school, all the way to matric, get a middle school leaving certificate in the form of a national senior certificate and then, if they haven't made the requirements to go into University or a University of Technology they will go into a technical and vocational education and training college and then do a certificate, which actually is a waste of their time. They actually end up losing out on three years of the time because what they could do is use the grade nine certificate as an option; a clear cut transition point of the schooling system, and from here you could then complete your schooling at the same level that you would do for a national senior certificate, but you would do it through a technical and vocational training college or through a trade school or whatever the case may be. So the thing is: it just opens up many more opportunities and we should see it as an opportunity, rather than a negative.

So let's go back to some of the big issues. You have; for example, a million kids who enroll into the system in grade one. And about 600,000 exit in grade 12. So, where are the missing 400,000 kids? Ideally, what we'd like to see is that they're not roaming the streets in what we would call NIEETS, in education speak. It's an acronym for not in education, employment or training. So essentially they're lost.

So, what you'd like to see is a bit more of a balance. Let's go back to the 600,000 kids that do actually finish school, or they actually sit down to write their exams – how many of them actually pass? We know that the current national pass rate is about 75% or 76%. So if you take 70%, or even 80%, if we meet that target some of them get a certificate level pass, some get a diploma level pass and some of them get a bachelor's level pass, which then opens up other opportunities.

But very few of them actually qualify to go into university; and particularly in the fields in which we really need skills, which are maths, science, technology, engineering, and so on. So what this new way of thinking about it does is: it really recognises that we need skills training that sometimes aren’t necessarily at a university level, but is available at a vocational level.

If you look at some of the really good vocational education systems around the world, like the German education system for example, they have very strong vocational education, where the factories and so on create multiple opportunities and multiple pathways for school leavers. And we should be doing that here. It should never mean that that there is only path that you can follow.

So if I say I'm a young person I have got my grade nine certificate and I decided to go and do an engineering certificate at a TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) college, so I'm learning about some basic mechanical engineering and there’s the possibility that I could end up getting a really decent job in a mechanical workshop somewhere.

So, I’ve now got my engineering certificate from a TVET College. There should be nothing stopping me from then pursuing, at a later stage in my life, or whenever, a diploma in engineering. Or to go and do a degree in engineering, so that I can follow multiple pathways to whatever goal that I want to achieve.

I think that our education system needs to be geared up to ensure that all those opportunities are open to people. I think, in general, the Grade 9 certificate is a good thing. It creates more opportunity, but we need to make sure that it actually does this in the real world and not just on paper. There needs to be articulation throughout the system, so that once you've made that choice, it's not defining you. It doesn't put you in a box and say that's all you are and that's all you can be.

At a later stage in your life, you may find that you want to do other things, and so the systems need to talk to each other, so that you can do those things. I shouldn't be arriving at the door of an employer one day with my diploma from a TVET college, saying, “I want to pursue an engineering degree” and be told, “You have to go back and do your national senior certificate again.” That's the one thing. And then the other is that we need to improve the system. I think generally the quality of our TVET colleges is not as good as it should be and so they are not seen as attractive. Government needs to have a marketing campaign around it. So we need to build the capacity and to make sure that they are really wonderful places to go and study and learn. And that they produce quality.

At the end of the day it's all about jobs. We want people who are equipped to work in the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution. And so they should have the right skills and the right training.

So if you don't want to leave school in grade nine and go to a TVET college, then you should be able to continue to matric. Then you may want to go into a trade school or go do an apprenticeship and end up with a trade certificate. So still get some sort of qualification so that you can say that you're competent, because there's misinformation that the grade nine exit means that you're going to walk away from that school with a grade nine certificate that says this is as far as you can possibly go in your schooling, and therefore now you must go and try and find a job or whatever you can possibly do with a grade nine certificate.

So there's a lot of confusion about that. Perhaps we should stop using the words exit certificate, because that implies that you’ve reached a point and that you're exiting. It's not. It's just a transition point in the education system, the same as: just because you finished grade 12 doesn't mean that's the only thing that you do. You have choices; you can then go and do other things.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there. 

Also read: Exclusive: A one-on-one with the DA's John Steenhuisen

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