The department of basic education went into damage control mode this week after Angie Motshekga mentioned a plan to allow pupils to leave school after Grade 9.
Motshekga’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, said the “general education certificate for Grade 9 pupils” would provide “better decision-making for and access to further learning after Grade 9”.
Some pupils leaving school early would help with overcrowding as there would be fewer pupils in grades 10, 11 and 12.
This should, in theory, improve the matric pass rate – smaller classes should mean a lower teacher to pupil ratio, which should translate into better marks.
And why keep pupils in school for an extra three years only to have them earn a useless matric certificate?
Rather ensure they have strong literacy and numeracy skills by Grade 9 and then redirect them.
But you can’t do this in a vacuum. Technical institutions and alternatives have to work for this to be viable.
City Press has reported on many instances of appalling neglect and poor financial management at colleges.
The reality is that many of these youngsters will leave school armed with only a Grade 9 certificate and enter a brutal, exclusionary environment in which those aged 15 to 34 – many of whom have a matric certificate or a degree – account for 63.4% of those without jobs in South Africa.
There needs to be a structured plan. If technical and vocational colleges produced young people who were qualified and skilled to do the jobs that the country so urgently needs (coders, engineers, boilermakers, mechanics) or jobs that would allow them to start their own businesses (electricians, plumbers, welders), they could be an excellent solution to a slew of challenges. The knock-on effects of this plan could be enormously beneficial.
A point of caution is the very real danger that this could be seen as yet another step towards the dumbing down of our educational system. The messaging of the purpose of such a move will be just as important as the implementation.