South Africa was in uproar when Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga announced her plans to introduce a General Education Certificate (GEC) that would allow pupils to exit high school after completing Grade Nine. Pupils could choose to leave traditional schooling entirely, in favour of following a vocational-technical stream (that includes skills such as construction and electronics) or a vocational-occupational stream, to focus on subjects such as agricultural studies and hairdressing.
Last week, the Department of Education rejected growing concerns saying that the GEC would simply be used as an alternate exit point. Based on this, the GEC would gauge a learner’s skills and competency levels to ensure that new pathways are made available should they wish to exit their formal schooling career.
This decision by government looks to address a lack of skilled artisans in South Africa. But in a country crippled by youth unemployment, what employment options will be available to learners who choose to make use of the GEC and end their formal schooling career at grade nine?
Nthabiseng Phoshoko, the Commercial Director for LFP Group, South Africa’s largest privately-owned FET college, has spent years working with South Africa’s economically vulnerable youth as they look for opportunities for advancement. “LFP Training provides learnerships for unemployed and disabled citizens around the country. If an unemployed individual with a GEC were to apply for an LFP learnership, we would not take them on as our minimum requirement is a Grade 10 qualification”.
“LFP’s learnerships are designed to provide young South Africans with both the practical and soft skills required to secure employment. LFP believes that learners should be given the strongest chance to succeed,” she explains.
“Our goal is to eradicate youth unemployment. In times such as these, we need to ensure that our education meets up to the global competitive standards required to progress our country and that we can adequately back the learners who choose to make use of this new path,”
“While skilled labour and enhanced productivity might stand us in good stead, we question whether enough investment into prominent sectors such as manufacturing, mining, construction etc. will take place with investor confidence at an all-time low,” says Nthabiseng.
Another barrier to entry in the job market is a lack of social capital or personal connections who can offer training or employment. “Young South Africans may struggle to find someone with the resources to offer a training apprenticeship with the goal of permanent employment” Nthabiseng explains.
The government-backed Youth Employment Services (YES) Program aims to tackle the lack of social capital by helping more than one million young participants of technical and vocational programmes find paid, work-based internships. A matric qualification is required for entrance into the YES Program.
“Based on this, the options for pupils who exit traditional education at grade nine without the social capital to secure an apprenticeship are limited”.
Nthabiseng highlights a burning question, saying: “Have alternate measures such as youth mentorship, tutoring and youth entrepreneurship programs been considered?”
Should the GEC be implemented, it is essential that grade nine pupils who are considering leaving traditional education do their research and understand the realities of the job market they are entering.
“This decision should be a collective effort between learners, schools and parents to ensure that youths are fully aware of the opportunities available to them to best aid their decision-making process” she concludes.