Understanding The General Education Certificate


A significant change to the South African school system is on its way, meant to help Grade 9 learners realize their career options before reaching Grade 12. While the change is already in its pilot phase, many still have lingering questions. 



The South African education system is attempting to keep up with the changing times, and this comes in the form of the General Education Certificate (GEC), which is currently in its pilot phase. 

Who is the GEC aimed at?

The GEC would allow Grade 9 learners to leave school and attend a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college, or enter the world of work.

While a GEC does not allow learners to apply for university, it does give them the opportunity to attend a Technical Vocational Education and Training College (TVET College), where their practical skills and interests can be put to good use.

The GEC is essentially to help learners understand the path they want to take for the future, by creating a space to make better decisions. 

These decisions revolve around "making school feel more like real life", says James Donald, Executive Director of the Department of Basic Education's (DBE) E3 Programme. 

Grade 9 is when high school learners choose subjects for Grade 10 until Grade 12; even though learners can drop a subject later on and join a new one, Donald says there is much more to consider.

It's the idea that at the end of Grade 9, how can we get information to learners, and the adults supporting them, so they can make better choices about their academic journey, about their lifelong journey.

Which subjects should they choose, how do they get support, should they stick with subjects they're struggling with, should they try and switch to a technical high school, should they start experimenting with certain ideas on how to get into university - volunteering, internships, work on the side? 

The idea is, at the end of Grade 9, there'll be this certificate; parts of it will be like matric, but some will be new elements that look at things like creativity, communication, critical thinking - giving learners more insights into their strengths and weaknesses, and also inclinations into what type of work they'll be well-suited for. 

Many people are under the impression that the GEC is an exit certificate, but it is actually more so a way of assessing a learner’s first 10 years of schooling.

By Grade 12, learners are typically expected to know exactly what they want to study and what kind of career path they want to go down. But oftentimes, matric assessments come too late in pupils’ school careers. For this reason, the GEC will help students identify what they want to do earlier on in their schooling, giving them ample time to prepare for their futures.

But, many questions are being raised about just how much weight the GEC will carry and whether it’s a good strategy to take, seeing as how shaky the state of education is in South Africa.

The country also battles a high rate of school dropouts, with roughly half of learners who start Grade 1 reaching matric, while others choose to leave school entirely. 

What Does A GEC Mean For The Job Market?

With the world of work constantly evolving, the GEC aims to increase skills that are currently in high demand in the labour market. Some of these scarce skills include information technology, engineering, construction, agriculture and entrepreneurship, among many others. 

With the exceptionally high unemployment rate in the country, obtaining these in-demand skills can give learners an advantage when they begin seeking employment. 

A common part of a TVET College education is completing an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship allows students to gain practical work experience while studying, which typically leads to employment upon completion. In instances where it doesn't, students have still gained some valuable work experience that they can add to their CVs.

50 technical colleges already exist in South Africa, but learners gravitate more towards universities, due to the belief that a university degree guarantees job security. 

The Department of Basic Education has encouraged more students to consider TVET colleges as an option, with plans in place to expand the sector by adding 16 additional campuses; government has allocated 2.88 billion to this endeavour.

A traditional school environment is not for everyone, and different learners tend to have different strengths and interests and also have different methods of learning. If a more traditional pathway is not for you, then a GEC may be a helpful option, and may help to recognize which career path may be best suited for the type of person you are. 

While this certificate remains in its pilot phase, the Department aims to have it administered in public schools by the 2024 academic year.


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