New subject requirements carry big risks for grade 9s who want to go to university

In the coming months, grade nine students will soon choose subjects to pursue during their final school years, and what they will be tested on when they sit for their final matric exams.

However, with the Department of Basic Education announcing the withdrawal of the “designated subject” list earlier this year, students who want to pursue a degree after school now have to make some very careful choices when thinking about their futures.

This is according to Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of The Independent Institute of Education, who says that while the the withdrawal of the designed subject list may give young people more choices, it is also likely that they may lead to schools and learners making risky and uninformed changes.

She noted that the original list contained many of the traditional subjects used to gain access to university, and that many of these subjects required learners to master skills that will be important for them to succeed in higher education after admission.

“These skills include argumentation and reasoning, found in subjects such as History, logic and mathematics as found in Accountancy and Maths or Maths Literacy, and evidence and scientific reasoning skills, as found in Physical Science and Life Sciences,” said Coughlan.

“Additionally, the two-language requirement also ensured a well-rounded educational experience for students living in a multilingual country.

“The reasoning behind the original inclusion of these subjects should be remembered, and students are encouraged not to put together a collection of subjects that are all of one type which will result in them developing less holistic academic skills. The impact on their studies later in life will be real.”

In addition, learners considering their subject choices should remember that despite the change of requirements at school, universities are not required to change their admission requirements, Coughlan warned.

“Higher education institutions need not change entry requirements if they don’t want to, and one can be sure that many – if not most – won’t. Definitely not in the short term, and particularly not for those qualifications that currently require Mathematics or Life Sciences. We therefore encourage learners to do their homework before opting out of these traditionally required subjects.

“Some subjects, such as Design, were omitted from the original list but have been accepted by some institutions for several years now as part of conditional admission requirements for certain qualifications. Design thinking is a strong and necessary skill for modern living and it is likely that it will become more and more acceptable for admission to higher education,” Coughlan said.

Design therefore is one of the examples that should be considered as part of a portfolio of creative subjects after learners have checked its acceptability to the higher education institution of their choice, she said.

“In light of these changes in subject choice requirements, and given the risk of learners opting for perceived easier subjects or subjects that are too similar in nature, we urge learners to investigate their options carefully, and schools to support them in making informed decisions,” said Coughlan.

“The public higher education sector is not likely to change quickly to accept subjects they currently do not accept, and while the private higher education sector may be more progressive, our advice remains the same as it has always been: to select subjects that keep your study options open.

“This means learners should include at least one subject in which they know they can excel, and then others that will teach you a range of different skills,” she said.


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