New ‘exit’ certificate for school kids in South Africa – where 40% drop out

 ·3 Apr 2024

The Department of Basic Education says it will “step up” the piloting of the new General Education Certificate (GEC) it plans to fully launch in 2025.

The department’s annual performance plan for 2024/25 outlined the progress being made in transforming the school system into a new ‘three-stream’ model, and laid out the next steps for the plan in the year ahead.

The GEC is a standardised qualification being piloted in South Africa for learners completing grade 9, which will give any school leavers some type of “currency” they can use to either find a job or pursue a different stream of schooling.

The pilot initially launched in a few schools in 2022 and ramped up in 2023.

While the department has previously stressed that it is not an “exit” qualification – and should not be used to encourage learners to leave education and training – the performance plan specifically refers to it as one of two exit points in schooling.

Even if the department does not intend for the GEC to be an exit certificate, the stark reality in South Africa is that only 60% of learners go on to complete the National Senior Certificate (NSC, aka, matric), with around 40% dropping out at grade 9 with nothing to show for it.

This fact has often been used as a major point of criticism against the much-lauded and celebrated matric results announcements each year – where the government and education department celebrate pass rates of over 82% when the reality is that almost half the learners who started school with the matric cohort don’t make it to the end.

The GEC has thus been conceptualised as a level 1 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) that is intended to formally recognise learners’ achievements at the end of the compulsory phase of schooling.

“Many of the approximately 40% of youths who currently exit the education system without any qualification would now achieve a GEC, and this would provide them with some currency upon entering the labour market and would positively impact youth employment,” the department said.

“The expected introduction of the GEC in 2025 would ensure that every young South African leaves the schooling system with a national certificate.”

The department argues that the GEC will recognise formal learning that has occurred by the end of Grade 9 – now seen as the “compulsory phase of learning” – fulfilling progression requirements in the NSC for Grades R to 12.

The certificate will either help learners ‘survive’ through to grade 12, put them on a different path toward vocational and occupational training, or give them some “currency” to enter the labour market.

“Achieving virtually universal completion of Grade 9 by 2030 seems realistic. The expected introduction of the GEC in 2025 would ensure that every young South African leaves the schooling system with a national certificate,” the department said.

The certificate is integral to the department’s new ‘three-stream’ model, where it wants to put school kids on different educational paths – either academic (traditional NSC), vocational (broadly aligned to a profession) or occupational (for a specific job) – depending on their performance in school.

The DBE said it will continue to pilot the GEC qualification in 1,000 schools in 2024/25, looking towards a full launch in 2025.

“In 2024/25, we have decided to step up the (GEC) pilot in schools, including Schools of Skill,” the department said.

It is also continuing to develop and strengthen the vocational and occupational streams, working with the Department of Higher Education and Training to ensure that programmes allow learners who have completed a grade 9 GEC to enter Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges, should they so choose to do so.

Read: Changes for school calendars in South Africa

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter