General Education Certificate: what does it mean?

General Education Certificate

Times are changing.  South Africa’s education system is trying to keep up.  Finishing high school might come sooner with school subjects that are geared towards developing scarce skills.  Cue General Education Certificate. Let’s find out what this will look like.

Last month, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga announced the potential introduction of General Education Certificate (GEC), which would allow Grade 9 learners to choose alternative options for finishing high-schools which focus on technical, vocational and occupational skills.

Imagine a smaller version of the National Senior Certificate (which is what you get for finishing Grade 12) – a mini-Matric! But instead of allowing you to apply to a university, it lets you apply to a technical college or a school where you learn how to weld or grow food, in Grade 10!

That’s the idea – but not everyone is convinced. Let’s see what a Grade 9 certificate might mean.

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What is the General Education Certificate?

Basically, the General Education Certificate (GEC) is a qualification learners will receive at the end of Grade 9 which will give them the option of choosing different ways of finishing their time in high-school.

Instead of just moving on to Grade 10 like normal, Grade 9 learners who pass their GED will have the option to attend a school or even a college that focuses on teaching things like technical science, agriculture, engineering, aviation, mining, media, maritime studies and or even just sport.

What will Change?

Schools that teach things like agriculture and maritime studies already exist in South Africa, but the Department of Basic Education has announced that more will be opening. New subjects will also be introduced in schools, like technical mathematics and technical science. Cool!

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At the same time, the Department of Higher Education and Training will be spending more than R20 billion rand on South Africa’s 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges over the next three years.

There are 50 TVET colleges in South Africa, focusing on occupation-based skills like Agriculture, Hospitality, Mechatronics, Construction and Education. TVET colleges offer certifications that are great for getting students into in-demand jobs, and if you’re thinking about attending one you can read all about them here.

These are the main alternative routes that the Grade 9 certificate would open up for leaners. If organisations and companies start to take the certificate seriously, then learners might get even more options in the future, like apprenticeships leading straight to specific jobs or careers. But for now, at least it looks like Grade 9 learners can expect new subjects and new kinds of schools to be introduced soon, as well as the option to apply to an actual TVET college.

How likely is all of this?

Very likely!

Last month, Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga announced the GEC proposal to the South African Democratic Teachers Union.

“The first cycle of systemic evaluations in grades 3, 6 and 9 will be finalised by June 2020. The field trial for the general education certificate at the end of Grade 9 is scheduled for completion at the end of July 2020.

Could this be a bad idea?

The thing is, there are already ways that learners can attend a TVET college after finishing Grade 9. Instead of getting a National Senior Certificate (matric), they would get a National Certificate Vocational (NCV), which as an NQF Level 4 equivalent qualification.

But since 2017, students have been complaining about the poor quality of facilities and even worse administration of TVET colleges. Just last month students in the Eastern Cape protested over late NSFAS stipends and outdated equipment.  DA MP Nomsa Tarabella Marchesi claims to have visited technical schools in the Northern Cape that had barely any equipment at all.

Some professionals working in vocational occupations have expressed concern about promoting the exit of Grade 9 learners from traditional schooling and starting the kind of work that they do.

“A major challenge faced by employers that offer workplaces as training grounds is the degree of emotional maturity of learners who exit the school system at this level. This extends to all trades. This will have to be addressed.”

– Terrence Mwase, Master Builders South Africa.

“My experience in the plumbing field is that those entering the field with a matric perform better than those who come after completing Grade 9.”

– Nick Jobert, Plumbing SA.

Professor Stephanie Allais and Brahm Fleisch of Wits University, as well as many others, have said that the certificate will not solve the problems of high dropout rates or unemployment among people aged 15-24, but will rather “create additional resource pressures on the system.”

It’s a good point: should we really be pushing more students into TVET colleges when current students are telling us that they aren’t working?

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Could this be a good idea?

Others, however, feel that the GEC is a step in the right direction.

“I’m not advising that pupils leave school after Grade 9 but when you consider becoming a welder, iron coordination skills is more important (than more academic subjects).”

– James Guild, The Southern African Institute of Welding

“The only difference now is that this new curriculum has the potential to prepare pupils and assist them in their exit.”


– Mark Mfikoe, Electrical Contractors’ Association

The GEC could be also be an opportunity to properly assess the skills of our grade 9 learners and our entire education system, reduce our high-school dropout rate and get young people excited about potential careers without having to wait until grade 11.

According to Deputy Minister Dr Reginah Mhaule, dropout rates in high-school peak at around 15% in grades 10 and 11. It’s important that Grade 9 learners are inspired to stay in school, whatever that school looks like.

EduConnect 2Cents

Whether this is a bad or good idea, there is a movement towards encouraging technical training and developing scarce skills in South African schools.  Recognising this effort is critical to generating a positive reaction to a General Education Certificate.  Bring on the future! 🙂

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