The announcement by the minister of basic education to formalise the General Education Certificate (GEC) has been met with outrage and correctly so. Hendrick Verwoerd and DF Malan must be singing in their graves as millions of Black youth, African and Coloured in particular, continue to be condemned to being hewers of wood and drawers of water.
No doubt, very few developing countries’ tertiary education system can manage to send their entire populations to colleges and universities. With over a billion people each, emerging economies such as China and India cannot afford to send every single citizen to college, never mind university. We must agree too, that not every one should go to university nor even college but the development of critical and scarce skills remain a developmental imperative for South Africa. Artisans, among other technical skills, are sorely needed.
While all cannot have access to tertiary education, all must be guaranteed a decent and quality basic education. We should be striving to keep learners in the basic education system for as long as possible not give them options to opt out as early as possible; which the GEC does.
According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Reports, in 1994, the expected number of years in schooling was 12 years for South Africa. By 2017, with the introduction of Grade R, it had increased to 13 years. The Report suggests that this is the number of years of schooling that a child of school entrance age can expect to receive if prevailing patterns of age-specific enrolment rates persist throughout the child’s life.
In South Africa, with the introduction of GEC we can therefore expect to go from 13 years of schooling to 9. Yet this does not even take into account the current high drop out rate between Grades R and 12. When one compares this to other African countries, we see in 2017, in Nigeria the expected number of years in schooling was 10 years whereas in 1994 it was 7 years. No doubt, the increase in expected years in schooling increased the economic fortunes of Africa’s top economy.
Africa’s third largest economy, Egypt in 2017, has expected schooling of 13 years whereas it is 14 years in Algeria, Africa’s fourth largest economy, in the same year. A country ravaged by civil war, Angola, now the continent’s 5th largest economy, went from an expected three years of schooling in 1994 to 11 in 2017.
The trends of correlation could not be clearer in that the increase in expected schooling years means an increase in economic output. Keeping young people in education and training almost guarantees a ripple effect on the economy and employment because they have a better basic education. If we were to compare this to our BRICS partners then the expected years of schooling in Brazil and Russia is 15 years, India is 12 years while China is at 13 years. Cuba, long hailed for its equitable and quality educational system, the amount of expected years in schooling is 14. These all for 2017.
One wonders why the minister of basic education has decided to pursue this policy even though her spokespeople suggested that the idea was proposed as far back as 1995 already. The minister though will formalise the system by July 2020. The ANC 54th National Conference resolutions speak nowhere of this policy instead they insist that “TVET colleges needs to progressively offer qualifications for Grade 12 entrants on Levels 5 and 6.”
We assume the Conference was referring to NQF levels, 5 and 6, which is the Higher Certificates and Advanced National (Vocational) certificates, and National Diploma and Advanced Certificates respectively. Matric or Grade 12 is NQF level 4. The ANC Conference was therefore emphatic that vocational training, especially in the view of attending TVET colleges and developing skills, should happen after Grade 12, NQF level 4, and not before it. GEC is currently NQF level 1.
There should be little doubt that the minister is trying to address a pear problem with an apple solution. Encouraging learners to get out of the basic education system earlier rather than later will not address the quality of our basic education system nor the high drop out rate. Imagine a learner leaving for a college now with a weak Grade 9 instead of a weak Grade 12. It sounds very similar to the policy that allows a learner to be progressed to the next grade if the learner has been in the grade for two years.
This policy compounds our skills shortage and in no way possible alleviates it. Our children and country will suffer dearly because we have inculcated a short-cut culture within our education system.
Jacob Tau is Provincial Secretary of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) in Mpumalanga and Lulama Mabude is the Provincial Chairperson of SASCO in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Buyile Matiwane is the Provincial Chairperson of SASCO in the Western Cape.