OPINION: New education certificate could help limit school dropouts.

We know that most young people who exit the schooling system without completing matric will struggle to find decent jobs. And only 1% of those who leave school without a matric certificate hold a non-school certificate or diploma. With no credentials to unlock opportunities, they will join the ranks of unemployed young people and discouraged job seekers with few tools at their disposal to convince employers of their skills.

Grade 9 marks the end of compulsory schooling and a well-structured certificate formalising this point in a child’s learning journey could open different pathways, particularly for those who would otherwise drop out before completing matric. The new General Education Certificate (GEC) draft policy, published by the department of basic education (DBE), aims to unlock three pathways — academic, vocational and occupational. This means learners with a formal grade 9 certificate can choose to complete their matric through a traditional academic or technical school, or they can enroll in a TVET college to learn a technical skill, or get occupational workplace-based learning.

But, if poorly implemented, the GEC could have the adverse effect of legitimising the commonplace phenomena of leaving school without a matric certificate or equivalent skills level, failing to unlock work or study opportunities for out-of-school learners. We need to ensure that policies address the lived experiences of young people on their path to school completion. In practice, this means the GEC must be designed to specifically plug the gaps in our education system that lead to dropout and low levels of certification.

In this article we identify four key gaps and suggest solutions for how to plug those gaps.

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