OPINION: Why expanding second chance pathways to matriculation shouldn’t require second thought

Kristal Duncan-Williams is the Project Lead at Youth Capital. Incubated by the DG Murray Trust, Youth Capital is a youth-led campaign with an Action Plan to shift gears on youth unemployment.

By Kristal Duncan-Williams, Project Lead at Youth Capital

After the yearly celebrations at the release of matric results, it’s crucial that we focus on the young people who didn’t reach matric, failed their examinations, or need to improve their marks. A matric certificate has a lot of value in enabling young people to unlock work opportunities and to access further education and training. In the absence of any other school-leaving certificate, a matric is currently the only signalling tool for employers to assess competencies and skills for those who do not complete any post-school studies.

The latest NIDS CRAM Wave 3 findings confirmed[1]Spaull, N., Daniels, R. C et al. (2021) NIDS-CRAM Wave 3 Synthesis Report. that among young people (18-24 years old) those with a matric were more likely to be employed post-lockdown level 5, while over the same time period, those without a matric were worse off.

Before the pandemic it was estimated that 300 000 young people leave the schooling system each year, mostly between Grade 10 and 12, without any formal qualification to show for their efforts[2]The Cost of Repetition in South Africa. Report for the DG Murray Trust.  Authors:  Servaas van der Berg, Gabrielle Wills, Rebecca Selkirk, Charles Adams, and Chris van Wyk, Research on … Continue reading. The lockdown has further impacted this situation and led to increased rates of disengagement and absenteeism, with 15% of pupils reportedly not going back to government schools in 2020[3]Govender, P. 2021. COVID-19 likely to send school dropout rates soaring. Times Live. 17 Jan. Available … Continue reading.

The Second Chance Matric Programme by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is the only existing pathway to certification for those young people who need to complete their matric qualification outside of the full-time schooling system, and for those who want to improve their Grade 12 results. If properly managed, the programme could unlock life-changing opportunities for young people.

As Youth Capital, a youth-led campaign with an Action Plan to reduce youth unemployment, this week we have released our findings drawn from a technical report, produced by Stellenbosch University’s Research on Social and Economic Policy (ReSEP). The research critically reviews the Second Chance Matric Programme by the DBE and offers an evidence-based estimate of young people’s pathways to second chance matriculation.

The research didn’t follow a single learner cohort over time, but rather analysed government administrative data and reports, surveyed online second chance material, and conducted a small qualitative study with second chance learning centres and candidates in the Western Cape.

Second-chancers are on the fringe of the system. Our research shows that in any given year, about a quarter of a million young people are working towards a matric, through the Second Chance Matric Programme. Numerically, in a year they equal about a third of the total matric cohort! But because their journey is unreported and not tracked, their challenges go unseen, and their results are not reported on. While we know that around 40 000 young people complete their matric yearly through the programme, the lack of individual tracking data means that we can’t establish their success rate over time.

To qualify for a National Senior Certificate (NSC) re-write, second-chancers must have reached Grade 12 within the schooling system and have left school less than three years ago. These candidates are largely young people who recently failed their Matric exams and are looking to re-write. Senior Certificates (SC) are for candidates who are 21 years old and older, who have been out of the formal school system for more than three years.

The findings from the research indicate that 170 000 young people registered for the NSC re-write examinations, every year, and about 11 000 achieve their NSC. Each year, about 100 000 candidates sit for the SC examination and about 6 000 candidates complete their SC qualifications. While the completion rate may seem low, the current available data makes it difficult to understand how many part-time candidates complete their matric over time, as they may take a number of years to do the qualification.

Considering that second-chancers navigate this pathway on their own, these rates don’t come as a surprise. Because they are outside of the full-time schooling system, these young people don’t have access to textbooks; after registering, they have to find the correct learning resources, and develop a study plan to follow, alongside juggling a full-time job and/or family responsibilities. Motivated and resilient, often second-chancers have to navigate this path completely on their own. While institutional support is available from some private colleges, the 3 300 Community Learning Centres across the country and some high schools, costs and geographic location determine who can access these institutions. Notwithstanding these challenges, hundreds of thousands of young people are making use of these pathways, picking up where they left off in school by registering for an NSC or a SC. It is clear that the bridge to success is expanding support.

Supporting second-chancers

With concerns over the long-term impact of the pandemic on learners and the urgency for a youth-centred economic recovery plan, supporting and expanding these alternative paths to certification must be a priority. The report highlights three urgent solutions that can amplify these pathways for young people:

Track, measure and manage second-chancers

The saying “what gets measured gets managed” applies here. Reporting on second-chancers would help us set out benchmarks and improve on them year on year, as well as provide the support young people need. Tracking second-chancers is necessary to evaluate how effective and user-friendly matric e-services are, to follow the journey of part time candidates, to understand pass rates for individual subjects and the reasons for exam absenteeism.

Create a centralised information platform

Information is power, but currently, details on registrations and eligibility for second chance programmes are incomplete, confusing and often outdated. A ‘Do I now qualify for a Matric?’ calculator would assist young people in understanding whether they qualify for an NSC or SC. In addition, a strengthened e-service for second-chancers should leverage platforms like SAYOUTH.mobi, to make pathways to learning, earning and volunteering opportunities visible.

Provide a portal with study material and expand support

The current cost of data makes online research for study material unaffordable for most second-chancers. There is a clear opportunity for the DBE to centralise the preparation material that students can follow; the platform must be further zero-rated by all mobile network operators. Academic support is also critical, as currently access to institutions such as Community Learning Centres and high schools is extremely limited. Expanding support in the short-term will require the DBE, district offices and schools working together.

Young people are one of the groups most adversely hit by the pandemic and those pursuing second chance opportunities are a testament to the ambition and perseverance of South Africa’s youth. With COVID-19 part of the new normal, we need, now more than ever, to support all our young people in completing their matric certificate. Expanding alternative pathways to certification offers decision makers and civil society a critical opportunity to focus efforts and strengthen resources to help young people succeed.


1 Spaull, N., Daniels, R. C et al. (2021) NIDS-CRAM Wave 3 Synthesis Report.
2 The Cost of Repetition in South Africa. Report for the DG Murray Trust.  Authors:  Servaas van der Berg, Gabrielle Wills, Rebecca Selkirk, Charles Adams, and Chris van Wyk, Research on Socio-Economic Policy (Resep). Department of Economics Stellenbosch University. 31 May 2019.
3 Govender, P. 2021. COVID-19 likely to send school dropout rates soaring. Times Live. 17 Jan. Available https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2021-01-17-covid-19-likely-to-send-school-dropout-rate-soaring/.

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