The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has proposed making Grade 9 an official exit point for school learners.

This was announced by Minister Angie Motshekga on Thursday during an address at the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union congress held at Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

This is not to say that the DBE will implement it but rather that the department is investigating aspects of the education system. These investigations will look at assessment and examination modalities.

“We plan to launch a systemic evaluation that will be conducted in strategic grades by finalising preparations and technical standards for the administration of systemic evaluation to enable high level national and provincial monitoring,” said the minister.

“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,” she added.

While this news may come as a shock, learners already have the power to leave school at Grade 9 thanks to a provision in the South African Schools Act of 1996.

In Section 3 (1) the act reads, “Subject to this act and any applicable provincial law, every parent must cause every learner for whom he or she is responsible to attend a school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen year or the ninth grade, which ever occurs first.”

This means that school learners in Grade 9 are already able to leave school without a formal qualification right now and neither their parents nor schools can stop them.

Introducing a general education certificate at Grade 9 may help to give those learners that leave school early a way to pursue education through other avenues. While it might not be a Matric certificate or a degree, a way to let other institutions or employers know what level of education a person has by way of a certificate is a good thing.

In addition to these certificates, Motshekga has also proposed that African languages, African history and South African history are more widely taught at South African schools.

The minister also proposed lessening the digital divide by ensuring that all schools and education offices have internet access and free data within the next six years.

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