“Using Grade 9 as a formal exit is nothing controversial or even novel,” says Dr Lize Barclay, senior lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
She points out that most countries in Europe and some in Asia mainstreamed this options decades ago.
“Generally schooling in those countries take place in three different levels – primary (or elementary), lower secondary (middle school) and upper secondary (high school). Lower secondary is often exited at Grade 9 with the options to go to a gymnasium or lycaeum from grades 10 to 12 to prepare for university entrance; or to enter a vocational training college; or exiting the formal education system completely.”
Dr Barclay says that South African education system from grades 10 to 12 is still very focused on preparing students for university and then getting a job.
“The subject-based content is of little use in the very rapidly changing world of work where automation of routine jobs and the introduction of artificial intelligence require a fundamental shift in education. The skills required for the entrepreneurs, innovators, and workforce of tomorrow are complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others. These skills are not provided in schools, especially not from grades 10 to 12.”
“It should further be noted that many of the world’s largest companies, such as Google and Apple, do not require a degree qualification anymore, but a portfolio of skills. South African companies are lagging behind as they are still very qualification focused and are thus losing out on the creative and disruptive skills required for thriving in and surviving the ever-changing world of business.”
In South Africa, the dropout rate is extremely high, with almost 60% of first graders that will drop out before completing Grade 12.
“Many students have no choice but to drop out to support their families, enter informal entrepreneurship and the job market. An exit in Grade 9 will enable them to do so, not only with dignity but in line with global practices.”
She says that for the Grade 9 exit to be truly successful, some systemic changes are necessary to enable a flourishing climate for those electing this option.
“First, the FET college system should be strengthened as a formal and valued vocational alternative. Secondly, artisanal and vocational jobs should be seen as valued and align with the fact that it is globally sought-after. Thirdly, youth entrepreneurship programmes should receive more formalization and funding as jobs will rapidly decline in favour of gigs and self-employment going forward.”