Advice Column, Education, Mainstream Education, Parenting, Tween & Teen


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Grade Nine learners will soon have the exciting task of selecting the subjects they want to pursue for the next 3 years, on which they will be tested during the final exams. Because of the withdrawal of the designated subject list by the Department of Basic Education last year, they are truly spoilt for choice, but this also means they need to be more focused than ever, because their decision now can have far-reaching and even life-altering consequences, an education expert says.

“It’s a tough ask of teenagers to make a commitment now which will affect their ability to gain access to higher education and potentially their qualification of choice in four years’ time, when many are not even yet sure what they want to study after school,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

“It is therefore very important for them to firstly realise the gravity of the potential consequences of the choices they make now, and then, to really consider the strategy which will keep as many doors as possible open down the line,” she says.

Mooney explains that Grade Nines are required to select at least seven subjects on which they will be tested in Matric, four of which are compulsory: Home Language, Second Language, Maths or Maths Literacy, and Life Orientation. The balance then, are elective subjects, and should be chosen carefully.

“Because there are no longer so-called designated subjects, learners may be tempted to choose subjects they envision will be comparatively easier than others, in order to gain the best possible Matric marks,” she says.

“However they need to consider not only which subjects will ensure they get admission to higher education, but also which subjects will allow them admission into their chosen qualification. If they don’t yet know what they want to do, they need to make sure that their choice positions them well to access a wide range of qualifications. Their selection must also ensure they can claim a well-rounded education upon completion of their schooling.”

Mooney says Grade Nines – with the help of their parents or guardians, and ideally even with the help of career and student counsellors from a respected higher education institution – need to carefully weigh up their various options, and the various combinations of subjects that are suitable for them.

“The aim is to choose those subjects that will leave you with a wide range of options, while at the same time also positioning you optimally to perform well in your last three years of school,” she says.

“Your subject choice must enable you to demonstrate proficiency in critical thinking and numeracy, and particularly important is the choice between Maths and Maths Literacy, as many university courses still require core maths,” she says.

Choosing three relatively easy subjects as electives might help a learner achieve good aggregate marks, but their options will be limited if their education doesn’t incorporate those subjects that teach logic and argumentation, and scientific and reasoning skills as found in for instance History, Accountancy and Maths, and Physical and Life Sciences, says Mooney.

“So it would not be wise to go for the short-term gain of spectacular marks, instead of implementing a long-term vision which will support an holistic academic development, as the impact on the future student’s studies – which require higher reasoning than what is expected at school – will be significant, even if they do qualify for study,” she says.

“The best way to future-proof your study options and therefore career choices, as well as your ability to be resilient and adapt to currently unpredictable changes in the world of work –  is to get as solid a grounding during your last three years of school as possible, even if it is going to be more challenging.

“Before making your choice, make an effort to gain as much information about admission requirements for potential career paths from a wide range of higher education institutions, and then to work back to ensure that your subjects will enable you to enter those fields. Very importantly however, ensure that your choices reflect a wide enough range to develop an extended skills base which will serve you well into the future.”

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