In coming months, Grade 9 learners will choose which subjects to pursue for the latter part of their high school careers; subjects in which they will be tested when they sit for their final matric exams.
Although the department of basic education recently announced the withdrawal of the "designated subject" list — that is, the list from which students who want to pursue a degree after school have had to select their subjects — there are still some serious considerations not to be ignored, an expert has said.
"Some may argue that the withdrawal of the designated-subject list gives young people more choices, but we urge schools and learners not to make risky and uninformed changes," said Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of The Independent Institute of Education.
Given the risk of learners opting for perceived easier subjects or subjects that are too similar in nature, we urge learners to investigate their options carefully, and schools to support them in making informed decisions.
Coughlan argued that the original list contained many of the traditional subjects used to gain access to university, and that many of these subjects required learners to master skills that will be important when seeking entry into a public university or private higher education institution.
"These skills include argumentation and reasoning, found in subjects such as history, logic and mathematics – as found in accountancy and maths or maths literacy – and evidence and scientific reasoning skills – as found in physical and life science."
"The reasoning behind the original inclusion of these subjects should be remembered, and students are encouraged not to put together a collection of subjects that are all of one type, which will result in them developing less holistic academic skills. The impact on their studies later in life will be real," added Coughlan.
In addition, learners considering their subject choices should remember that despite the change of requirements at school, universities were not at the same time required to change their admission requirements.
"Higher education institutions need not change entry requirements if they don't want to, and one can be sure that many, if not most, won't. Definitely not in the short term, and particularly not for those qualifications that currently require mathematics or life sciences. We, therefore, encourage learners to do their homework before opting out of these traditionally required subjects."
Our advice remains the same as it has always been: to select subjects that keep your study options open.
"In light of these changes in subject-choice requirements, and given the risk of learners opting for perceived easier subjects or subjects that are too similar in nature, we urge learners to investigate their options carefully, and schools to support them in making informed decisions," said Coughlan.
And not only schools, but parents, siblings and cousins of Grade 9 learners must also be of help in this crucial decision.
The public higher education sector is not likely to change quickly to accept subjects they currently do not accept.
Some tips for learners:
1. Which subjects do you feel most comfortable in, or do you excel in — and how relevant are they to what you think you want to do when you're older?
2. If you have a good idea of what to study after matric, ask yourself if your subject choice will allow for career path option B, just in case option A does not work out?
3. If you're not sure what you'll be doing after matric, choose subjects that will keep your study options open.
4. Be careful to not let a bad teacher or a bad experience with a teacher be the reason you do not choose a particular subject.
5. Don't be scared to see a professional, such a career guidance counsellor, if you're not sure.
"Our advice remains the same as it has always been: to select subjects that keep your study options open. This means learners should include at least one subject in which they know they can excel, and then others that will teach you a range of different skills.
"In today's volatile and uncertain world, it is more important than ever to cultivate an extended base of skills from which you can draw, to improve your chances of succeeding."