Durban - The withdrawal of the “designated subjects” list, which makes university entry easier for prospective students, has been met with both criticism and hope.
The designated subjects were those done by pupils which were deemed to be of special value in a university education, such as maths, physics, English and accounting.
Some education experts say this move demonstrates the “responsive attitude” of the government in removing requirements which dictated to pupils which subject to pupils had to choose to qualify for university entry.
In March, the Higher Education Department gazetted revocation of the designated subjects list.
And a month earlier Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had gazetted for comment on seeking to lower the minimum mark required to progress in Grades 7, 8 and 9. The department proposes that pupils should pass if they get 40% in their mother tongue and three other subjects.
Grade 9 pupils in KwaZulu-Natal are at present choosing which subjects they will take for matric and will be the first to be affected by the withdrawal of the designated subjects.
Without the designated subjects, the responsibility will be shifted to pupils to ensure that their subjects and achievement levels are aligned with the institution at which they wish to study, putting more emphasis on the importance of career guidance.
Matakanye Matakanya, the chairperson of the National School Governing Bodies’ Association, said without encouraging a culture of achieving minimum results, the idea of more people having access to university education was a good idea as a qualification placed them in a better position for employment.
Anne Oberholzer, CEO of the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), said the change did not mean that any three electives would be acceptable for entrance into any course of university study, as each university and each faculty could set its own entrance criteria. These criteria often specify a set level of achievement in specified subjects.
Oberholzer said the change followed long-standing criticism of the “designated subject list”, that it excluded subjects that should probably have been included in the list and skewed subject selection by pupils.
She said it was likely there would be a greater number of pupils qualifying for university study, but cautioned that it was crucial that all pupils realised that meeting the statutory minimum did not mean they would be automatically admitted into an institution or into their chosen course of study.
“The pressure would be on institutions as it would be expected that admission would still be reserved for the higher achievers.
“The more testing courses, such as medicine, engineering and actuarial sciences, have very stringent entrance requirements and achievement of the minimum requirements will never open the doors to these programmes of study,” she said.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, an education expert from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), said while students needed foundational knowledge for their higher education studies, on the other hand, the idea that one could not adapt to a certain field of study without a certain subject was unreasonable.
“We have seen students opting for other courses after being turned down from their first and second choices, and doing very well. I think by getting rid of the designated subjects on top of the implementation of the fee-free education, the government wants to make education more accessible. Obviously, this does not mean that everyone is guaranteed a place,” he said.
Lucky Ditaunyane, the spokesperson of exam regulatory body Umalusi, said the withdrawal of the designated subjects list would not affect the standard of education at school level as pupils would still be advised to take subjects according to their chosen career paths.
Teachers expressed concern that this would allow pupils to shy away from scarce skill “difficult” subjects that were considered difficult.