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Johannesburg - The National Professional Teachers' Association of SA (Naptosa) has "guardedly" welcomed the Department of Education's proposed introduction of the General Education Certificate (GEC) qualification. 

Last week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga caused a stir when she announced at a South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) conference at Nasrec that a framework was underway to introduce GEC, which would allow learners to exit schooling before Grade 12. 

While citizens and political parties slammed the proposal as a bad idea, as many believe it would encourage learners to drop out of school, the department hastened to explain that the certificate was not a school leaving certificate but rather formed part of its plans to ensure young people are equipped with skills and competencies for a changing world.

Naptosa in a statement on Wednesday cautiously threw its weight behind the proposal, with the union's executive director Basil Manuel saying: "The GEC is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since 1995 and was resuscitated in 2008 and has been registered with SAQA as a Level 1 qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

"The current educational system is academically focused and does not cater for the interests, aptitudes and abilities of ALL learners, prompting many frustrated learners that are not academically inclined to leave school. The highest school dropout rate is experienced in the senior phase (grades 7-9). 

"It is with this in mind that the intended introduction of the GEC is welcomed by Naptosa albeit guardedly."

Manuel went on to remind "society of the constitutional imperative that compulsory basic education is offered until age 15, or the completion of Grade 9, whichever comes first, currently allowing learners to leave school at this point. 

"However, it must be noted that the ideal is for every learner to complete schooling by acquiring the Grade 12 NSC [National Senior Certificate]," he said.

Manuel went on to warn that the GEC cannot be viewed in isolation of the Three Stream Model that offers academic, technical and vocational education.

Considering that resourcing should follow innovations, Manuel said it was "imperative that the department puts systems in place that will allow learners who elect to move into the technical and vocational streams to access such facilities in every area and location, once this model and the GEC are implemented".

"The GEC is not intended to be an exit certificate for learners but rather a mechanism to assist them to follow an educational stream that resonates with their interests and abilities. 

"More importantly the GEC will assist learners and parents in making informed career path choices based on the learners’ academic and cognitive abilities," said Manuel.

He further said that while Naptosa believed the introduction of GEC to be a step in the right direction for SA's children, the union’s support remains qualified, mainly because there still is a policy vacuum in that the Three Stream Model has not been promulgated. 

"Naptosa would like to see this model offered to every community to enable every leaner to become a functional citizen," he said.

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