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."
In coming weeks, public universities and private institutions across South Africa will host a series of Open Days – events meant to showcase their offering to prospective students from the Matric Class of 2019. An education expert says it is essential that learners intending to study next year attend as many Open Days as possible to ensure they make an informed study choice, but more than that, they need to go with a strategy in hand to ensure they look beneath the surface to understand what their likely experience may be at a particular institution or campus.
"This is a very exciting time for Matrics, who for the first time will be able to get some real-life insights about life on campus and what their future might be like in coming years after school," says Wonga Ntshinga, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest and most accredited private higher education institution.
"So we advise Grade 12s to determine without delay when various institutions will be hosting Open Days – an online search will suffice - and then make the effort to attend as many as possible."
Ntshinga says there are many benefits to attending an open day, including 1) to get greater clarity on an institution's offering 2) to visit different faculties at an institution 3) to speak to representatives of the institution who will be able to help you determine which qualification is a good fit if you are still uncertain 4) to get a feeling of life on a specific campus and 5) to weigh up the offering – academic and otherwise – of different institutions.
But he says there is one thing that prospective students must remember when attending Open Days, and that is to keep a level head and not get too starry-eyed by the fanfare of the day.
"Open Days are the perfect opportunity to get first-hand experience of a campus and its students, staff and academics. But the first rule of Open Day is to remember that Open Day might not be representative of every other day. Universities put their best foot forward to impress and attract future students, but you have to be savvy and ask the right questions, as well as make the observations that will help you with this major decision."
Ntshinga says prospective students should spend enough time on a campus to get a good look around, and listen to their gut feel while doing so.
"Look at the campus grounds, visit the library and the IT lab, note the condition of sports facilities, lecture rooms and even the toilets. If, for instance, an institution's restrooms are questionable on an Open Day, chances are that they will be the same or worse during the rest of the year.
"If lecture rooms and the general environment look tired, dilapidated and unkept on this day, it is unlikely they will look better any other day of the year."
If you get a good feeling about what you observe on campus, the Open Day then presents an opportunity to ask the important questions of university representatives, to gauge whether your degree will help you make a smooth transition to the workplace post-graduation, Ntshinga says.
To make that determination, learners should ask the following:
"Doing your groundwork in the coming month, by identifying and attending Open Days at institutions you've been considering, as well as others you may not yet have considered but which may well turn out to be the right fit, will make a huge contribution to your ability to evaluate your options properly," Ntshinga says.
"Additionally, you may be exposed to opportunities and qualifications you have not considered before, and which may resonate with you. Open Days are essential to making the best choice for your aspirations and provide insights that desktop research rarely does, so make the best of this limited window of opportunity."
Social media is awash with pictures of proud graduates, degree in hand and ready to embark on the next stage in their lives: searching for their first job and building the career of their dreams. Unfortunately, too many of them will soon be confronted with the realities of the job market. With the economy remaining sluggish, the political environment volatile, and the risk inherent in making a new appointment high, many employers elect to play it safe rather than recruit at this stage.
But there is a way for businesses – from consultancies, small enterprises and startups to big companies and even multi-nationals – to take the gamble out of appointing new graduates, an expert says.
"It is understandable that employers are hesitant to appoint graduates fresh out of university with little or no work experience, given the current constraints we face," says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.
"But the benefit to a business of appointing someone fresh out of higher education, who has a solid understanding of a specific industry and the most recent trends and developments in this industry, who also has the ability to implement what they have learned in the real world of work, should not be under-estimated," she says.
"Growth does not happen without appointing the best people to make it happen, and young recruits are uniquely positioned to bring fresh insights and opportunities to a business," she says.
However Payne says this would require many employers to review their approach to recruitment, to ensure they are not stuck in past ways of doing things, which may be the reason for their inability to land the candidates their business really need.
"Just as we advise prospective students to thoroughly investigate their options before settling on a qualification and an institution, so we also advise companies to thoroughly do their homework to determine which institutions are likely to produce graduates who are work-ready, who bring more than theoretical knowledge to the table, and who are ready to make a contribution from the very first day on the job."
She says the best way to do this, is for employers to first determine to what degree an institution, whether it be a public university or a private one, invests in the work-readiness of graduates beyond mere academics. Additionally, a good sign would be if an institution and a qualification is closely linked to its related industry.
To determine this, there are a number of questions employers can ask, for instance:
"The higher education sector has changed dramatically over the past decade, and as recently confirmed by the High Court, a registered and accredited qualification from a registered and accredited private institution is at the very least on par with one attained at a public university.
"So one has to go beyond what the papers say, and determine from where the most capable and empowered graduates are emanating in 2019. This takes time, but the initial investment of speaking to and even partnering with quality institutions of higher learning, beyond the traditional focus on a handful of public universities, has the potential to pay off well into the future for companies seeking to grow well into the future.
"The most important thing is to find those candidates who have demonstrated that they will and want to continue growing. Employers must not simply appoint graduates to complete tasks – they must look for those people who they can see sticking around for five years or more, who can help them grow their business beyond what is currently envisioned."
Grade 11s who are serious about bringing their best game to their Matric finals next year should, like performance athletes, start their preparation now so that they enter the home straight in pole position when 2020 arrives, an education expert says.
"The temptation will be there to put off thinking about Grade 12 until next year, but Grade 11s have the most powerful weapon in their arsenal right now – that of time," says Natasha Madhav, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa's largest and most accredited private higher education provider.
"As a Grade 11 learner, you need to understand how competitive the landscape will be after school, and that it is not in your best interest to wait until exam prep starts next year to start exercising your academic muscles. You have to train, prepare and lay the groundwork now, so that you can build on your performance next year, rather than try and get the basics in place while the clock is ticking," she says.
Madhav says learners must also approach each assessment this year as if it is going to be the deciding one, and learn from and correct their approach when problems are identified.
"Doing well now could also pay off pre-emptively, as many higher education institutions will allow provisional placement based on your Grade 11 marks, which will dramatically lift the pressure next year," she says.
DRAFT A 2-YEAR PLANNING OVERVIEW
Senior learners should look at their last two years of school holistically, rather than as two distinct years, Madhav says.
"Take some time to draft a two-year global overview of key dates that will arise this year and next," she advises, adding that this calendar will include actual or estimated dates for all assignments, tests and exams.
"You may think you have a lot of time ahead of you, but when drafting this calendar, you'll quickly see the reality of how demanding and time-intensive these next two years will be. The good news accompanying the realisation of the challenge ahead, is that you can now accurately determine how much time you'll have to prepare for each assessment, and not be tempted to procrastinate."
USE ANY "DOWNTIME" WISELY TO MAKE LIFE EASIER DOWN THE LINE
While there won't be much free time going around in the run-up to Matric, Grade 11s should use any time they do have on their hands wisely.
"So we are not saying you should be sitting in front of your books 24/7," says Madhav. "But when you do have time to spare, say during the holidays or weekends, do a little bit every day to strengthen your actual ability to handle the workload which will progressively increase not only this year and next, but also when you enter higher education."
Madhav says learners can use the time they have to watch YouTube videos of cool study hacks, different ways of learning and revising, learning to touch type or even doing some volunteer or internship work.
"These are all fun activities which, when compounded, can make a notable difference to your academic performance as well as the strength of your study or work applications in relation to those of your peers.
"Now is a great time to make a commitment to lifelong learning, and vowing to yourself to do something every day that makes you stronger, wiser and more resilient. These are skills that you need to craft and hone on an ongoing basis, as you can't summon them out of the blue when needed."
UNDERSTAND YOUR SUBJECT CHOICES & THEIR IMPACT ON POST-SCHOOL OPTIONS
Madhav advises Grade 11s to take some time to look closely at what they intend to do after school, and particularly to investigate their options broadly and thoroughly, and then ensure that the subjects will allow them to pursue their chosen path.
"There are a number of reasons why you should consider where you are now compared to where you were when you first decided on your current subjects, as well as where you are going to go in future," says Madhav.
"Maybe when you made your choice you did so based on the idea that you might go into communication or design. Perhaps now you are more inclined to pursue a career in accounting or law. Whatever it is, ensure that your subject choices are still aligned to your current vision for your future, and the entry requirements at your higher education institution of choice."
She says where students see they are going to fall short of entry requirements based on their subject selection, they could consider taking an additional subject, or should circumstances allow, change subjects – although this should not be done without serious consideration of consequences and discussion with the school.
But apart from ensuring you are on the right path, the exercise of considering how your subjects support further study has the added benefit of reminding you of how your subjects will enable you to realise your dreams after school.
"This is likely to provide you with fresh motivation to tackle even those ones you've been finding dreary or challenging," says Madhav, "and help you not only understand your work, but also get to grips with it in such a way that you can apply what you've learned."
Madhav says that next year, when learners enter their final year of school, it will no longer only be about the amount of time they spend in front of their books, but also about the quality of that time.
"You are in a position right now to influence the quality of that time, and effectively the trajectory of your post-school education and career. So use this time wisely to get in the right frame of mind so that you will be able to perform to the very best of your ability next year and beyond."
Durban - LAW students at private universities have expressed relief after the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruling declaring the Independent Institution of Education’s (IIE) LLB programme equivalent to that offered at any public university in South Africa.
Sinothi Mtshali, 20, a second-year LLB student at the IIE’s Varsity College in Durban North, was a first-year social sciences student at UKZN in 2017 and said there were differences between the two institutions.
“There were too many of us in class at UKZN. I would be scared to raise my hand and ask a question, but here at VC there is a small class and you get a direct communication line with your lecturer,” he said.
Mtshali said the court case over the LLB programme had weighed heavily on his mind.
“The university was very upfront with us, but I was still worried that I might go through four years of studying law and not become a lawyer,” he said.
Louise Wiseman, managing director at Varsity College, said the IIE’s goal was to offer accredited, quality, private education.
In 2020, the IIE will launch a postgraduate diploma programme to supplement its Bachelor of Commerce course. This will create a clear pathway for their accounting students to become chartered accountants.
The Bachelor of Accounting degree at Varsity College was accredited by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2017.
Tristan Nobre, 21, a third-year accounting student at Varsity College in Durban North, said the constant strikes at public universities led him to private tertiary education. “There are no disruptions, and the courses are very strong and highly rated,” he said.
University choices may feel like a distant priority for this year's Matrics who are currently settling into the rhythm of their final year at school. But now is in fact the optimal time to be investigating what they want to study and where, because making the right choice takes time, and will ultimately impact on study success and employability 4 years from now, an expert says.
"Prospective students will start applying from around the April holidays onwards, whereafter the applications will start coming in thick and fast, and the rush to secure a place will intensify. Once your fellow learners start applying, you will really start to feel the pressure to do so as well, which could lead to you settling for a generic qualification or taking the traditional route that others in the same boat as you are following just to make sure you don't miss your chance," says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.
"The gravity of the choice you need to make about your future in coming weeks can't be overstated. The right study choice at the right institution is a solid foundation for future success, but the wrong choice can exact a costly financial and emotional toll for a long time. It therefore makes sense to use the relative calm of the coming weeks – a calm that will not again be repeated in your Matric year – to make absolutely sure about what you want to do next year," says Payne.
She says there are two main questions around which Matrics should focus their investigations: 1) What should I study and 2) Where should I study.
Across the country hundreds of thousands of young people recently entered Higher Education hoping to graduate in a few years so that they are qualified to enter the workplace. The reality however is that first-year dropout rates are extremely high in South Africa, which means many first years won't complete their studies.
But the good news is that there are a number of early alarm bells which, if heeded, can help students manage their risk and prevent them from abandoning their studies, an education expert says.
"While statistics vary, it is estimated that more than 40% of students quit their studies after their first year. Some would argue that this figure is as high as 60%," says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private Higher Education provider.
"Not being successful as a first year student in Higher Education, is a process that begins well before a student actually drops out of Higher Education, as there are various early signs of potential failure that can predict if a student may run into trouble later," he says.
Kriel says parents and students should note that factors influencing study success can be broadly divided into three categories: Broader socio-economic or personal factors, not properly doing one's homework before deciding what to study and where, and most importantly, one's approach and actions as a first year student.
For students who are already in Higher Education, the third category is the one they need to address now, says Kriel.
He says that students should carefully consider the questions below. If the answer to any of these questions is "NO", they need to take action as recommended in the solution to each problem, as they might be at risk.
Q1: Did I meaningfully participate in my institution's orientation programme?
Any good institution of Higher Education should have a first year orientation programme, says Kriel.
He says the information provided during orientation is intended to guide students logistically, so they can focus on academic work without being overwhelmed by admin.
"If you missed out on orientation, particularly academic onboarding programmes, you will now have to acquire these skills on your own on top of the day-to-day academic demands."
Solution: Speak to someone to find out what the orientation programme included. If your institution of choice is offering an extended first year on-boarding programme, make sure you get involved immediately. Make time to specifically focus on trying to gather the information you missed out on – logistical information is especially easy to gather. Academic preparedness will be a little more challenging, but it is worth catching up on what you missed early on.
Q2: Am I attending most of my classes?
Class attendance is probably the single most important contributing factor to success, says Kriel.
"Of course, reasons beyond your control may cause you to occasionally miss a lecture or tutorial, but if you miss class simply because you don't feel like it or you had a late night and feel like sleeping in, you are at risk," he says.
"If you miss class because you are working on an assignment or task in another module – you may need to plan better. Missing class to do assignments becomes a vicious circle as you miss more classes to do other assignments. This is a recipe for failure."
Solution: Undertake to miss no more classes going forward, and draw up a roster for future assignments so you can complete these without needing to skip class. Prioritise your classes and schedule all other activities so there is no conflict. If something comes up which prevents you from attending a specific lecture, catch up as soon as you can.
Q3: Did I pass all my assessments to date?
It is still early in the academic year, but your performance in any assessment you may have had, be it a formal test or assignment or a task completed in class, is already a clear indicator of your outcomes profile, says Kriel.
Solution: Determine why you failed an assessment. Did you work hard enough? If not, you know you need to work harder. Are there parts of the work you don't understand because you missed class? If so, follow the advice in point 2 above. Did you do everything possible and simply do not understand certain concepts? If this is the case, speak to your lecturer sooner rather than later about how to approach the issue.
Q4: Did I acquire all the prescribed text for my modules?
For many reasons, not least financial pressures, many students don't buy prescribed textbooks.
"Unfortunately, your chances of success are diminished if you don't have textbooks. Textbooks guide students through the syllabus of a specific module like a roadmap and are often accompanied by additional resources, questions and activities that will enhance the mastering of the required material," says Kriel.
Solution: If you can afford to buy the prescribed text, get it as soon as possible. If not, know that student-centred Higher Education institutions will be acutely aware of the challenges some students face and may have e-book alternatives. Often these are available for free to registered students. Speak to the librarian on your campus to find out if there is an e-book alternative for the textbooks you don't have. There may also be copies of the textbooks in the campus library, and while these are often on the reserve shelf, spending time in the library will definitely be advantageous.
Q5: Do I feel part of a Community of Practice?
Moving from a comparatively protective school environment to Higher Education may mean that you find it hard to adapt from the start. This may unsettle you if you subconsciously feel that you are not at the same level of performance as your fellow students. The reality is that these feelings are quite normal, and that many of your classmates probably feel the same.
Solution: Talk to someone you trust about your experience and feelings. Good institutions will have academic support and counselling facilities. Having said that, some people simply just find fitting into the traditional university environment a challenge – larger classes, less rigid structure and monitoring and so forth. If you are 100% sure that you fall into this category, and can't see yourself continuing on your current path, don't despair because there are alternatives. Especially in the private Higher Education environment there are often colleges (note that private institutions are not allowed to call themselves universities, even if they are offering the same qualifications) that offer smaller classes or campuses that may be more suitable to you. Distance learning may also be an alternative for some.
The first few weeks of a learner’s final school year is like a rollercoaster ride – lots of excitement, a little bit of fear and a good dose of disorientation. The start of Matric can be overwhelming, but learners would do well to get things under control as soon as possible by devising a roadmap for the months ahead, an expert says.
“Matric is a short year compared to previous school years, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting down for your final exams. The good news is that in January you still have time on your side to put in place a strategy for not only working harder than before – which you definitely should be doing – but also working smarter,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.
Mooney says that in addition to the demands of preparing for the most important exam in their school careers, Grade 12s also have a plethora of once-in-a-lifetime events coming up.
“So right now you need to consider everything that will require your time and attention this year, and figure out exactly how you will make provision for all these demands.”
Mooney says taking care of the life and academic admin now, will free up precious energy allowing learners to focus on the task at hand when the time comes.
“Remember that the better you perform, the higher your chances of landing a spot in the higher education institution and programme of your choice. This will in turn have a knock-on effect on your career prospects. Competition is tough, and every mark that you can earn this year could be the difference between going the route you want right away, or having to spend more getting where you want to be,” says Mooney.
She says in the next few weeks, learners should create a single calendar incorporating all the important matters they need to attend to in the coming year, which includes the following:
Note down the dates of all the important tests and exams, and draft your study and revision timetable.
“A year sounds pretty long, but in Matric, the year is shorter and the final exams sooner than you are used to, so the best time to start revising is right away. Consistency is key, and by doing your bit every day, you won’t need to deal with a seemingly insurmountable volume of work ahead of your exams. Instead, you’ll be able to use revision time to solidify concepts and complete old papers,” says Mooney.
“While it is obviously exciting to look forward to and plan your Matric dance, 40 days-celebration and so forth, you can’t afford to spend too much time and energy on this during the year,” says Mooney.
“So note down the important dates, note down when you will take some time out to plan for them, and then let it go until the time arrives.”
On top of all the academic, social and life demands Matrics will face this year, they also need to decide what they are going to do after school.
“The world of work today looks completely different to the way it looked when your parents, guardians and teachers left school, so you have to do your own research. New jobs are being created all the time, and by the time you finish your studies, there will be careers that we can’t even predict right now,” says Mooney.
“Leaving the decision about higher education until later, means you won’t have time to properly research your options. This is why we suggest learners do a bit of work on their future plans every week, so that they can thoroughly investigate what is on offer at both public universities and private, by doing online research, visiting campuses, and speaking to people who work in their prospective fields or who have studied at one of the institutions on their shortlist.”
If learners timeously narrow down their options, they can avoid the rush when everyone else wakes up.
Sport and cultural activities, volunteering and part-time work are important for maintaining balance in your Matric year, but can take up a lot of time. Try not to add more to your plate this year. Take these activities into account in your start-of-year planning, and if you find yourself too squeezed for time later, consider lightening the load on your schedule.
Many learners will turn 18 during their Matric year, which means there is some additional life admin to be done. For instance, those who turn 18 before the country’s general elections in May, need to ensure that their ID is in order and that they are registered to vote if they intend to do so. Some may also wish to obtain their Driver’s Licence, which means some time needs to be factored in for lessons and the actual test.
“Think about which other issues you want or need to sort out this year, and note that down in your year-at-a-glance calendar as well,” says Mooney.
“When you look back at your school career, make the memory one of having taken charge of your future on the cusp of adulthood. Too many learners arrive in Matric and think they’ve reached the finishing line. What will set you apart from your peers – when applying for further study and applying for your first position, when Matric marks are still very important – is if you resolve to keep your head in the game now,” says Mooney.
“There is a lot to be said for choosing an approach of delayed gratification during this year. If you use your time wisely and maturely, you will be able to both enjoy this significant period in your life, as well as optimally position yourself for future success.”