ESG & Sustainability News South Africa

Crunch time for senior learners: Keep calm and inform yourself

Huge decisions are looming for SA's senior learners - be they in Grade 9 or matric - and the best way to deal with decisions that will have long-term consequences is not to panic, but to arm oneself with as much information as possible to inform one's course of action, an education expert says.

"This is a time of the year for big decisions to be made by young people who are generally not necessarily ready to make decisions that have such long-term consequences," says Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of the Independent Institute of Education (IIE) which provides higher education on more than 20 registered campuses in South Africa.

Matric pupils have only a few days left to apply for access to most public universities, while Grade 9 learners need to make their selection of subjects for the National Senior Certificate examinations they will write in three years time.

For both these groups, deciding on what they want to do after school can seem a mountain too high to climb, but it is necessary for them to take a step back, calm down, and get as much information as possible to make the best decision possible.

"This is a time for measured action," advises Coughlan.

"These choices are daunting because they have long-term consequences, particularly in a country such as ours where space within the higher education sector is limited. However, these consequences are not necessarily as dire as the hype often suggests. As long as the decisions that need to be made now are made based on as much information as you can possibly access, you can mitigate the limiting effect of wrong decisions down the line."

Do some research

For both Grade 9 and 12 learners, the IIE suggests that they spend time investigating the websites of public and private post-school institutions to get a quick understanding of what courses are on offer and what their entry requirements are.

"It is important that you look beyond what you already know, as even if you are sure about what you want, looking at other options will do no harm and will, at the very least, confirm your choice.

"However look at programmes and institutions you have not considered before - look at fields that you have heard very little or perhaps even nothing about. We suggest you use institutional websites for this, as they are the best place to find lots of information about a variety of fields - all in one place," says Coughlan.

Once a learner has concluded their research, it is time to look at what results are required for entry to courses, to determine whether their goal is realistic.
"There is a difference between a goal and a dream. We could all dream of being vets or rocket scientists, but this is only a realistic goal for any of us if we know what we need to achieve to access this line of study and if we can detail what we are going to do to achieve what we need.
"If your answers - even to yourself - are vague about what you will need to do, then you are definitely chasing a dream and not a goal," Coughlan says.

She suggests that learners choose subjects that open doors:

  • Hold on to Mathematics as long as you possibly can, but don't place yourself at risk of not achieving an NSC at all if all the indicators are that you will in fact be better served with Maths Literacy.
  • Base this choice on facts: Your performance and the need for Maths to achieve your goal (as opposed to a dream).
  • Choose subjects that stretch you and choose at least one you love or are very good at.
  • Ask more than one person for advice but make a goal-based decision.
    The same structured decision-making should inform learners' choice of where to study:
  • Your dream may be to study engineering at one of the "big five" institutions and there is no reason not to aspire to this if you are doing really well in Maths and Science and all your other subjects.
  • If your performance isn't stellar, then begin to chase a goal that is more within your grasp - either by way of a different course or a different institution or both.
  • Remember that there is both a public and a private sector - keep your options open by considering both in relation to your goals.

    "Big decisions loom, but the anxiety of making them can be mitigated by chasing goals and not dreams," says Coughlan.

    "Doing so means you will make solid decisions that will have more managed and manageable consequences, because the match to the things that you will do to achieve your goals will already be in place."

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