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Post-school education pathways in the South African education system

Anthony Gewer
Bina Akoobhai

The drop-out rate of learners from Grade 10 to 12 in South Africa is 40% (Sheppard & Cloete, 2009) and of those who reach Grade 12 on average almost 40% either do not write the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination or else fail the examination Sheppard (2009).

The failure of the South African education system to direct learners towards courses of study which are likely to maximise their natural talents (Fleisch et al., 2010 and Strassburg et al., 2010) is one of the myriad complex systemic, social, economic, and personal reasons for the drop out. This contributes to the 3.7 million NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), 45% youth unemployment, and overall unemployment rate of 25.5 % (3rd Quarter 2012, Statistics SA).
In October 2012 the authors studied the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) provision in Germany, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, financed by JET Education Services, and compared it to the South African context.

An earlier study carried out by JET Education Services (2011) showed that pathways from secondary schooling into Vocational Education and Training (VET) in South Africa are not well defined, with learners from Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 entering the VET route at the same level. The VET pathway is not the first choice of school goers. Most prefer to stay in secondary school and try to get through their Grade 12. The same study revealed that many are failing in the VET route because they cannot cope with the demands of the curriculum and college lecturers are not equipped to support them. Furthermore, entry into college programmes does not necessarily result in favourable employment outcomes because companies, particularly in the artisan training arena, prefer higher achievers and do not fully trust the quality of college delivery.

The study tour revealed that well structured education pathways, bridging programmes for learners wanting to enter vocational education and the ease of movement from vocational to academic and vice versa contribute to the success of the European systems. Learners are free to choose their learning pathway even after completing upper secondary level. The popularity of the vocational pathway is such that two thirds of the learners in European countries opt for that route, and most choose the dual system, with 230 occupations to choose from. Full-time classroom instruction is less popular. In South Africa the situation is reversed.

The popularity of the vocational route is in the dual track approach which connects theory with practice, with learners spending 3-4 days in the company and 1-2 days in the vocational school. Companies contribute significantly to vocational education, knowing that learners will become part of the economy, contributing to the company’s profits. Companies welcome learners to visit its workshops on guided tours which expose the learners to the type of work they will be doing once studies are completed. With learners making informed choices the demand and supply ratio is much more balanced.

South Africa stands at a critical point as a massive expansion of VET gets underway. A coherent framework for Vocational Education and Training is needed to meet the needs of post-school youth and the country’s skill shortages. This calls for more structured pathways and a deliberate advocacy strategy to guide learners from post-Grade 9 into VET rather than colleges being the last option available.
Furthermore, a close look at the policy frameworks and strategies that articulate the link between skills and employability is required to channel the learners into the workplace during and after vocational studies. This requires a deliberate strategy to garner support from employers at a sectoral level to support the learners’ training in vocational education.


Gewer A. & Akoobhai B. (2012). Study Tour Report on European TVET Systems, JET Education Services.

JET Education Services (2011). Choices and Chances 2010: FET Colleges and the Transition from School to Work. Report on 2010 FET Research Study. October 2011.

Fleisch, B. Shindler, J. and Perry, H. (2010) Who is out of school? Evidence from the Statistics South Africa Community Survey. International Journal of Educational Development,Volume 32, Issue 4, July 2012, pp. 529-536.

Sheppard C. (2009), The State of Youth in South Africa: Trends in Education Attainment. Human Sciences Research Council. Centre for Poverty Employment and Growth.

Sheppard, D. & Cloete, N. (2009). Scoping the need for post-school education. Centre for Higher Education Transformation.

Strassburg, S., Meny- Gibert, S. and Russell, B. (2010). Left unfinished: Temporary absence and drop-out from South African schools. Findings from the Access to Education Study 2. November. Social Surveys Africa and Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Dr Anthony Gewer is the Executive Manager of Youth and Community Division at JET Education Services

Bina Akoobhai is the Specialist Manager: Institutional Planning and Monitoring in the Youth and Community Division at JET Education Services, email:


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