Options for school-leaving certification for homseschoolers in SA

certificateYou have enjoyed homeschooling your children, but suddenly you realize that they are needing to leave the school room and enter the world. What proof do they have that they have a solid education behind them? What will prospective employers and tertiary institutions accept as valid schooling leaving qualifications? As a friend of mine's son pointed out to her, "No university or employer is going to accept me because my mom says I can do it!"

Children going to school in South Africa write the National Senior Certificate (NCS) exams at the end of their twelve years of schooling. These exams are commonly known as the 'matric' exams and they will determine whether a child can continue to study at tertiary level (either at diploma or degree level) or not. But what about homeschooled children? What certificate do they obtain at the end of their schooling?

 There are at least four options open to the homeschooler, namely:

  • NSC - (National Senior Certificate) - South Africa
  • IEB - (Independent Examinations Board National Senior Certificate) - South African private schools
  • New SAT Entrance Exam  - United States of America
  • Cambridge Assessment International Education - Based in the United Kingdom but operates globally

NSC - National Senior Certificate

The National Senior Certificate is based on the South Africa government curriculum, and the exams are administered by the Department of Basic Education. Umalusi is responsible for the quality assurance of the assessment and the issuing of university exemption certificates. I was always under the impression that children had to attend school in order to write the National Senior Certificate exams, but this does not seem to be true. There are now a number of curriculum providers that offer programmes to private candidates and homeschoolers that culminate in the National Senior Certificate exams.

The advantage of this option is that it is the accepted qualification issued by the South African Department of Basic Education and therefore accepted and understood by South African universities, making the process of applying to university therefore much simpler. However, the student may not be as well prepared to handle academic study at university as a student studying Cambridge International. The National Senior Certificate is not as internationally accepted as Cambridge International is, making studying overseas more difficult.

IEB - Independent Examination Board

The Independent Examination Board (IEB) is an independent assessment authority in South Africa, although it is still moderated by the Department of Basic Education. The IEB  also issues a senior certificate which is accredited through Umalusi. Most private schools write their 'matric' exams through the IEB. Homeschoolers can write the IEB NSC through various distance education centres.

The advantage of this option is that, like the NSC option, it is understood and accepted by the South African Department of Basic Education and South African universities. There is a perception that it is at a slightly higher level than the state NSC — probably because the exams are internationally benchmarked, making the IEB NSC more easily recognized by overseas universities than the government NSC.

The new SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)

The new SAT Entrance Exam is an American standardised test used for collage and university admission in the United States of America. It is a benchmark test rather than a well developed educational programme and in that regard it is similar to the South African NBT (National Benchmark Test). The SAT Entrance Exam is focused on maths and language arts which include critical reading and writing. The SAT Entrance Exam is a computer -based test that can be written whenever the student is ready.

Students have to achieve certain scores in the tests to be considered for university exemption by USAf. The different university degree courses can require a certain minimum score before being considered for that programme. If you chose this option, it would be best to check with the university of your choice and USAf what scores are required for admission.

Cambridge Assessment International Education

The International GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education), commonly referred to as IG and the AS/A Levels (Advanced Subsidiary / Advanced Levels) are internationally recognized school leaving certificates that are offered by two different exam boards both of which now operate in South Africa, namely Cambridge Assessment International Education and Pearson Edexcel. While both these exams boards are based in the United Kingdom, they both work internationally and have an excellent global reputation. Cambridge International is well-known to many South African homeschoolers, but Pearson Edexcel is fairly new to the South African homeschooling community, although they have been operating in many other countries throughout Africa.

In South Africa, the International GCSE is equivalent to Grade 11, while the AS Level is equivalent to Grade 12 and A Level is equivalent to Grade 13 (This is higher than the South African Grade 12 but not equivalent to a first year at university level - hence the "Grade 13". AS is considered to be half the A level and can be a stand alone qualification. Students wishing to do a full A Level, can either write all the exams in one sitting or they can take a staged approach by writing AS first and then within thirteen months write the A2 part (second part) of the A level. The AS mark will then be added to the A2 mark to give an A Level certificate.

Universities in South Africa do recognize IG and AS/A Levels and some universities specifically mention the subjects, levels and grades required for entrance into each degree.

While both Cambridge International and Pearson Edexcel work primarily (and almost exclusively) with affiliated schools, both exam boards offer a wide variety of subjects at each of these qualifications (IG and AS/A Levels) that are available to private candidates.

In addition to being widely recognized internationally, the International GCSE and AS/ A level exams offers a very high academic standard which is known to equip students with a sound knowledge of their subjects, an ability to apply the subject knowledge, and a high degree of competence in critical thinking. For those studying on their own, there is a wide range of text books and other resources available for the Cambridge International curriculum, both in print and online.

Recognition and university exemption

Students obtaining local certificate options such as the NSC and the IEB NSC will automatically be issued with university exemption by Umalusi. However, students obtaining a foreign certificate like the new SAT Entrance Exam and the International GCSE and AS/A Levels will need to obtain a certificate of exemption from Universities South Africa (USAf) and in particular the matriculation board of USAf before being accepted to study at a South African public university. This university exemption certificate is issued by USAf in terms of the Higher Education Act (Act 101 of 1997). No. 1317 dated 5 December 2008 and certifies that the student has met the required standard to proceed with tertiary study at a South African university. No university will admit a student without this exemption certificate. USAf therefore has certain requirements that must be met before they will issue the exemption certificate. For more information regarding the exemption and the IG and AS/A Levels, see the article "Obtaining a South African university exemption using IG and AS/A levels or can visit USAf's  website.

Please note that the exemption certificate is different to the "matric" or school leaving certificate. The IG and AS/A level certificates issued by the relevant exam board at the end of each exam session will be the school leaving certificate(s).

Contact information for matriculation board and exemption:
Universities South Africa (USAf)
1st Floor, Blocks E and D, Hadefileds Office Park
1267 Pretorius Street, Hatfield, Pretoria
Tel: +27 (0) 10 591 4401/2
website: https://mb.usaf.ac.za

School leaving certificates without exemption

Students who do not wish to study at university may use their foreign qualifications such as SAT and IG and AS/A Levels as a school leaving certificate. Should they require this qualification to be evaluated, they can apply to the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). SAQA has its own requirements for each qualification.

Contact information for SAQA
South African Qualifications Authority
SAQA House,
1067 Arcadia Street, Hatfield, Pretoria
Tel: + 27 (0) 86 011 1673

School leaving certificates not accepted by universities

While certain school leaving certificates may be adequate for employers, not all certificates are recognized by South African universities. It is therefore, essential to make sure that if your child does want to study at university, he/she completes an acceptable school leaving certificate.

The following school leaving certificates are no longer accepted by universities:

  • Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)
  • School of Tomorrow (SOT)
  • General Education Development (GED)