Can school subject choice make or break your child’s vocational pathway and how do gap years fit in?

Most parents experience Grade 12, or Matric as a pivotal year of schooling. It’s during this final year that scholars start to explore entry pathways to vocations and the grown-up world.

Then there’s the viewpoint that completing your schooling offers an opportunity to experience ‘life’ and explore alternative pathways through a ‘gap year’. Is there a right or wrong? And, what option suits your teen best?

All4Women spoke to Educational Psychologist Kristen Strahlendorf from the Family Tree Therapy Center – to explore how parents and educators alike, can guide teens in these life events as they make their way towards independence.

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Grade 9 subject choice can determine vocational pathways

“Grade 9 is one of the most significant years in your child’s academic and vocational journey.  The subjects selected set the momentum and building blocks for your child’s career,” Strahlendorf says.

It’s important to choose subjects that will allow as much flexibility as possible. This planning starts as early as Grade 9.

She adds, “It’s a good idea to think about your child’s interests, skills, and strengths before making subject choices”.

Help guide them while letting your teen’s independence factor into the subject choice decision. Strahlendorf emphasises that if the choice is not fully theirs and embraced by them, they will not be invested. It’s about guiding decisions or seeking expert advice through a subject choice assessment which draws attention to your child’s natural aptitude and strengths.

Strahlendorf emphasises, “Try and align subjects that your teen is doing well in, subjects that they enjoy and that complement their vocational entry requirements.”

Parents need to consult tertiary and vocational institution study brochures, that outline the Grade 12 marks required (APS scores), admission and qualifications offered. Early alignment is essential.

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Pupils in Grade 10 must choose 7 subjects:

Compulsory subjects:

  • Two South African languages – one must be at home language level and the other a first additional language level, one must be English.
  • Mathematical Literacy
  • Life Orientation

And three additional subjects:

  • Accounting
  • Business Studies
  • Computer Applications Technology
  • Dramatic Arts
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Information Technology
  • Life Science
  • Music
  • Physical Science
  • Visual Arts

If parents are confused or unsure about subject choices, they should seek expert advice from an Educational Psychologist who will conduct a Grade 9 subject choice assessment or alternatively a vocational assessment in Grade 11 or 12 for their tertiary studies.

“It is important to note, that parents should not live vicariously through their children. Parents need to support but not bully their children’s choices and opinions,” suggests Strahlendorf.

What to do now?

In Grade 9, learners should start getting an idea of what they love doing or would love to do. Parents should assist their teens in making time to ‘experience’ or ‘simulate’ a career. This can be as simple as watching videos of everyday tasks, calling a friend in the desired career field, or volunteering or job shadowing.

Parents should nurture this exploratory and search phase, while seeking expert opinion if required. This is where the planning and goal setting begins.

During Grade 10, teens will need to explore and expand-on the subjects taken. Parents need to consult tertiary and vocational institutions to understand what subjects, marks (APS Score) and admission requirements are in place.

“If your teen is struggling in a particular subject – don’t despair,”7, says Strahlendorf. Having flexibility will allow them to adjust and change. Parents should regularity check in on their teens, as if left too late swapping subjects may lead to missed work or concepts, this is why a thoughtful and planned selection at Grade 9 is critical.

Gap year or varsity?
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Take a gap year or head to varsity?

Some matriculants that are unsure of their vocation may choose to enter the workforce directly or indirectly.

A “gap year”, means taking time off, through casual or varied work, leisure or hobby activities. This year often allows time for reflecting and learning about potential interests which can help students make a more informed decision when picking their career and connect better with their selected field. Some students excel, while others may spiral into further confusion. Parents and teens will need to weigh up a gap year versus continuous studies.

Not everyone has the opportunity to continue studying.

Some parents find the added cost of studies burdensome, promoting a gap year, so that their teen can save-up to study and become more independent. For those students already in a gap year and still confused about what career path to follow, a career assessment can help guide your teen on their aptitude and calling in life.

There are drawbacks to a gap year: Your teen may lose momentum, veer down an endless road of gap years to avoid entering the next phase of life.

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It’s ok to learn-as-you-go

As a parent you may find your teen swapping and changing, or in some cases, your teen halting mid-way in their studies. That’s okay. As parents you need to draw attention to the decisions and consequences of these actions while still remaining positive.

We are a constant work in progress – what we study does not necessarily determine our success in life or a career. Success is determined by the ability to constantly learn, adapt and live a happy and full life.

“If you become an accountant, this doesn’t mean you cannot own a pottery or art studio. Your passions and natural aptitudes will always find a way to be expressed,” says Strahlendorf.

“We are all unique, understanding what our passion (what drives us) and our aptitude (natural talent) will forge one’s unique pathway.”