Choosing Subjects – To do or not to do…

by | Sep 14, 2010 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

Should I take history or biology, accounting or geography? It is that time of the year when Grade 9 learners have to choose their subjects to study for the next three years. Not an easy decision. In some cases a wrong choice could become a big barrier later if applying for tertiary study.

It can be a difficult time both for the learner and for their parent. We want to guide them in the best possible way but we don’t always know what that is and we may unintentionally guide them in a direction that suits us better than the child.

I went through this exercise a few years ago with my daughter and last year again with my son. Different children, different schools, different talents and interests, different final subject choices, but the same process.

So I am going to share my thoughts on how to go about this. Firstly remember that, although it is a bit complicated, learners are allowed to change their minds during Gr. 10 and even Gr. 11 or 12, so there is a very narrow escape route. Secondly the first four subjects are pretty much set. Life Orientation is compulsory as well as two official languages and one of the mathematics. So unless you do more than the minimum seven subjects there are only three true free choices. And thirdly, although I said earlier that an incorrect choice could make tertiary studies difficult this is really only the case where mathematics or science/biology are required – think BSc, engineering, medicine…

Very few children are going to know in Gr.9 what they want to do after school. Even if they think they do there is a strong chance it will change. And if it doesn’t then it may only be their first career, as multiple career lives are becoming much more the norm. Please don’t put your child under any pressure to make career decisions at this stage of their lives.

If your child has already decided what subjects they want to do then you only need to check the list for suitability – jump to ***.

If not, start here, together with your son/daughter (part 1):

• make a list of the subject choices available at the school outside of the compulsory ones mentioned above

• eliminate any subject really disliked or in which pass marks have not previously been achievable

• from the remaining ones your child needs to ask, which do I like the most? (or dislike the least )

• from those chosen as favourites double-check that there is understanding of what that subject entails eg does it involve both practical and theory papers (Art & Drama), have they spoken to older learners studying it and/or teachers?

You should now have three or more hot favourites.

***At this point you need to check whether these allow for the possible career paths that your child may choose (part 2).

Take a big piece of paper and write down keywords that encompass your child’s answers to the following questions:

• what is important to you (could be things, values, circumstances…)?

• what makes you feel excited/happy/energetic/warm inside?

• what are you doing when time either seems to fly by or you forget about time completely?

• what have others commented you are good at (could be actions or behaviours)?

• what else have you thought you are good at?

These answers should give some broad ideas of the career areas they may take an interest in. For some this could be quite narrow and for others very varied. Please do not try to limit or narrow it down.

Look at the subjects already selected in the first part and check if they support the general ideas coming out of the second part.

Look at the general areas in part 2 and see if they would obviously require a subject which has not already been selected in part 1. Two of the key subjects in this regard are physical science and life science (the old biology). If so consider adding that subject back in.

By now you should have found your child’s three most popular subjects that have relevance to their possible broad career interests.

To return to the compulsory subjects. As far as languages are concerned these are mostly a personal choice. In South Africa many courses do require English.

The only remaining choice is between mathematics and mathematical literacy. Mathematics is required for entry into many of the courses at tertiary institutions. Therefore choosing mathematical literacy instead should only be done after careful consideration. Think about

• does not having maths exclude the child from any course they are likely to want to study?

• can they cope with maths if they really work at it or have additional help?

I came across a simple little book written by Norma Colley called “Choose the correct school subjects” ( which is a useful resource.

And lastly please share these wise words with your son/daughter.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs – ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Harold Thurman Whitman

Republished for the benefit of parents of this year’s Grade 9’s


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