“You can be anything” – Career guidance messages and achievement expectations among Cape Town teenagers
Do high school learners in Cape Town have realistic tertiary study plans? During 2015, 813 Grade 11 learners were surveyed with regard to their expectations for academic achievement and post-school plans. Learners attended average-performing, no- or low-fee Cape Town high schools. Follow-up discussions were held with 10 learners, 2 teachers and 1 family. In line with previous South African studies, it was found that almost all Grade 11 learners expected to study at tertiary level. Although learners expressed confidence that they would achieve their goals, 70% predicted that their school marks would increase over the following 15 months to an unlikely or impossible degree. Learners in the lowest quartile of school performance were most at risk of overestimating their future improvement and, additionally, reported that their current marks were higher than reflected in school records. Young people are encouraged to plan for university education without consideration of how realistic or attainable this option is for them. They are repeatedly told: “You can be anything!” Some learners moderate this message with practices of self-regulated learning, involving careful checking of recent marks, setting goals, and reviewing progress. Others pretend to have marks that they do not have and rely on the power of self-belief to make their expectations a reality. This leads to a likely mismatch between plans and actual academic attainment.
Keywords: achievement; career guidance; goal setting; self-belief; teenagers; tertiary education