What is Life Orientation?

Introduced in the late 90s Life Orientation is one of the four fundamental subjects required for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) or matric. This means that it is a compulsory subject for all learners in Grades 10, 11 and 12.

CAPS defines Life Orientation as the holistic study of the self in relation to society and others. It is designed to address skills, knowledge and values in 5 interrelated topics that we will look at shortly. This is intended to develop confident and balanced learners who can actively contribute to a just and democratic society, a productive economy, and an improved quality of life for all South African citizens. While also equipping learners with so-called Life Orientation skills that they will use in their daily lives.

The 5 topics of Life Orientation.

Life orientation covers 5 core topics. These topics are the development of the self in society, social and environmental responsibility, democracy and human rights, careers and career choices, and physical education. We will take a look at what is covered in each of these topics in a bit more detail below as well as some of the skills they try to equip learners with.

Development of the self in society

This topic of Life Orientation addresses many factors of the student’s personal identity. These include life roles, decision-making regarding sexuality and gender roles. It also equips learners with knowledge of self-awareness, self-esteem, self-development, recreation and emotional health. This topic focuses on the individual and ensuring their personal identity and well-being.

Within this topic, there are a number of skills that are taught to the learners. These include planning and achieving goals, decision-making skills, conflict resolution, and stress management. All of these skills are intended to allow students to live a balanced life while constantly improving themselves.

One of the most controversial topics in Life Orientation is the introduction of Comprehensive Sexual Education. It is important to note that CSE is not part of the prescribed CAPS curriculum but is specific structured lesson plans developed by the Department of Basic Education “to help learners build an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes around sexuality, sexual behaviour as well as leading safe and healthy lives.”. They are not compulsory lesson plans to follow by Educators.  

Social and environmental responsibility

This topic of Life Orientation deals with contemporary social issues that impact local and global communities. These include climate change and environmental issues that cause ill health. Additionally, it examines the responsibilities of various levels of government and environments and services that promote safe and healthy living. This topic examines the state of society and what responsibilities the learners have within society.

This topic also conveys certain skills to the learners. These include social skills and responsibilities to participate in civic life. It also looks at how students can develop a personal mission statement for life. These skills help students become members of their local social groups or communities and ensure they live purposeful lives.

Democracy and human rights

This topic of Life Orientation deals with the democratic system. Examining democratic structures and participation in them, the role of the media in a democratic society and responsible citizenship. Additionally, this topic covers human rights in our society by addressing diversity, discrimination and human rights violations. It also looks at ethical traditions, religious laws, and a diverse range of ideologies and beliefs. This helps learners understand how our democratic society works and the various cultures within it while respecting and upholding the rights of every human being.

This topic equips the students with knowledge that can be applied as skills in society. Such as how to participate in the democratic process, as well as making them more understanding of diverse cultural backgrounds and their people. The importance of this understanding cannot be overstated especially in our diverse rainbow nation.

Careers and career choices

The next topic of Life Orientation deals with careers and career choices. It examines the different career fields and subjects while looking at trends and demands in the job market and socio-economic factors. It also looks at the admission requirements of higher education institutions and options for financial assistance for further studies. This is intended to help students decide what career they want to pursue and how to pursue it.

There are a number of skills this topic attempts to convey to learners. These include core elements of an employment contract so they understand, and how to create a portfolio of plans for life after school. Additionally, the competencies, abilities and ethics required for a career. These skills are vital to a student as they allow them to pursue a career and effectively navigate the path to achieving success.

Physical education

The final topic covered in Life Orientation is physical education, Which deals with the personal fitness of the learner. It imparts knowledge regarding fitness programmes, the importance of physical fitness, and responsibilities in recreational group activities. This knowledge can motivate students to make healthier lifestyle choices and maintain their physical health.

This topic also teaches students vital skills regarding their physical health. Such as creating a fitness programme, and setting and achieving fitness goals. Additionally, it teaches them skills in various sports and games, as well as umpiring and leadership skills. It also teaches them how to maintain a long-term engagement with sports, games or various relaxation and recreational activities. Physical fitness and recreational social interaction through it are important to the mental health of the individual. Meaning that these skills help students better maintain their physical and mental health throughout their lives. 

Controversial Content

What is important to understand is that the CAPS curriculum for Life Orientation does not prescribe the content of values taught under these five topics. It simply prescribes these topics and sub-topics. The content is covered by the school, educator, textbooks and resources for this subject. 

Unlike most academic and scientific subjects, how one’s life is oriented is a highly values-based ideal and should not be prescriptively approached by any authority outside the value system of a family and their community. Parents therefore have the highest responsibility and accountability to impart and participate in this aspect of their children’s lives, and should therefore know what is being taught by the schools and textbooks, which go above and beyond the curriculum prescriptions. They ought to participate in the discussion of what the values, content and skills are that is imparted to their children in this subject, regardless of which topic is addressed.  


As we have seen with the five topics, Life Orientation has the potential to provide students with a great deal of opportunities to gain insight in one’s society, the people within it, and oneself. It also aims to equip students with many life skills that not all of them are privileged enough to be able to learn at home but not without the participation of parents’ input. If appropriately presented, Life Orientation can therefore be a valuable subject for all students.

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