CAT vs IT – everything you need to know

6 min read   •   April 13, 2023
Elmien Ackerman

At Impaq, we know that in today’s modern world, computer skills are not just a bonus on your CV but a necessity. That’s why we offer Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and Information Technology (IT). These subjects are focused on honing learners’ knowledge of computer systems, but each has its own focus.

If you are in Grade 9 and considering which subjects would be best for you next year, you need to know a little more about these subjects before making your decision. Our Impaq education specialist for CAT and IT, Jana Nel, and the IT education specialist at the Impaq Online School, Noelene du Toit, share more about these subjects. We also chatted to two of our top performers for 2022, Chantelle Visser and Tristan Moodley, to ask how they experienced CAT vs IT.

Also read: Career choices: when children and parents disagree

CAT vs IT: not just zeros and ones

CAT focuses on teaching learners how to use computer software and hardware to solve real-world problems. The subject covers word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia, web design and databases.

On the other hand, IT is a broad subject covering the use of computers and technology to manage, process, and transmit information. It includes programming, database management, network administration, and cybersecurity. “In short, the focus for CAT is based on the end-to-end user perspective, while IT focuses on a developer’s perspective,” explains Noelene.

The theory

Both CAT and IT include theoretical and practical components. The theory for both subjects covers the basic concepts of a computer system, including:

  • solution development,
  • systems technology,
  • internet technology,
  • information management,
  • communication technology,
  • data management, and
  • social implications.

The practical

The practical assessments for these subjects require learners to put what they have learned to the test. The practical components of CAT focus on helping learners solve everyday problems through the efficient use of various applications such as:

  • word processing,
  • spreadsheets,
  • databases,
  • presentations, and
  • web design.

IT, on the other hand, includes the practical implementation of a developer’s skills. Noelene says: “The focus is on developing a learner’s knowledge and understanding of the function and structure of computer programs, from the program design and using algorithms through to testing the programs and debugging”.

These concepts are taught using the Delphi programming language, which focuses on Object-Orientated Programming (OOP), including concepts such as:

  • data structures,
  • arrays,
  • text files, and
  • relational databases.

Pros and cons of IT

“IT promotes a passion for coding and builds a solid foundation, allowing learners to progress successfully into tertiary studies like computer science and careers in the IT industry,” Jana explains.

Tristan says that one of the pros of IT for him was being able to code something useful. “During our practical assessment tasks (PATs), we had to code fully functioning programs from scratch and although it was a lot of work, it was very fun to make something that could be used in the real world. It showed me how practical IT is,” he adds.

But IT also requires perseverance and a motivation to learn. Learners must make time to code and build their skills from the bottom up, which can be frustrating when expectations are that it will happen overnight. Tristan agrees and says that he found the theory the most challenging. “It can be quite daunting learning a whole bunch of technical jargon. But the theory taught me a lot about basic computer skills and about how technology functions”. He advises IT learners to dedicate time to practise their skills: “The more you code and practice, the better you will get”.


Also read: 10 Habits for a Successful Learning Journey

Pros and cons of CAT

“The advantage of CAT is that it provides skills and knowledge that can be applied immediately as a learner, student or in the workplace,” says Jana. Some of these skills include:

  • sending emails,
  • writing reports,
  • managing finances via spreadsheets, and
  • using the internet safely and efficiently.

“CAT helps learners to find relevant information, process it and present it,” she adds. Chantelle says that she enjoyed learning about Excel and HTML the most. “I also enjoyed learning about all the purposes of the various programs we learned about.”

But learning new computer skills also requires consistent application and hard work. “If learners were not previously exposed to computers, this might be a challenging subject at the beginning as a certain level of competency is expected, e.g., typing and using a mouse,” explains Jana.

Chantelle advises CAT learners to do ALL the activities in the book and consult YouTube for helpful how-to videos if they get stuck.

The sky is NOT the limit: career options in CAT & IT

For CAT and IT learners, not even the sky is the limit because living on earth or in outer space requires computer skills!

All tertiary institutions and workplaces require specific computer skills and knowledge. Taking CAT will provide an excellent introduction to other IT fields, such as web development and data analysis. Chantelle explains how she thinks the subject will help in her future endeavours: “Being computer literate will certainly be advantageous for me when applying for jobs.”

Not only is there a very long list of IT careers, but most engineering careers require a basic level of coding and an understanding of computer systems. Tristan says that the computer skills he has learned will be helpful to him no matter which field he decides to work in. “Understanding how to code will be very valuable as it makes it easier to learn other coding languages,” he adds.

Read more: Life after matric – guiding your child during this next chapter

Cracking the code: Which subject to choose

Ultimately, the choice between CAT and IT depends on your interests and career goals. “All learners should consider CAT as a subject as it provides the skills required for the world we live in,” Jana says. She adds: “Learners who have a keen interest in computer coding, building their own computers, cybersecurity and a career in the IT industry should consider IT”.

Before making your choice and registering for CAT or IT, remember to look at the subject requirements and the device and software requirements for each subject.

If you are unsure which subject to choose, you may want to speak with a career counsellor to get more information about the subjects and their applications in different career fields. Also, consider completing a career questionnaire to see where your interests lie.