For The People

Education stats falling through the cracks

Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education

Education is a priority area for the South African government, and has been working tirelessly on improving the state of education in the country. Projects were planned to improve learner performance by overcoming weakness in education.Education also constitutes the largest single component of provincial spending.

There has been a steady growth in learner enrollment at educational institutions, contributing to this growth is the improved accessibility of education through various new initiatives. Enrollment has risen at all levels, from grade R to tertiary. Increased enrollment at higher education institutions is predominantly the result of the increase in the Grade 12 completion rate coupled with the increased National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) budget, giving more learners the opportunity to further their studies.

In terms of efficiency of the system, though there have been small improvements, grade repetition figures have remained high, especially among male learners. It is also clear that grade repetition is higher in secondary school than in primary school, particularly between Grades 9 and 11. Evidence-based policies and programmes emphasise the importance of mastering certain learning foundations in earlier grades for the sake of further learning. The cognitive benefits of strong, early learning foundations, in which the acquisition of skills in one period makes the acquisition of skills in another period easier, means that intervening earlier, rather than later, is more cost-effective. The costs of providing curriculum support for areas of learner deficits identified in the Foundation Phase are expectantly lower than mediating learning later in schooling where the gap between curriculum and learner knowledge may be excessively large in a multitude of subjects. The costs accrued at a later stage include high rates of grade repetition and dropping out of the education system.

The results from the National Senior Certificate (NSC) Examination attest to the progress made in the sector. The annual number of NSC passes has grown from under 300,000 in the mid-1990s to above 450,000 in recent years. Turning to the quality of outcomes, what is clear is that the numbers of learners attaining the level of skills in key subjects such as Mathematics and Physical Science required for mathematically-oriented university studies has grown substantially. Grade 12 Mathematics and Physical Science Examinations data reveal large increases in the number of learners reaching critical performance thresholds in 2016, such as marks of 50, 60 or 70 percent in those key subjects. In addition, the number of black African learners obtaining a mark of 60 in Mathematics increased by as much as 65%, reflecting that this trend has been towards reducing racial inequalities. Since 2008, the numbers of black African Matriculants with Bachelor Passes has roughly doubled from about 60 000 to about 120 000.

The number of individuals 15 years and older completing Grade 12 and higher education has been rising. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of the population aged 15 years and older who completed matric increased from 3,7 million in 1996 to 11,6 million in 2016. This is almost a 211% increase over the 20-year period. Furthermore, looking at the period-on-period increase, the largest increase occurred between 2001 and 2011, with close to 69% growth in the number of individuals who achieved a matric certification as their highest level of education.

According to Motshekga the pass rate is only one of the measures the government uses to assess the status of education in the country. The aim, she said, is for learners to pass with entrance into bachelors courses, which is at 50%.

For the 2018 cohort, education monitoring group Umalusi reported that just over 796,000 matrics sat the exams, whereas 1,031,821 learners were part of the cohort in grade 2 in 2008. Whatever the announced pass rate is, it excludes the 235,000 learners who fell out along the way.

Without access to more detailed data, this metric unfortunately remains rather crude – it is affected by learners who repeat grades or leave school to attend technical and vocational education training (TVET) colleges.

Nonetheless, detailed analysis released by the DBE itself suggests that when these factors are considered, the real pass rate still hovered just above 50% for the past couple of years said equal education.

Education is a robust predictor of labour markets outcomes in terms of employment and earnings,and is a key determinant of economic growth. Therefore the failure of South African education system has had an intense effect on the economy. It not only fails the majority of South Africa pupils but also weakens the labour force.

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