Business Day (Johannesburg)

15 June 2010

South Africa: Poor Basics Blamed for School Dropout Rate

Johannesburg — THE generally poor quality of basic education is behind SA's slow school completion and high school dropout rates, according to a survey released recently.

That many pupils were taking more than 12 years to finish school was costly to the state, the households they lived in and to the pupils themselves, researcher Sarah Meny-Gibert, a consultant to Social Surveys SA, said yesterday.

Poverty remained the single largest contributor to the dropout rate, with 11,95% of 16-18-year-olds in the 4400 households polled jointly by Social Surveys and the University of the Witwatersrand's Centre for Applied Legal Studies not having been in school.

At least 21,8% of coloured children, 12,8% of Indians, 9% of blacks and 4,2% of whites are not in school.

"The dropout rate is fairly high in grades 10 to 12, but we are not sure exactly where (the fault line) is," said Ms Meny-Gibert.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is to meet with the researchers. The findings have been presented to the South African Democratic Teachers Union and would soon be presented to other teacher unions, she said.

SA scored high in school enrolments, meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal access to primary school by 2015.

The gross enrolment rate for grade 8 is 104,9% (the extra 4,9% indicates some grade repetition because it indicates "overage" participants).

It drops to 93,7% for grade 9 and then rises to 108,6% in grade 10, and drops again to 90,9% in grade 11 and 82,7% in grade 12.

Social Surveys and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies did their research over three years, starting with a household survey and literature review in 2007, and warned that the figures would be slightly skewed because the research omitted orphans and street children. A wide variety of estimates put the number of street children in SA above 10000.

By the time school children reached the final three grades of school, half of them were "too old" for their allotted school grade and 52% had repeated at least one year of schooling, according to the research report. School attendance is compulsory, according to South African law, until the end of grade 9.

Researchers found the top reasons for dropping out were poverty and the cost of education. Teenage pregnancy, and feelings of alienation and disengagement also played a role.

Youngsters who were disabled, lived on farms, and struggled academically were more vulnerable. Repetition of grades was linked to poor grounding in the basic education phase finally catching up with youth in the further education and training phase.

While the research revealed that black children were six times more likely to repeat a grade than white children, race was "a thin film through which to view other variables - access to good quality education, living conditions and home language", according to the research report.

Development Bank of Southern Africa education specialist Graeme Bloch, who has written on SA's schooling crisis, said the inefficiency and poor quality in the South African school system was "only part of the story" about SA's high school dropout rate.

"In the midst of inefficiency you can still work hard (and get through school in the requisite amount of time), but (SA's children) are not going to be dedicated to schooling while there is large unemployment. Efficiency would help, it won't ensure our learners are ready for learning; or our teachers ready for teaching, for that matter," he said.

The Labour Force Survey estimates unemployment among 14-year-olds to 24-year-olds to be 50% - double the general unemployment rate.

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