11/02/2014. Stats General Pali Lehohla talks about the quarterly labour force survey during a press conference. Picture: Masi Losi

Durban - South Africa’s inability to tackle poverty and unemployment was because of the country’s “failed education system”, according to Statistician-General Pali Lehohla.

He was speaking at the release of Statistics SA’s labour market report, which measures employment pattern trends and the impact of the government’s job-creation programmes.

This comes as the country hurtles towards next month’s general elections, with unemployment and job creation a key campaign issue. Most parties are placing their bets on the youth vote, making jobs for young people a key election promise for most.

The government recently piloted the Employment Tax Incentive Act through Parliament, which promises tax breaks and subsidies for companies to hire and train young people. However, Lehohla’s report suggested that this may not be enough and that obtaining higher levels of education drastically improved job prospects.

Last year, the unemployment rate among those with tertiary education was 9.9 percent, while for those with only secondary schooling completed, it sat at 26.3 percent.

The Annual National Assessment tests, implemented in 2011 to assess the numeracy and literacy levels of pupils in from grades 1-4 and 6-9, showed that in KwaZulu-Natal, 68 percent of Grade 1s passed maths, but in Grade 9, only 14 percent of pupils passed the subject.

“We have 50 000 people who enter the job market each year who have failed matric, who are untrained,” said Lehohla. “We are not investing in education as we should.” He questioned whether the “downgrading” of maths at schools did pupils a disservice.

Unemployment among Africans sits at 27.9 percent, 24.1 percent for coloureds, 12.3 percent for Indians and 6.8 percent for whites.

Lehohla said South Africa could reap the rewards of a “demographic dividend” - when the number of those dependent on the state declined in comparison to the economically active. However, education standards must improve and employment must be created for young people.

Political Bureau