Two cost-effective solutions to fix SA education outcomes
This week, hundreds of thousands of young people proudly received their matric results and we wish them luck for the years ahead. The Western Cape achieved the highest number of university qualification passes per capita.
Unfortunately, the overall pass rate in the province has slipped to fourth - down from 88% in 2015, when the Western Cape was ranked top in the country, to 82% for 2019.
In December, the Western Cape Education Department cut R34million from the Public Ordinary School Education and R7m from Early Childhood Development (ECD) budgets. These budget reductions - especially from the critical ECD phase - may further constrain future pass rates.
However, the gross pass rates alone do not tell the whole story.
Across the country, just 42% of students who enrolled in Grade 1 in 2008 matriculated last year.
Almost three out of five youths have been left behind.
Education is critical to reducing poverty and inequality, but sometimes circumstances mean that young people have to leave school early.
In South Africa, many children exit the schooling system early to help their families, or for other reasons, but leaving school early is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Unemployment for 15-to 24-year-olds in South Africa is the highest in the world and not completing school significantly reduces the chance of finding a job. The government must do more to keep children in school, but it must also help empower and upskill those who have already left the system.
Market-related skills are critical to finding or creating work, escaping poverty and reducing inequality.
Here are two cost-effective solutions for improving scholar retention within schools as well as the prospects of those who have already left the schooling system.
Conditional child grants
The government provides essential grants for children who live in homes where the combined household income is below R8000 per month.
These grants - described by Unicef as “the most comprehensive social protection systems in the developing world” - are an investment in the future of the 10million children they target.
The grants are intended to ensure that as many children complete school as possible, but unfortunately the system is not designed to ensure that essential outcome. Beyond a means test, there are no conditions for South African child grants.
Brazil also has a child grant system, but their grant is conditional on the children attending school and visiting clinics to get their required vaccinations.
South Africa’s child grant system was implemented for young children in 1998. In 2008 the age for recipients was increased to 18. If that grant was conditional on children attending school, then the existing grant could be used to encourage more of the youth to complete their schooling.
Educate and upskill the youth
The government must also help the millions of young people who have left the formal education system, and those who seek to improve their education results and opportunities. Given the crisis at the state broadcaster, last year Good called for the SABC’s expensive afternoon TV programming to be replaced with televised school lessons of key subjects.
In 2011, a National Planning Commission Diagnostic Review found that one in five teachers was absent on Mondays and Fridays, with absenteeism increasing to one in three at month end. The report found that teachers in lower income, largely black schools taught for just 3.5 hours per day compared to 6.5 hours per day in the middle and upper income former Model C schools.
With such discrepancies in access to quality teaching, plus many underqualified teachers, the SABC should be used to bring a handful of excellent teachers directly into every home in the country, enabling unemployed young and eager learners to improve their skills and achieve higher grades.
South Africa needs practical solutions to overcome our challenges. As a constructive opposition party, Good has submitted our policy suggestions to the national ministers’ offices for their consideration.
* Rountree is the national policy officer for the Good party.
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.