Public education is failing South Africa’s young people – IRR

24 November 2020 - South Africa’s schools are failing dismally to equip nearly enough young people for university, or the job market.

South Africa’s schools are failing dismally to equip nearly enough young people for university, or the job market.
More than a fifth (20.7%) of government spending is devoted to education, but the outcomes fall far short of the country’s economic needs – and of the ambitions and desires of South Africa’s young people.
This much emerges from data in the 2020 edition of the South Africa Survey published by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).
It shows that:

  • In 2018/19, R344.3 billion was spent on basic education and post-school education and training;
  • Yet, only 78.1% or 400 632 of those who wrote the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams passed;
  • Of those who passed, only 33.6% or 172 043 achieved a Bachelor’s pass; and
  • Only 21.7% or 50 701 candidates passed mathematics with more than 50%.

The crisis of deficiency is evident from employment data. Among those who did not complete their secondary schooling, the labour absorption rate (which measures the proportion of the working-age population that is employed) was only 32.3% in 2019.
Even among those with matric, only 47.8% had a job. Getting a good enough matric mark – particularly in mathematics – to continue studying is vital to finding work; the labour absorption rate among graduates is 73.8%, significantly higher than for those with only a National Senior Certificate.
This coincides with the steady shift from an economy based on mining and manufacturing to one based on skills and services. In 1990, mining and manufacturing accounted for 12.9% and 28.7% of formal employment respectively. In 2018, mining accounted for 2.6% and manufacturing 10.7%, while jobs in the more skilled sectors of finance (16.6%), trade (20.5%) and community, social and government services (23%) accounted for the bulk of South Africa’s formal employment.
IRR analysts have pointed out that the change in the structure of the South African economy means that there is no longer a large low- and semi-skilled sector capable of absorbing the bulk of the labour force who lack the skills and education to find jobs in high-skill sectors. Today, education is the key factor.
Not surprisingly, youth employment is shockingly high: unemployment in 2019 among people between 15 and 24 was 56.4%, and 41.1% for people between 15 and 34.
But it is obvious that the education system is not giving us value for money, with less than half of those who finish school gaining a university pass, and less than a third passing maths with more than 50%. A good maths qualification is considered the first essential step on the ladder to a middle-class life for young people.
That the education system is failing to equip young people with the requisite skills to pursue tertiary education and gain access to the opportunities available in a steadily modernising economy points to the urgent need for a major overhaul of schooling. The prospect of a better life for South Africa’s millions of young people depends on better school management, better teaching and better grades.