South Africa’s best post-apartheid school results questioned

Low minimum requirements are undermining the quality of the education system and job prospects in South Africa. — AFP pic
Low minimum requirements are undermining the quality of the education system and job prospects in South Africa. — AFP pic

JOHANNESBURG , Jan 7 — South African final-year school students posted their best results since at least the end of apartheid 20 years ago amid questions about the quality of the passes in key subjects such as mathematics and job prospects.

The national pass rate at state schools climbed for the fourth consecutive year to 78.2 per cent in 2013 from 73.9 per cent in the previous 12 months, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said yesterday. The rate had dropped for six straight years through 2009 to 60.6 per cent.

South Africa’s education system was ranked the third-lowest of 148 countries in a survey by the World Economic Forum last year, ahead only of Yemen and Libya. Its score on mathematics and science schooling was the worst of the group.

To achieve a pass mark, students require a minimum of 40 per cent in three subjects, one of which is a home language, and 30 per cent in three other subjects, according to the Department of Education. Those low minimum requirements are undermining the quality of the education system and job prospects, said Neren Rau, chief executive officer of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The matric certificate should be a fundamental signal to the labour market that a school leaver can perform in at least a low-skilled position,” Rau said in an e-mailed statement today. “This is no longer the case given a growing body of evidence of ill-equipped school leavers as reported by the business community.”

Few jobs

Poor educational standards have been a constraint on growth in Africa’s largest economy, with companies battling to hire skilled workers in a country with a 24.7 per cent unemployment rate. Almost 70 per cent of the unemployed population are younger than 35, according to data from the statistics office.

“There are very few jobs for school-leavers,” Loane Sharp, a labour economist at Adcorp Holdings Ltd., said by phone from Johannesburg today. “Only four in ten will find a job this year.”

World Bank data shows South Africa spends about a fifth of its budget on education, a higher proportion than Germany or Finland. Even so, half of all children who start school drop out before completing the 12-year curriculum, while literacy and numeracy rates are among Africa’s lowest, according to the government.

Many instructors lack adequate training and absenteeism is rife. The government’s efforts to turn the situation around have been stymied by the main teachers’ union, a political ally of the ruling African National Congress. — Bloomberg