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  • Norman Brook

South Africa’s Education 2 Employment Challenge

Here in South Africa most children enter primary education. In this respect the country fares well in achieving one part of the Millennium Goal 2 that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

That is the good news, the rest is not so clever.

The country has poor education standards ranked 134th globally for numeracy and literacy and with 87% of schools performing poorly. Most children start primary school but 46% drop out before grade 12 and only 25% of grade 12 pupils qualify for tertiary education. Only 4% of all young people access a university education, but only 1% go on to graduate with a degree.

A total of 1,261,827 pupils started primary school in South Africa in 2002, but only 562,112 pupils wrote their grade 12 matriculation exams in 2013. That means that only 44.5% of those pupils who started primary school completed their secondary education. 78.2% of those who finished secondary school passed the matriculation exam. So only 439,572 of the original 1,261.827 pupils graduated secondary school with their matriculation certificate. That means only 34.8% of children entering primary school in 2002 matriculated.

Of those who matriculated, not all will have pass marks sufficient to find their way into a College or University where they can gain a National Certificate, Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree.  More than 50% of 2013 matric learners passed their individual subjects at less than 50% the requirement to study for a degree at a university.  That means 17.4% of the children who started school in 2002 have achieved a school leaving certificate that will get them into higher education. In fact many matriculates will not pass with a combination of subjects that will allow them entry to any training or any job.

This all leaves children in South Africa with a 4% chance of entering university. Given the high dropout rates at university, some estimate that only 1% will gain a National Certificate, Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree. Compare this with high-income countries where a young person’s chances of progressing to tertiary education and completing a qualification is more like 70%.

So 7% of the population have a graduate degree or diploma and 95% of them are in employment and contributing 65% of GDP. 55% of South Africans who have only a high school certificate are employed, 45% of people who do not have a high school certificate are employed, overall unemployment is at 25% and 49% of South Africans live below the poverty line.

One of the challenges of accessing a university education in Africa is cost. In the USA, the average annual university cost as a percentage of per capita income is between 20 and 65%, varying between public and private universities. In Africa, the average figure is 170%.

The importance of gaining a tertiary qualification to future employment prospects is highlighted in a report by the McKinsey Global Institute conducted in 2012 titled “The world at work: Jobs, pay and skills for 3.5 billion people”. There is a serious and growing gap in the supply of workers with the skills needed to drive 21st century economies and a growing surplus of workers with more limited skills. Globally projections are for a shortage of 38-40 million high-skill workers with tertiary qualifications; a shortage of 45 million medium skilled workers in developing countries; and a surplus of 90-95 million low skilled workers.

The future for young people without a good education is bleak and we are likely to see a growing burden of youth unemployment if education is not prioritized. A huge investment is needed in education to address the global gap in the supply of workers with the skills required to drive modern economies. In particular, there is a growing demand for graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and South Africa is performing poorly in this aspect of education. According to The World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, out of 148 economies, South Africa’s ranking for Science and Maths education is 148th.

The proposed Sustainable Development Goals to be introduced in 2015 include Goal 3 – Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Training and Goal 8 – Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods and Equitable Growth.  South Africa’s faces the challenge of high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The solution to these challenges will be found in providing quality education that sees a massive increase in the numbers of South Africans successfully completing a tertiary education.

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