Pandor: Significant school dropout rate after grade nine

A “significant” number of children drop out of the schooling system after grade nine, Education Minister Naledi Pandor said in Cape Town on Monday.

“South Africa is doing very well with respect to enrolment of children up to grade nine, but a significant number drop out at that point,” she told journalists during a Council of Education Ministers meeting.

Between 11% and 15% of children leave school each year after grade nine, the last year of compulsory education. The retention rate up to grade nine is over 95%.

These are the findings of a ministerial task team put together following “massive debates” on the matter, she said.
The report will be made public at a later stage.

Pandor said the Department of Education will have to pay greater attention to the opportunities made available to children after grade nine to ensure they stay in the system.

Dropout rates are much lower in the white and Indian communities than in coloured and black groups.

Also “quite worrying” is the high rate of repetition between grade one and three and the lack of support for those who fail.

However, she added, South Africa is doing “as well, if not better” than other developing countries in education.

According to the report, the dropout before grade nine is “statistically insignificant”. Of the children born between 1970 and 1974, 71,6% made it to grade nine. Of those born between 1985 and 1989, 86,2% made it that far.

Because of the short time span of the study, the reasons for the dropouts were not established. The study had also been unable to track the progress of individual children.

The department’s Professor Stefan van der Berg said the quality of the country’s education is also a worrying factor.

“We know from previous surveys that in grade six [the pupils are] already three years behind, on average, in maths.”

On the shortage of qualified maths and science teachers, Pandor said over 50 countries had been approached and replied that they had similar problems.

India and Egypt, however, had “spare intellectual resources”. Consideration had also been given to using United States Peace Corps volunteers.

The department has a database of 724 maths and science teachers (204 South Africans and 520 foreigners) looking for work. A total of 600 have already been placed at Dinaledi schools, which are dedicated to improving maths and science teaching.

The minister said over five million children will benefit from no-fee schools in 2008/09. A total of 14 264 schools have been exempted.

Other initiatives in the pipeline include putting all children on a database and assigning them a unique number so their progress through the system can be tracked. The Western Cape already has such a database, and this initiative will build on it. Implementation will begin in April.

Pandor expressed concern about reports of schools lacking infrastructure and said a distinction has to be drawn between schools registered with the Education Department, and so-called “schools under trees”, which are started by communities and not registered.

“Infrastructure reporting sometimes mistakes ‘tree schools’ for inadequate structures.”

The school infrastructure budget over the past 10 years had increased substantially, standing at R3,4-billion in 2007/08. It is expected to increase to R5,2-billion in 2010/11, she said.

The department is planning a Soccer World Cup schools’ competition—a schools’ version of the tournament. The winning provincial soccer team will win seats to the 2010 World Cup final.—Sapa

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