Report portrays ‘a tragic picture’ of SA’s education system

By the age of eight, children from the poorest 80% of households in South Africa are already far behind the school performance of the richest 20%.

“This disadvantage remains throughout their years of education and stays with them when they enter the labour market,” say the University of Stellenbosch researchers who released their findings on Monday.

This startling finding is one of several that 12 researchers in Stellenbosch’s economics department use to reach the conclusion that, 17 years into democracy, South Africa’s education system still “generally fails to produce outcomes to help eradicate inequalities”.

Entitled “Low Quality Education As a Poverty Trap”, the research draws on both published and unpublished data that, “seen as a whole, present a very shocking picture of the state of the South African education system”, Ronelle Burger, one of the 12 researchers, told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.

“Some of what our report finds has been said before, some is brand new,” said Burger. “Put together, a very vivid and very tragic picture of our education system emerges.”

‘Reinforcing current patterns of poverty and privilege’
Observing that schooling “generally … reinforce[s] current patterns of poverty and privilege instead of challenging them”, the report makes links between these and inequities in employment that pure education research normally does not consider.

In particular, affirmative action in the labour market is likely to be limited by itself in addressing inequalities of opportunity and income, the report suggests.

“Policies that address inequality by intervening in the labour market will have limited success as long as the considerable pre-labour market inequalities in the form of differential school quality persist,” the report says.

“Affirmative-action measures … do not tackle the root cause of the inequality problem,” the researchers said on Monday in a statement that introduces the report.

This is because “what we perceive to be labour-market discrimination is actually caused by a lack of sufficient, quality education on the part of poor, black children”, the researchers said. “Effective pro-poor policies should be targeted at [the] specific causes of under-performance in the poor parts of the education system.”


Drawing on datasets including household surveys and internationally comparative studies of literacy and numeracy levels at schools, the report draws stark links between poverty and under-achievement.

For instance, South Africa ranks 10th out of the 15 sub-Saharan African countries tested for reading among grade six learners and eighth out of 15 for maths performance in the same grade. This is despite South Africa’s relatively higher state expenditure on education and better teacher/learner ratios across the region.

‘Largely ineffective’
That data is to be found in the so-called “SAQMEQ III” — the project conducted in 2007 by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality.

The same study showed that the average reading test score for the richest 20% of learners in grade six was much higher than the score for the poorest 20% of learners. A similar discrepancy was found in maths scores.

“South Africa’s rural children did far worse than rural children in most other countries in this African sample,” the report says, “as did the poorest quarter of South African students in comparison with the other countries in the sample.”

It follows that “pro-poor reforms to the education system [in South Africa] appear largely ineffective”, the report concludes.

“We feel it is important this research reaches a broad audience and can feed into the public debate on the reform of the education system,” Burger said.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

David Macfarlane
Guest Author
Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday