/ 18 April 2023

School dropout rate improved by 10% compared with pre-Covid levels

March 30 2020 With Schools Closed Across The Country, Children From Lavender Hill In Cape Town Still Get A Daily Meal Prepared By A Local Community Organisation. Lockdown Cape Town. Photo By David Harrison
The rate at which learners drop out of school in South Africa improved by 10% in the 2022 academic year compared with levels in 2019. Photo by David Harrison

The rate at which learners drop out of school in South Africa improved by 10% in the 2022 academic year compared with levels in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the department of basic education told parliament on Tuesday.

Education economist and researcher Martin Gustafsson told the basic education portfolio committee that should this trend continue, the “throughput” rate — learners who complete matric — could reach 83% by 2050. 

Referencing preliminary data that has not yet been published, the department said the rate of learners who completed the National Senior Certificate and the National Certificate (Vocational), offered at technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, was 65% in 2022 compared with 55% in 2019.  

“Our situation is not that bad at all,” Gustafsson said, but added there was room for improvement.

MPs did not agree with the department’s figures, saying the reality on the ground painted a different picture.

Committee member Marie Suckers expressed concern about the dropout rate in the Northern Cape. Suckers, who recently visited schools in the province, said out of 113 learners who started grade eight at Richmond High, only 43 completed matric last year. 

“So you had about a 69% dropout of learners and we see these learners on the streets who are not in the system. They are not in a TVET college,” she said, referring to the “preliminary data report” that lacked depth and did not allow MPs to “really understand the dropout phenomenon”. 

In a written reply to the Gauteng legislature on Monday, MEC for education Matome Chiloane said more than 260 000 pupils who enrolled in 2021 did not return to school during the 2022 academic year. 

The department enrolled 2 513 550 pupils in 2021 and of those 2 252 291 returned to school the following year. Chiloane could not confirm whether the pupils who did not return had moved to other provinces or countries or had left the basic education system. 

Committee member Maria van Zyl referenced Chiloane’s written response, saying of the 261 000 pupils who left, 53 935 were of school going age. 

“Dropouts are very concerning and the number of children lost to the system is very worrying. This impacts their futures, it impacts unemployment as they will struggle to find meaningful employment in the country to be lifted out of poverty,” Van Zyl said.

She said rural areas in the Eastern Cape did not have enough secondary schools, forcing learners to drop out if there were no schools near them. 

“This department needs to do a lot more than draw up the statistics and start [seeing] what the problems are to rectify the situation,” Van Zyl said.

“Build more schools, improve teaching and learning to a better quality, give schools and educators the best tools to make a success of our children’s future.”