A large proportion of learners drop out before matric, a major source of inefficiency in the system, and the majority of learners do not acquire the knowledge and skills required to progress through the system on time.
These are some of the trends that emerged from a recent study at Stellenbosch University (SU).
A report released by the Research on Socio Economic Policy (ReSEP) unit at Stellenbosch University has presented evidence of major inefficiencies in South Africa's schooling system.
Entitled “Learner flows through schools: Using high quality administrative data to understand education system performance", the report drew from the strength of available datasets, and shows that the majority of learners are not acquiring the knowledge and skills required to be progress through the system on time, and that many learners dropping out without obtaining a matric qualification.
RESEP analysed data dashboards based on the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) data that can be used for management purposes by schools, districts and other provincial and national education authorities. This was done on behalf of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, who has been working with the Department of Basic Education in seven provinces to improve the quality of the SA-SAMS data system since 2013.
Servaas van der Berg, professor of Economics and the lead researcher at RESEP, says this analysis has allowed them to highlight important trends in how learners progress through the schooling system.
“The results point to major inefficiencies in the system, with repetition being extremely common in all grades and many learners dropping out of the system before reaching matric. Learners tend to stay in the system until the FET phase (Grade 10), even if they are held back. From Grade 11, however, enrolment drops off significantly, and dropout is extremely common."
Their analysis also shows that grade repetition is more common at the start of a new schooling phase, especially the start of the intermediate (Grade 4) and FET (Grade 10) phases.
“This evidence suggests that the national progression policy that learners can only repeat once per schooling phase is widely applied throughout the country," said Van der Berg.
The following important trends emerged from the report:
- Enrolment bulges in Grades 4 and 10 indicate high repetition rates, with more than one cohort stuck in these grades;
- High repetition rates mean that a large proportion of learners are over-age for their grade;
- Most learners in Grades 10, 11 and 12 are over-age for their grade;
- Around 20% of learners in Grades 10, 11 and 12 are three or more years over-age;
- Children in poorer schools are less likely to master basic literacy and numeracy skills, leading to learning deficits and repetition;
- One in four learners who enrol in Grade 10 will repeat this grade;
- A large proportion of learners drop out before matric, a major source of inefficiency in the system;
- Progression rates in the Western Cape are much higher for recent cohorts;
- Accelerated learner flows without a drop in education standards imply improved system efficiency in the Western Cape; and
- The majority of learners do not acquire the knowledge and skills required to progress through the system on time.
Van der Berg says these results all point to the conclusion that learners are not successfully acquiring the knowledge and skills required in the curriculum within the time that they are supposed to, if at all.
“There is clearly much scope for improvement in the efficiency with which learners progress through the schooling system. This does not necessarily imply, however, that learners should be progressed through the system even if they do not meet the requirements for being promoted to the next grade. Rather, it is important that the factors underlying the slow progression through the system are addressed."
According to Van der Berg, it is hoped that the results presented in this report will make clear the crucial importance of high-quality administrative data for informing education policy and practice.