The shape of our in­equal­i­ties

Grade 12 is just one com­po­nent of ed­u­ca­tion. With widen­ing in­equal­ity, poverty, race and re­sources thrown into the mix, there is a lot of work to be done to achieve a bet­ter future for pupils, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

What can we say about the 2016 Na­tional Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (NSC) re­sults 22 years af­ter our democ­racy was born and the work be­gan of con­struct­ing a new, sin­gle, non­ra­cial ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that would ful­fil the con­sti­tu­tional com­mit­ment that ev­ery per­son would be able to achieve their po­ten­tial? In ed­u­ca­tion, a nar­row fo­cus on year-on-year im­prove­ments, and ex­clu­sively on Grade 12, misses the big pic­ture of sig­nif­i­cant changes over time, and the im­por­tance of fo­cus­ing on the en­tire sys­tem of school­ing, of which the matric NSC per­for­mance is only one com­po­nent.

Since 1993, the num­ber of pupils who com­plete Grade 12 an­nu­ally has grown from about 280 000 in 1994 to the all-time high of 610 000 who wrote last year – more than twice as many.

In 1994, the matric pass rate was 58%, and from then un­til 1999 the av­er­age was only 52%. Be­tween 2001 and 2010, the av­er­age pass rate im­proved to 67%.

Be­tween 2011 and last year, the av­er­age pass rate has been 75%. This year’s pass rate is there­fore within the mid-range of this pe­riod, which rep­re­sents a steady and sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in NSC per­for­mance since 1994, de­spite the enor­mous growth in the sys­tem and the pres­sures this places on re­sources.

What has not changed since 1994? The dis­tor­tions of ed­u­ca­tion in­equal­i­ties per­sist de­spite the up­ward trend for all. These in­equal­i­ties are mul­ti­ple: in­equal­i­ties of race, of class, of ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, of gen­der, of lan­guage.

The per­va­sive and un­chang­ing shape of in­equal­ity in South Africa is the great­est chal­lenge to pros­per­ity and so­cial co­he­sion. Ed­u­ca­tion con­trib­utes sig­nif­i­cantly to this in­equal­ity. If we do not re­duce in­equal­ity and im­prove the qual­ity of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, our de­vel­op­ment re­mains pre­car­i­ous. Some of the in­di­ca­tors of this in­equal­ity in 2016 in­clude:

At least 20% of the pub­lic schools serv­ing the poor­est com­mu­ni­ties achieved a pass rate of less that 40%. For the pub­lic schools serv­ing the wealth­i­est com­mu­ni­ties (top two quin­tiles), it was 1% of schools.

At least 85% of pub­lic schools serv­ing the wealth­i­est com­mu­ni­ties (top quin­tile) achieved a pass rate of more than 80%. Only 27% of schools serv­ing the poor­est quin­tile achieved a pass rate of more than 80%.

Poverty in South Africa co­in­cides with race. African learn­ers are the most af­fected by this dif­fer­en­tial.

In­equal­i­ties of ac­cess are ev­i­dent on the dropout rate. Us­ing data be­tween 2012 and 2014, the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion has shown that there are wide dif­fer­ences be­tween prov­inces in the per­cent­age of learn­ers who have com­pleted Grade 12 by the age of 22. In Gaut­eng, 67% of young peo­ple aged 22 have com­pleted Grade 12. It can be as­sumed that if Grade 12 has not been com­pleted by age 22, the in­ci­dence of later com­ple­tion will be low.

Thirty-three per­cent of young peo­ple will pro­ceed to nav­i­gate life with­out the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tional cre­den­tial fun­da­men­tal to many oth­ers – which is why in­creased ac­cess to qual­ity vo­ca­tion and train­ing col­leges is crit­i­cal. Is Gaut­eng un­usual? Yes – it is the high­est-per­form­ing prov­ince in this re­gard. In the Eastern Cape only 28%, in Lim­popo only 37%, and in the Free State only 48% of pupils have com­pleted Grade 12. Those who have not com­pleted Grade 12 suf­fer a crippling start to the pur­suit of em­ploy­ment and ed­u­ca­tion ad­vance­ment.

Learn­ers from the Eastern Cape, Lim­popo and KwaZulu-Natal who do reach Grade 12 have a re­duced chance of suc­ceed­ing in the NSC. Fifty-four per­cent of pupils who at­tempted the NSC in 2016 were from these prov­inces and 37% failed. These prov­inces are the poor­est in the coun­try, and their per­for­mance gives shape to our in­equal­i­ties.

But their fail­ure did not be­come ev­i­dent in 2016. In 2013, when these learn­ers were in Grade 9 (ig­nor­ing the ar­gu­ment that they would not have pro­ceeded as a co­hort with­out mul­ti­ple fail­ures), the three prov­inces per­formed the worst in the An­nual Na­tional As­sess­ment in English (first ad­di­tional lan­guage). Forty-four per­cent of learn­ers in the Eastern Cape, 49% in KwaZulu-Natal and 54% in Lim­popo per­formed at the “not achieved” level (the low­est of five per­for­mance lev­els).

The re­sults of 2016 are not unan­tic­i­pated, given that these lean­ers have had to learn in the gen­er­ally poor­est com­mu­ni­ties, in the least re­sourced schools and in the prov­inces that carry the great­est bur­den of scale and ad­min­is­tra­tive com­plex­ity. The ad­min­is­tra­tive com­plex­ity is such that both Lim­popo and the Eastern Cape have been un­der sec­tion 100 ad­min­is­tra­tion for pe­ri­ods within the last five years.

Only 11% of the matric class of 2016 came from the two top­per­form­ing prov­inces: the Free State and Western Cape. Their achieve­ment must be cel­e­brated, but they man­age an en­tirely dif­fer­ent scale of ad­min­is­tra­tive com­plex­ity in dif­fer­ent so­cioe­co­nomic con­di­tions.

Our in­equal­i­ties are ob­du­rate. We have seen this pat­tern from 1994 and while there is an up­ward move­ment in over­all per­for­mance, the in­equal­i­ties per­sist.

The min­is­ter is cor­rect that care­ful and ur­gent action is nec­es­sary. This action must in­clude im­prov­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tems so that greater ef­fi­cien­cies are achieved, im­prov­ing sup­port to teach­ers and im­prov­ing the avail­abil­ity of text­books. Our con­sti­tu­tional frame­work provides a suf­fi­cient ba­sis for the min­is­ter to take the de­ci­sive action she has com­mit­ted to. The poor­est of our young peo­ple must be given hope of achiev­ing the qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion they seek. Met­calfe is a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of the

Wit­wa­ter­srand and a for­mer ed­u­ca­tion MEC of Gaut­eng

TALK TO US Do your cir­cum­stances or lo­ca­tion make it dif­fi­cult to ob­tain matric?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word MATRIC and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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