Matric results and unemployment
For the class of 2016, the focus now turns to the what the future holds for them, their prospects for work and studying further, writes Equal Education’s
ONE OF the most dangerous side-effects of the narrow national preoccupation with matric is the way in which it is seen as a guaranteed gateway to success. In fact, while there are real benefits to completing matric, the class of 2016 will face a divided and unequal employment and education environment, where their post-school opportunities will be heavily shaped by the quality of their pass and access to funding.
With a largely dysfunctional Technical Vocational and Education Training (TVET) college system, and a university sector that caters to the elite, it is slim pickings. Both quality of pass and access to funding are strongly linked to a matric pupil’s race, class, school attended, gender and geographic location.
Education performance in South Africa remains strongly aligned with socio-economic status. The education system continues to reward those who have had solid pre-school and foundation phase teaching, and fails those who, due to poverty, had inadequate primary schooling.
Of the 134 409 pupils from quintile 1 schools, 83 954 achieved bachelor passes. In contrast, 96 600 quintile 5 pupils wrote and produced 88 967 bachelor passes.
The same trend can be observed in the 2015 results, when 139 127 quintile 1 pupils who wrote the matric exams produced 85 663 bachelor passes. In contrast, 100 582 quintile 5 pupils achieved 91 290 bachelor passes.
Both last year and in 2015, the bachelor pass contributions of the quintile 1 and quintile 5 schools were inversely proportional to the number of pupils writing the exams.
Many of these young people move into unemployment when they leave the basic education system. Using a broad definition of unemployment, youth unemployment (defined as between ages 15 and 34) in the third quarter of last year was 48.6 percent. This is spread unevenly across different ages: The unemployment rate for people of ages 15 to 24 (not counting those in education) was a shockingly high 65.5 percent.
Young women are more vulnerable to unemployment than young men, and the youth in rural provinces with fewer economic opportunities are also more likely to be unemployed.
Unsurprisingly, race is still an important factor for employment: Based on 2015 figures, just more than 40 percent of black youths were unemployed compared with only 11 percent of white youths.
Adding to the crisis of youth unemployment is a failed policy known as the Youth Wage Subsidy or Employment Tax Incentive. At a time when the government needed to be bold in tackling the challenge of youth unemployment, this scheme transferred R5 billion to the private sector and we have yet to see any tangible results.
This scheme, as backed by the DA and implemented by the ANC government, should never have seen the light of day. Treasury could never convince us that it has made any impact in tackling the demon that is youth unemployment.
Here are two of the many ways we could have put R5bn to better use to create employment:
The matric certificate is still valuable in the labour market, despite negative perception. While the labour market conditions faced by school leavers have deteriorated over time, the value of a matric relative to that of a Grade 10 and 11 has remained positive both in terms of earnings and the likelihood of finding employment. The value of a matric certificate for many black families remains a huge achievement and this is why it is part of a large transformative and redistributive agenda in this country, particularly for people historically denied an opportunity to further their studies or complete their Grade 12.
This is supported by data from the 2011 national census, which showed the unemployment rate for 25- to 35-year-olds who had “less than matric” was 47 percent in 2011 compared with 33 percent for those in the same age group who had a matric and 20 percent for those with a diploma or post-school certificate.
While achieving a matric qualification gives a person significant advantages, the class of 2016 will encounter variable levels of opportunity. They will have to compete with older, more experienced workers, and navigate a job market which increasingly seeks highly skilled workers.
A tertiary qualification makes more secure employment prospects and greater earning potential more likely.
While 20 percent of youth with a diploma or certificate were unemployed in 2011, only 8 percent of youth who had completed an undergraduate degree were unemployed during this period.
This is despite a massive increase in supply: The number of degree holders in the labour market more than doubled between 1995 and 2011, from 463 000 to 1.1 million.
In 2011, a young person with a college qualification could expect to earn 60 percent more than they would have with just a matric to their name.
Young people with degrees earned, on average, 150 percent more than matriculants.
However, most young people do not study further.
For 20- to 24-year-olds, 16 percent remain at school, 12 percent are in post-schooling education, 21 percent in employment, and 51 percent are not in employment, education or training (Neet).
In fact, Neets make up fully a third of all youth – at least 3 million people.
The number of youths not in employment, education or training is a looming disaster.
These young people are unable to improve their chances of employment by growing their skills. The growth of Neets represents the transference of apartheid’s legacy of cheap labour to a new generation. These young people must find ways to survive in an economy which is increasingly characterised by short-term unstable employment, with new technology which cuts jobs, and competing against low-wage countries without trade protections and subsidies.
A 2007 analysis of Neets found that 71 percent of the group was made up of youth who had not completed matric.
The second largest group of Neets were young men and women who completed matric without exemption, which meant that they did not pass well enough to access tertiary education.
This group made up a much smaller, but still significant 21 percent (or 600 000) of the total number of Neets. These figures once again highlight the value of a matric certificate in the sense that one is far more likely to fall into this category without a matric certificate. But it is also clear that not all reap the benefits of matric to the same extent.
A number of conclusions can be drawn:
Last year’s matric results are an opportunity to highlight the way in which the quality of basic education, and the failure of the system to retain pupils means many young people never even meet the academic standard to attend university, or to succeed in accessing higher education.
By the Department of Basic Education’s own admission most pupils are not prepared for university studies by the time they leave the basic education system.
“It’s unusual for a developing country to push so many pupils through 12 years of schooling, yet have so many that are not ready for university studies,” Martin Gustafsson, adviser to the Department of Basic Education told The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (the fees commission) last year. Of the 60 percent of youth who completed 12 years of schooling, only 20 percent were ready for university, Gustafsson said.
“One would want that 20 percent figure to be 30 percent or 40 percent, then we’d be in a much healthier and normal type of situation.”
Last year, 56 percent of matriculants who wrote the exams, qualified for some form of tertiary education.
Both diploma and bachelor passes have increased by 0.8 to 0.9 percentage points since 2015. In real terms, however, each category had close to 4 000 less passes.
But not all pupils who obtain a bachelor pass – and therefore qualify for university studies – necessarily enter university.
A recently published study by the University of Stellenbosch tracked university access and throughput for the 2008 matric cohort.
The data revealed that for the entire 2008 matric cohort the 6-year access rate (those who access university within six years of completing matric) was 20 percent. Among those who achieved matric bachelor passes, the rate was 68.5 percent. Therefore, just under a third of pupils who qualified to attend university, didn’t.
The study found that patterns of university access and university success were strongly influenced by school outcomes: “The weak school system has a major influence on who reaches matric, and how they perform in matric.
“This, and particularly the achievement of bachelor passes, explains much of the difference in university outcomes by race, gender and province.”
In addition, the study found strong evidence that “access to university among the black population is largely constrained by poor school results among many black matriculants, rather than other barriers to access”.
These poor results stem from the stubborn apartheid legacy of highly unequal education opportunities for black pupils, especially those from poor socio-economic backgrounds.
While not underestimating the impact of university fees on students’ ability to complete university education, it is clear that basic education has a major impact on pupils’ ability to get accepted into university in the first place, as well as on their ability to succeed there.
Real change needs to take place in the early phases of education if the country is to ever properly address challenges in the higher education sector. Tshepo Motsepe is general secretary of Equal Education
REAL SLOG BEGINS: The newly matriculated class of 2016 will be bright-eyed and bushy tailed, looking forward to a future full of promise, but for many the journey won’t be easy.