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

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

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.

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