Business Day

Rise in pro­por­tion of black and coloured youth get­ting univer­sity de­grees

- STEPHEN TAY­LOR South Africa News · Education · Schools

AC­CORD­ING to an ar­ti­cle in Busi­ness Day on April 18, “black and coloured youths have re­gressed in their ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ments”, and the pro­por­tion of black and coloured youth who com­plete a univer­sity de­gree as a share of the pop­u­la­tion has de­creased. This is in­cor­rect.

The ar­ti­cle ref­er­ences a re­cent Statistics SA (Stats SA) re­port on the sta­tus of the youth and com­ments by statis­ti­cian gen­eral Pali Le­hohla. How­ever, Stats SA pub­lished re­ports in­di­cat­ing that the pro­por­tions of black and coloured youths who at­tain grade 9, grade 12 and a univer­sity de­gree have all in­creased con­sis­tently in re­cent decades.

I sus­pect the mis­take may have arisen through a mis­un­der­stand­ing of a statis­tic that ap­pears in Stats SA’s re­port in De­cem­ber last year on ed­u­ca­tional en­rol­ment, at­tain­ment, and pro­gres­sion.

It shows that the pro­por­tion of black and coloured youth who achieve a bach­e­lor’s de­gree has been de­clin­ing in the past 20 to 30 years.

This statis­tic is the pro­por­tion of ma­tric­u­lants who at­tain a de­gree — the de­nom­i­na­tor is ma­tric­u­lants, as op­posed to the en­tire black and coloured pop­u­la­tion.

The im­prove­ment in ma­tric at­tain­ment among black and coloured youth has been larger than the im­prove­ment in de­gree at­tain­ment among black and coloured youth, but there have been big im­prove­ments in both. The fact that the in­crease in de­gree-com­ple­tion has been slower than the in­crease in ma­tric­com­ple­tion is not an in­di­ca­tion that youth are worse off now than 20 years ago.

The De­cem­ber Stats SA re­port shows that the pro­por­tion of black peo­ple com­plet­ing ma­tric has been con­sis­tently in­creas­ing, from about 20% to about 50%, in the past 50 years. It also in­di­cates that the pro­por­tion of black peo­ple com­plet­ing a de­gree has in­creased, from about 2% to about 4% in the same pe­riod.

It is also use­ful to con­sider the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion’s ma­tric statistics from re­cent years. In 1990, there were 191,000 ma­tric passes. By last year, this num­ber had more than dou­bled to 465,863. This in­crease has been driven mainly by grow­ing num­bers of black youth pass­ing — and this growth has eas­ily out­stripped pop­u­la­tion growth.

Since 2008, the num­ber of black ma­tric passes has in­creased from about 250,000 to more than 350,000. And the num­ber of black peo­ple achiev­ing a bach­e­lor’s pass in ma­tric has in­creased from about 60,000 to about 120,000 since 2008.

De­spite the progress, there are still too many youths who do not get to Grade 12, the main rea­son be­ing that ed­u­ca­tional foun­da­tions laid in ear­lier grades have been in­ad­e­quate. Com­ple­tion rates at our higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions should worry us. But there have been im­prove­ments in both of th­ese ar­eas rel­a­tive to 20 years ago.

Al­though im­proved ac­cess at lower lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion (pri­mary and sec­ondary school com­ple­tion) has been faster than ac­cess at higher lev­els, para­dox­i­cally, the so­lu­tions must fo­cus on the early grades if sus­tain­able progress is to be made.

The most alarm­ing statistics are the low pro­por­tions of chil­dren achiev­ing ba­sic lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy in the early grades. In­ter­na­tional as­sess­ments point to se­ri­ous de­fi­cien­cies in this area.

If chil­dren are not learn­ing to read in the early grades, they will not be able to make it to higher ed­u­ca­tion.

But even in the area of learn­ing qual­ity, the ev­i­dence points to im­prove­ment. The Trends in In­ter­na­tional Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence Study showed sub­stan­tial im­prove­ments in math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence achieve­ment at the Grade 9 level be­tween 2002 and 2011. How­ever, this im­prove­ment is off a very low base.

Ed­u­ca­tional out­comes in SA re­main far too low, es­pe­cially among youths from poor com­mu­ni­ties. But claims that ed­u­ca­tion was bet­ter un­der apartheid, or that out­comes have de­te­ri­o­rated in the past 20 years have no ba­sis in re­al­ity. Dr Tay­lor is a re­searcher in the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion.

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