Rise in proportion of black and coloured youth getting university degrees
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.