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South African education

South Africa has made rapid progress in educational attainment compared with other emerging countries, with near full enrolment in primary and secondary schooling. Pre-primary schooling has expanded fast too, and so to a lesser extent has third-level education.

Some 89% of over 15s are literate, though that jumps to 98% for 15-24 year-olds. Since 1969 young South Africans have closed about half of the gap in years of schooling relative to young Americans. However, the scars of apartheid still linger, with the quality of basic education still very low, despite improvements, for a large fraction of the Black African population. For instance, the pass rate in 2009 in the National Senior Certificate examination–this corresponds to grade 12 in the general education system–was equal to 57% among African, 80% among coloured, 89% among Indian/Asian and 99% among white, with an average of 62% across all pupils. Also, South Africa’s performances in international tests of pupils’ competencies in reading and mathematics have not been good.

What can be done to improve quality? A working paper by Fabrice Murtin provides some guidance and identifies several areas for action. First, education resources should be increased and equalised to help schools in disadvantaged areas address school infrastructure backlogs, improve the availability of learning materials in the form of textbooks, desks and computers, and manage excessive class size. Management and accountability should be strengthened, and teacher training improved. The paper argues that English should be introduced earlier to prepare pupils for future instruction. It calls for stronger links between the vocational education and the labour market, and considers a loan system to boost university enrolment.

Murtin, F (2013), “Improving Education Quality in South Africa”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1056, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k452klfn9ls-en

©OECD Observer No 296, Q3 2013