Education in South Africa – Still dysfunctional
Standards still leave a lot to be desired
Jan 21st 2012 | JOHANNESBURG | from the print edition
FORTE HIGH SCHOOL in Soweto, the sprawling black township outside Johannesburg, was once one of South Africa’s notoriously ill-equipped and poorly performing schools. Five years ago it had no running water, no functioning library, no computers and no sports ground. Designed for 800 pupils, it had to cater for 1,300. Only half those who reached the final year matriculated, gaining the most basic certificate for finishing school. But thanks to philanthropists “adopting” it, Forte has turned itself around. Last year it achieved an 80% pass rate, and half of its matric candidates qualified for university.
Among them was Albert Dove, a black student living with his unemployed, disabled father and poor enough to qualify for free school lunches. He got six distinctions in his exams, including 100% in physical science. Every weekend and throughout the holidays he attended extra maths and science classes at a centre in Soweto run by an international charity.
Low school standards and university fees that are too high for the poor majority help explain why South Africa, the continent’s biggest and most advanced economy, has so low a rate of university attendance. Only one in six gets that far, a much lower proportion than in other middle-income countries. A third drop out within a year. With a few notable exceptions, university standards in South Africa are pretty low. Employers often complain that universities are churning out graduates who are largely unemployable.
Three million South Africans aged 18-24, more than half the total, are outside education, training or employment. Seven in ten have no qualifications at all. Even among those with matric, only 17% are likely to get a job within a year of leaving school, according to Adcorp, a recruitment agency. After five years, 60% will still be jobless. Officially, 25% of South Africans are unemployed; the real figure is probably nearer 40%. Yet there are more than 800,000 vacancies crying out for suitable applicants in the private sector alone, even as 600,000 university graduates sit twiddling their thumbs at home.
The government claims things are improving since last year’s pass rate went up. But the proportion who pass has fluctuated wildly over the years, and often depends on how many of the weaker pupils are prevented from sitting the exam. Besides, the pass mark for many matric subjects is a mere 30%.
Teachers in black state schools work an average of 3.5 hours a day, compared with 6.5 hours in the former white state schools known as “Model C”. A fifth of teachers are absent on Fridays, rising to a third at the end of the month. The education minister herself admits that 80% of schools are still “dysfunctional”.