South Africa’s poor education system partly to blame for low economic growth: IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a new paper looking at South Africa’s education system.

It found that while South Africa has made significant improvements in basic and tertiary education enrolment, the country still suffers from significant challenges in the quality of educational achievement by almost any international metric.

“South Africa has achieved significant improvements in access to education, but the quality of education is significantly lagging, and secondary education completion rates are comparatively low,” it said.

“Due to conscious government efforts since the fall of apartheid, access to education at a primary level is almost universal.

“Enrolment at the secondary level has also been expanding. However, completion rates at this level are low. In 2015, almost half of South Africans aged between 25 and 34 had not completed upper secondary education.”

However, the IMF found that funding is not to blame and that the country spends on average the equivalent to over 6% of its GDP on education, on par with many OECD countries.

In comparison, a significant number of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries that spend far less per learner than South Africa have far better educational outcomes, it said.

What is to blame?

The IMF said that the causes of South Africa’s low quality of education are complex and multifaceted.

“The consensus in the literature is that inadequate funding is not the primary cause of lagging performance, although the distribution of resources may be problematic,” it said.

“What is clear, however, is that historical factors explain a significant part of the current status quo.

“This is evident in that the population groups that the apartheid government denied quality education are the population groups that have the poorest educational outcomes today.”

It added that at a primary and secondary level, South Africa’s education system is bimodal.

“The poorest 75–80% of learners depend on dysfunctional public schooling and achieve poor outcomes while wealthiest 20–25% of learners enrol in private schools and functional public schools, and achieve better academic outcomes.”

Hurting the economy

According to the IMF,  the bi-modality of South Africa’s education system is perpetuating economic inequality through employment and earnings channels.

Poverty incidence rates and unemployment rates are distributed according to levels of education and race, it said.

The highly-educated were the primary beneficiaries of the skill-intensive economic growth in the early 2000s.

“During this period, the share of employment in the tertiary sector expanded at the expense of the share of the primary sector while primary completion expanded, and tertiary education remain stagnant.

“At a macro level, given the international evidence, it seems likely that the general low quality of South Africa’s education has partly contributed to the sluggish long-run economic growth.”


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South Africa’s poor education system partly to blame for low economic growth: IMF