A graph constructed by advisory firm the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that South Africa spends more money than most of its peers on education – with worse outcomes.
BCG said that, although the factors afflicting education in the country are serious and systemic, the experience of peer nations shows that significant improvement is possible, including in the near-term.
The consulting firm said four long-standing problem areas demand immediate attention, including:
- Teacher quality;
- Teaching basic skills;
- Reducing dropout rates; and
- Effective vocational-training alternatives for young people.
BCG focussed specifically on South Africa and its challenges in a research paper entitled: Four Priorities Requiring Leadership for South Africa’s Future
BCG said that radical improvement is needed in these four areas.
1. Teacher Quality
Statistics South Africa’s 2013 general household survey cited teacher-related issues as the top challenge facing public schools.
Studies by the southern and eastern Africa consortium for monitoring educational quality, among others, have found that some 60% of people teaching math to grades one through six failed to pass tests for math at the grade level taught.
2. Basic Skills
The report noted South Africa’s students perform poorly at math, science, and reading.
Only 35% of sixth graders are numerate at an acceptable level, and only 3% of ninth graders are numerate. According to the World Economic Forum’s global information technology report 2014, South Africa ranks last (144 out of 144) in terms of the quality of math and science education.
In the 2014 South African Annual national Assessment, only 48% of ninth-grade test takers achieved scores of 50% or better for “home language” literacy and only 18% achieved scores of 50% or better for their first additional language.
3. Dropout Rates
High secondary-school dropout rates undermine skill building and employability, BCG said. The report cited the Department of Basic Education’s 2014 country progress report, which showed that although 86% of 16-to 18-year-olds are in school, only 5% complete grade 12 by age 18, the expected age of completion.
Additional research shows that students completing grade 10 face only a 52% chance of employment.
Completing grade 12 raises the probability of finding a job to 67%, but going on to post secondary education improves one’s job-finding chances enormously—completing just one additional year increases the probability to 86%.
4. Vocational Training and higher education
Further education and training (Fet) colleges—schools that should provide vocational and practical-skills training-enroll about 200,000 students a year, but this is far from sufficient to compensate for current dropout rates, the report states.
“Fet colleges tend to provide theoretical training rather than practical, hands-on skill building, which makes them both less attractive to, and less helpful for, young dropouts,” the report said.
The BCG pointed out that in Germany, students can choose to enter vocational school at age 16, and approximately half do so.
They spend one to two days a week in school and three to four days receiving practical, on-the-job training. They select vocations on the basis of market demand for given skills.
Germany reduced youth unemployment from 15.6% in 2004 to 7.2% in February 2015 (compared with 22.1 percent for European Union as a whole).
SA needs a “mind-shift”
A big part of the solution, said Adam Ikdal, a BCG senior partner and a co-author of the report, is achieving a “mind-set shift” with respect to education.
“South Africans need to recalibrate their appreciation for the value of education and combine that newfound respect with a corresponding show of appreciation for teachers,” he said.
“This will happen only with leadership—from both government officials and role models in other areas of society. Leaders need to start a drumbeat of recognition for the critical role that educators play.”
“At the same time, this has to be balanced with local leadership at schools, including a focus on accountability for teachers’ performance, which will improve educational quality.”