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It takes SA high schools about 10 years to produce a matriculant – study

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Due to the repetition of grades and school drop-outs, it takes about 10 years for high schools to produce just one matriculant, a Stellenbosch study has revealed.

File picture: Chris Collingridge

IT TAKES South Africa 10 years to produce one matriculant. This is according to a report by education economists at Stellenbosch University’s Research on Socioeconomic Policy (Resep) group.

The report, which was compiled by Professor Servaas van der Berg, Dr Chris van Wyk, Rebecca Selkirk and Dr Heleen Hofmeyr, presents a picture of learner performance and flows through the country’s school system.

The findings in the report indicate that high schools operate at an efficiency rate of only 49% if measured in terms of the years of enrolment in secondary school for every matric pass.

“In other words, at this rate, 10 learner years at high school are required for every pass. This is because some who eventually matriculate only do so after having repeated once or more grades, but mainly because even more learners spend some years in high school without ever reaching or passing matric,” said Van der Berg.

He added that this was a bleak picture for the country’s education system, and it was difficult not to see it as representing a failure of the system on some level.

“Yet at the same time, it offers clear pointers as to how to improve efficiency and increase education outputs beyond the significant gains made in recent decades in universal access to education and basic literacy and numeracy,” Van der Berg stressed.

According to the report, learners repeating a grade were extremely common across all education phases and even more prevalent at high school level.

Grades 4 and 10’s larger bulges of enrolment indicate the repetition of grades. These grades are also at the start of a new school phase, the Intermediate and Further Education and Training (FET) phases.

The report links the bulges to the national repetition policy. According to the policy, learners may only repeat once in each three-year phase, and so any learner who had already repeated a grade in the previous phase stands a greater chance of being held back at the start of a new one.

Van der Berg points out that the strongest bottleneck effect was found in the FET phase (Grades 10 to 12).

“Learners seem to get ‘stuck’ in Grade 10 for two or more years, after which many drop out, with only a fraction of learners managing to make it through to Grade 12. Furthermore, most learners will repeat at least one grade in their school career, and around one in three will repeat more than once,” he said.

Analysing the data, the report indicated that repetition of a grade in poor schools such as no-fee schools, quintile 1-3. Quintile 1-3 schools had about 60 to 65% Grade 10 learners who were overage; this was compared to the wealthier quintile 5 schools which had about only 30% learners who were considered overage.

“This poses a great cost, which we have earlier estimated could be as much as R20 billion to 29bn. In fact, most learners in Grades 10, 11, and 12 are overage, and at least one in five by three or more years. And so, if repetitions in Grade 10 alone were halved, the system could save an estimated R2bn a year,” said Van der Berg.

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