Matric Bachelor Passes Have Tripled Since 2008, But Problems Remain

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South Africa's school dropout rate is a great matter of concern, as a significant amount of learners who enter the schooling system in Grade One don't make it for their Matric exams in Grade 12. Although there have been areas of improvement, the Department of Basic Education still has a long way to go. 

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Statistics show that the number of National Senior Certificate (NSC) Bachelor passes produced annually have nearly tripled since 2008. 

The number of Bachelors passes attained last year were the highest in the history of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations in the country.

However, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) plans to increase the number of grade 12 learners obtaining Bachelor-level passes in the NSC examinations by 2024.

While this is a welcomed improvement, there are still concerns associated with the high levels of South African learners dropping out of school, before completing their Grade 12 year.

Due to learners' movements from the high school sector to the post-school sector not being properly tracked, exact dropout rates of South African learners are difficult to measure. 

However, the country's school dropout rate is great matter of concern, as a significant amount of learners who enter the schooling system in Grade One don't make it for their Matric exams. 

In 2008, statistics revealed that 60% of enrolled Grade One learners sit for their final exams, but of that 60%, only 12% enter higher education.

While there are other alternatives than solely going to a university or college after passing Matric, many of the youth find themselves with little to no options for life after school, leading to the staggering figures of youth unemployment South Africa is currently enduring.

The 40% deficit (from 2008) amounts to 3,2 million children between the ages of 15 to 24 who are not in school, employment and/or in any skills-based training opportunities.

As such, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is still deeply concerned about the ongoing problem of learners exiting the education system, in recent years, without attaining a National Senior Certificate or an equivalent qualification.

The Department has implemented various activities and initiatives to advance this mission, resulting in a decline in dropouts before completing their NSC, and almost 100% schooling among children at compulsory ages, although the pandemic caused some setbacks.

Studies have revealed that 19,000 children of compulsory school-going age had dropped out when comparing 2020 and 2021 enrolment data. Approximately 27 000 Grade R and Grade 1 learners were enrolled late in 2021. 

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said:

The Department's mission to ensure that children attend school during compulsory schooling age and increase the percentage of youths who complete Grade 12 is critical.

There are many factors that can lead to a learner dropping out of school, such as household income, geography, disability, gender and even bullying. 

Some learners feel that the only way to escape bullies is to either drop out of school or even worse, take their own lives. Studies have shown that the bullying epidemic is constantly growing and becoming worse at schools, and may even continue in some adult workplaces.

According to Motshekga, research has shown that the fundamental underlying cause of dropping out is weak learning foundations. 

Academic difficulties, poor school resources and facilities, weak teaching and school management, and access to schools in the context of mobility are some of the risk factors highlighted in a 2007 Ministerial Report on learner retention.

The socio-emotional issues among learners were also identified as a risk factor for dropping out. Females are less likely to drop out of school than males, despite facing certain risk factors that affect females in particular, like pregnancy.

Grade repetition is another factor that could contribute to dropout rates, but its impact is uncertain, says the Minister.

Repetition discourages children about their educational prospects and makes them relatively "old" for their grade, which could make opting out of school more socially or economically attractive, she elaborated. 

However, grade repetition could have a positive impact on educational outcomes if it is accompanied by effective remedial support. Despite the uncertainty around the impact of grade repetition on dropout, it should primarily be understood as a symptom of weak learning rather than as a cause of educational problems such as dropout.

The Minister added that high rates of grade repetition lead to education system inefficiencies such as higher class sizes and more "person-years" of public spending on education to achieve the same outcomes.

Some of the Department's efforts include:

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

This intervention encourages children to attend school, and promotes learning by reducing levels of hunger and malnutrition, which inhibit successful learning.

No Fee Schools

This longstanding intervention ensures that children and youths in poorer communities are not prevented from attending school due to the inability of the household to pay for school fees.

Policies on Teenage Pregnancies

Government Notice 704 of 2021 formalised policy on the protection of the schooling of pregnant learners. Among females aged 16 to 18, around 10% did not attend school due to pregnancy, according to the 2019 GHS. 

The Department and its partner Departments (Social Development, Justice and Constitutional Development, Correctional Services, the South African Police Service and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies) have embarked on an "Inter-Departmental Campaign on the Prevention of Violence, Bullying, Corporal Punishment, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Learner Pregnancy, Alcohol and Drug Abuse." 

Of every three learners who fall pregnant, only two will return to school.

Some learners who have had babies have chosen not to return to school, as they are taking care of their children alone and are often left without support.  

This Campaign raises awareness on the importance of tackling these social ills and raises awareness on the negative effects they have on teaching and learning in schools and on learners self esteem.

Ongoing strengthening of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)

A more focused curriculum is one reason that has been put forward as a cause for past improvements in South Africa’s performance in international testing programmes..

Improving Learning in the Early Grades

A key government priority is improving reading, and learning and teaching in general, in the early grades.

Several interventions contribute towards this, including the shift in the responsibility for pre-schooling from the social development sector to basic education, the Early Grade Reading Study and associated teacher development innovations, and the introduction of the Systemic Evaluation.

Special Examination Preparation support for Grade 12 Learners

Activities here, aimed largely at ensuring that learners leave school with the NSC, include the so-called winter schools.

The expansion of the Learner-Level Enrolment and Attendance Monitoring Systems

The Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS), the SA-SAMS school management system and the partnership-driven Data Driven Districts (DDD) initiative have all contributed to a more robust approach to monitoring exactly where in the country dropping out is occurring.

These systems proved invaluable for providing information on, for instance, where children were not returning to school during the pandemic.

Overall, the reasons for learner dropout in South Africa are interlinked, and dropping out is often understood as a series of circumstances rather than an isolated event. 

Special attention needs to be placed on improving the quality of teaching and learning to encourage more learners to stay in school.


Suggested Article:

An empty school classroom.

Learner dropouts have been an ongoing issue for the Department of Basic Education. Even though there have been slight improvements, more intervention is needed. 

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