What Is Being Done About South Africa's High School Dropout Rate?

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High dropout rates at South African schools are still concerning, however the Department of Basic Education has come up with a number of prevention strategies to ensure that these statistics are decreasing each year. 

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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. The Government has developed several plans to address this and ensure that prevention strategies are put in place so that more students are encouraged to further their studies.

A Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) General Household Survey reported that approximately 51% of learners who start Grade 1 will complete Grade 12 and obtain a National Senior Certificate. It is further estimated that 250 000 learners drop out of school every year.

Reasons for the high dropout rate

In 2008, a major review was conducted which revealed that academic underachievement and grade repetition were the two main contributors to the high dropout rate. A decade and a half later, these issues remain relevant in the South African schooling system.

Statistics also show that male students are more likely to dropout when compared to their female counterparts. 

The Covid-19 pandemic can also be seen as a reason for school dropouts. Learning losses and low attendance caused serious problems, however the Government believes that this is a separate issue.

Additionally, 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 students were enrolled late in 2021. 

Despite these shocking statistics, continued schooling beyond the age of 15 had increased as well as the number of matric candidates and the matric pass rate. In 2021, the matric pass rate (76.4%) was the highest to date, with the record being broken again in 2022 (80.1%).  

Although these record-breaking statistics seem promising for future matric classes, the educator to learner ratio is increasing each year, meaning that class sizes are also increasing. This is due to the current budget climate, as Government cannot afford to hire more educators, particularly at under resourced schools.

Department interventions to address the dropout rate

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has started calculating grade-specific dropouts using the Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS). This system will be used to focus mainly on learners aged 15 and below. 

The DBE will also work closely with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to address data issues to better monitor movement from the school system to college.

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

Efforts will be made in implementing activities to build resilience among high-risk learners, including support programmes, tracking learner attendance, behaviours and academic performance as a way to identify those at risk of dropping out and providing support as needed.

Violence prevention, psychosocial support and emotional learning activities are to be included in the school curriculum and schools will remain access points for meals, psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. 

Some positive results

The National Senior Certificate (NSC) throughput rate increased from 55% in 2019 to 62% in 2022. If the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) Level 4 at a college is counted, this throughput rate increases to 65%.

Approximately 3% and 9% of Grade 7 and Grade 11 learners respectively dropout each year. These statistics have improved significantly over the last 20 years and can be expected to improve further. While these statistics are still concerning, they are not unusual by developing country standards.

Surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Grade 12 survival rate up. 

Further interventions to be implemented:

  • a range of teaching and learner initiatives
  • psychosocial support
  • the General Education Certificate (GEC)
  • closer monitoring of school participation

The LUTRIS system will continue to track learners as they progress through their schooling, and recent promising results mean that throughput rates are expected to increase in coming years.

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