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34 Startling Statistics on SA’s Education System

South Africa has some distressing education statistics. Some are difficult to believe, others hard to accept, but all worth thinking about and help paint a picture of a struggling system. And it’s a vast system at that. South Africa has nearly 26 000 schools, 400 000 teachers and 13 million learners. Teaching takes place in 86 districts across the country.

At Crew for a Cause, we’ve spent the past two years diving into the numbers. Some are slightly dated, but still paint a picture of where we’ve come from – which is important if we’re going to figure out where we want to go and how to get there.

1. Only 10% of ECD practitioners have a qualification over and above matric, and only 25% have received some training in ECD. RESEP

2. On average the monthly salary of an ECD practitioner ranges from R1 400 to R2 000 and does not include any benefits such as pension fund, medical aid or housing subsidy. In comparison, a Foundation Phase teacher earns R 21 141 per month including all benefits, which is more than ten times what the average ECD practitioner earns. This large discrepancy between the salaries of teachers teaching 7-year-olds and the salaries of teachers of 6-year-olds is a serious matter of concern, as it makes it very unattractive for well qualified practitioners to remain in ECD. RESEP

3. South Africa is currently experiencing a shortage of teachers. According to one study, the country will be in need of as many as 30,000 additional teachers by 2025. Africaportal

4. In KwaZulu-Natal alone, where more learners walk to school than in any other province, more than 210,000 pupils walk for more than an hour each way, and 659,000 walk for between 30 minutes and an hour each way. Amnesty International

5. 78% of children in Grade 4 can’t read for meaning. Business Tech

6. The 2011 PIRLS results showed that 58% of Grade 4 learners were functionally illiterate – that is, unable to understand what they read in any language – and that almost 30% were completely illiterate. University of Pretoria

7. In Grade 5, approximately 80% of African-language learners, along with nearly 50% of their English- and Afrikaans-speaking peers, had not mastered basic reading skills. MIET Africa

8. 60% of pupils in Grade 5 cannot add or subtract whole numbers. UCT

9. 91% of children aged nine in Limpopo cannot read for meaning. It’s 85% in the Eastern Cape. Amnesty International

10. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science study of 2019 found that 63% of all South African grade 5 children performed below the low international benchmark in mathematics. This may now rise to around 76% due to Covid-related learning losses. The Conversation

11. The nSES study of 2007 – 2009 showed that most grade 5 children write in their books only once per week or less. Only 3% of grade 5 students across South Africa wrote in their books every day. In grade 4 and grade 5 exercise books, about half of all exercises in the year were single word exercises. A shocking 44% of grade 4 students had not written any paragraphs during the entire school year. JET

12. After five years of school about half cannot work out that 24 divided by three is eight. World Education News

13. The 2007 round of SACMEQ showed that only 32% of grade 6 mathematics teachers in South Africa had desirable subject knowledge in mathematics (hungi et al., 2011, p. 52), compared with considerably higher proportions in other countries such as Kenya (90%), Zimbabwe (76%) and Swaziland (55%) (Figure 11). RESEP

14. Research by Venkat & Spaull (2015) shows that almost four out of five (79%) grade 6 mathematics teachers have a content knowledge level below the grade 6/7 level, i.e. below the level they are currently teaching. RESEP

15. In November 2016, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a quadrennial test sat by 580,000 pupils in 57 countries, had South Africa at or near the bottom of its various rankings. The Economist

16. A shocking 27% of pupils who have attended school for six years cannot read, compared with 4% in Tanzania, and 19% in Zimbabwe. The Economist

17. In 2013, the national Education and Evaluation development unit (nEEdu) tested 4 697 grade 5 students from 214 schools across rural areas in South Africa. A sub-sample of these students – 1 772 students – was selected for an oral Reading Fluency (oRF) test. Only 6% of the students achieved comprehension scores above 60%. An unacceptably high proportion of the sample (41%) were nonreaders or ‘illiterate’ since they were reading so slowly that they could not understand what they were reading. Sadly, 11% of the sample could not read a single English word from the passage. South African Journal of Childhood Education

18. According to one 2015 report, 41% of grade 6 students in rural schools were reportedly functionally illiterate in 2007 compared to only 13% of their urban counterparts. ResearchGate

19. According to the Department’s own statistics for 2018, out of 23,471 public schools, 20,071 have no laboratory,18,019 have no library, while 16,897 have no internet. 239 have no electricity, and 37 have no sanitation facilities at all. Amnesty International

20. Of 100 learners who start school, 50-60 will make it to matric, 40-50 will pass matric, and only 14 will go to university. Amnesty International

21. About half of the 1.3 million learners who started school in 2004 dropped out before reaching Grade 12 in 2015, and, of these, only about 70% passed their matriculation examinations: if one considers the large proportion of learners who drop out over the 12 years of schooling, the real pass rate is closer to 35%. Business Tech

22. In 2015, about a quarter (26%) of the matriculation candidates who wrote mathematics – and even fewer of those who wrote physical science – attained a pass of 50% or more. Stats SA

23. Around 1.1m people write matric exams. About 150,000 pass at a level that is acceptable to universities. But the universities only have space for 70,000. Biznews

24. South Africa has one of the most unequal school systems in the world. Children in the top 200 schools achieve more distinctions in mathematics than children in the next 6,600 schools combined. Amnesty International

25. The gap in test scores between the top 20% of schools and the rest is wider than in almost every other country. The Economist

26. Of 200 black pupils who start school just one can expect to do well enough to study engineering. Ten white kids can expect the same result. The Economist

27. In South Africa, English, though only spoken by about 4% of public school learners as a home language, is the predominant language of the textbooks used in classrooms, as well as in the system’s policy documents. ResearchGate

28. There are also considerable differences between provinces within South Africa; Mpumalanga, for example, had almost no maths teachers with desirable content knowledge (4%), while in the Western Cape the proportion of teachers that were adequately equipped was considerably higher (64%). RESEP 

29. Most teachers teach half of the lessons they are scheduled to teach in the year. RESEP

30. In 2013, enrolment rates in primary schools stood at 99.3%. Stats SA

31. Public schools cater for more than 96% of all learners. Of the country’s 14 million learners, approximately 12.5 million (90%) are in publicly funded or government schools. Many of these schools do not charge school fees. South African Government

32. South Africa invests a higher proportion of its national budget on education than many other middle-income countries. In 2016/2017, public education, at 5% of GDP, was the second largest item of the budget, comprising about 24% of the budget’s total allocation of R297-billion. World Bank

33. In 2019, R5 billion was spent on CSI efforts directed at education, which accounted for around 50% of total CSI expenditure. Trialogue

34. There are around 7600 education NPOs. Stats SA