Education, Then Transformation

Government policy interventions aimed at solving inequality would not produce results if the country’s dysfunctional education system wasn’t fixed.

Professor Servaas van der Berg

This was what Stellenbosch University economics professor Servaas van der Berg told delegates at a two-day conference in Pretoria organised by the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development in the presidency’s department of planning, monitoring and evaluation in partnership with the EU.

Van der Berg was among academics and civil society groups who presented studies to policymakers on the National Development Plan agenda to reduce poverty and eliminate inequality by 2030.

The research work was supported by grant funding sourced through a partnership between government and the EU.

Van der Berg’s research, conducted with a 25-member team and titled Expanding Social Mobility Through Education, concentrated on social mobility and education, and reflected on the impact an unequal education system had on the labour market.

Van der Berg said the country had a dual education system and labour market.

“The majority of schools are of low quality. Teachers are demotivated. There is very little evidence showing they are improving. Top jobs in the labour market are fed by former Model C school learners,” he said in a presentation on Wednesday.

“No matter how government intervenes with social grants and black economic empowerment, that is not going to solve inequality in the labour market. Start with education.”

The study found that out of every 100 pupils entering the education system, 60 write matric, 37 pass, 12 access university, six complete their degrees and only four move on to land high-earning jobs.

…young black people, even if they were better qualified, did not have better employment prospects than the generation before them.

Van der Berg said young black people, even if they were better qualified, did not have better employment prospects than the generation before them.

blstAsked about any impact had by Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, Van der Berg said: “We don’t know what we have there. The impression one gets is not positive. It does not seem to be targeted by employers. Most parents don’t want to send their children to TVET colleges. There are issues there and proper research is needed on TVET colleges.”

Van der Berg said matric was still an important factor considered by employers.

And although the country’s education system was well equipped compared with that of Swaziland, “learners there outperform South African children in Grade 6 by a year”.

The study also found that the influence of unions in the education system was identified among the problems needing to be resolved.

Other findings included that:

– By Grade 4, about 70% of pupils in poor schools perform below the international learning benchmark;

– By Grade 9, pupils in poor schools are two-thirds of a year behind their counterparts in former Model C schools;

– Degree holders earn three times more than matriculants;

– Pupils from weak schools earn much less than those from good schools; and

– The dualistic education system limits social mobility and perpetuates labour market inequality. It also perpetuates a “cycle of desperation”.

The study noted that the persistence of inequality was an indictment on the education system’s failure to overcome past injustices, despite the amount of money South Africa spends on education.

Van der Berg and his team noted that early interventions were crucial and there was a need to focus on getting reading right early in primary school.

Msindisi Fengu
is a senior journalist at Daily Dispatch

This article appeared in on 19 March 2017

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