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SA's youth jobless rate world's worst: Not all students equipped with basics in primary school‚ says analyst

More than half of South Africa's youth is unemployed.
More than half of South Africa's youth is unemployed.
Image: 123RF Stock

An education expert believes a fundamental problem with South Africa's education system is that not all students are equipped with the basics in primary school.

This comes after the Spectator Index ranked South Africa's youth unemployment rate as the highest in the world.

Of the countries it ranked‚ the Spectator Index said the five countries with the highest youth unemployment were South Africa at 52.8%‚ followed by Greece (36.8%)‚ Spain (34.9%)‚ Nigeria (33.1%) and Italy (32.5%).

South Africa's poor foundation-phase education system has repeatedly been linked to the country's skills shortage.

Education analyst Nic Spaull told SowetanLIVE on Tuesday: "78% of grade 4 children can't read for meaning in any language and 61% of grade 5s can't do basic maths. I think that is where the wheels come off and that's where we should be focusing our attention."

Last week‚ basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced that the matric class of 2018 achieved an overall pass rate of 78.2%.

The pass rate is an improvement on the previous year. The class of 2017 achieved a 75.1% pass rate‚ itself an improvement from the 72.5% pass rate in 2016.

In total‚ 790‚843 pupils wrote the 2018 exams‚ either full-time or part-time. It was the fourth-largest group of matrics to register for the final exams.

Spaull has raised concerns about the 2018 matric results‚ especially the high dropout rate of pupils before they reach grade 12. In a tweet last week he promised to keep revealing the truth behind the figures‚ "until minister of education Angie Motshekga starts reporting and emphasising the 400‚000 kids that dropped out of school".

He added that there was no proof of their education status and that these dropouts were "almost certainly unemployed" and don't go on to other education and training (FET) institutions. 

Spaull used a graph to illustrate that more than a million students registered for grade 1 in 2007 but only 512‚700 - 51% of them - wrote matric examinations in 2018.

The surge in bachelor passes has also been a concern for Spaull. He said in 2017 there were 153‚610 bachelor passes‚ which increased by 12% to 172‚043 in 2018.

"I think it's quite clear that the main reason the bachelor pass rate has increased is that the qualifying criteria changed in March 2018‚" he explained.

He said pupils previously had to get 50% or more in four designated subjects - but now they only need 50% or more in any four subjects.

The designated list was a list of 18 subjects which included‚ among others: geography‚ mathematics‚ business studies‚ economics‚ mathematics literacy‚ accounting‚ history and consumer studies. 

"So tourism and hospitality which weren't eligible subjects are now eligible subjects. This is the first year this is the case. That explains a lot of the 12% increase in bachelor passes‚" he said.

Economist Mike Schussler responded to Spaull on Twitter‚ commenting: "Explains a lot. Will the new graduates actually get jobs? Judging from the QLFS numbers less are. This is a worry as the skills we need are not the capabilities the paper says young people have."

The quarterly labour force survey released by Statistics South Africa in November 2018 revealed that there were 6.2m people between the ages of 15 and 64 who were unemployed.

This is a greater number than the populations of Lesotho‚ Botswana and eSwatini combined. The three neighbouring countries have a combined population of 5.8m.

To combat unemployment‚ President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the Youth Employment Service Initiative last year. Its aim is to give a million young people 'work opportunities' in the next three years. South Africa also hosted a jobs summit in October‚ which was attended by representatives of the public and private sectors.

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