Odds still against black students

2012-01-21 17:17

The odds are still severely stacked against black matriculants who make it to university.

Less than 12% of black and coloured youths between the ages of 20 and 24 manage to enrol for higher education in South Africa, says Professor Ian Scott, deputy dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development and the director of the academic development programme at UCT.

Of these, “well under” 50% exit without obtaining a qualification, says Scott.

This means less than 5% of black youth succeeded “in any kind of higher education”.

At least two other education experts agree with Scott that school children are not competing at the same level because of their socio-economic conditions.

If you attend a middle-class school – most of which are very good – you have choices, but should you attend a working class school, your options close down, says Dr Jonathan Clark, director of the Schools Development Unit at UCT’s Department of Education.

Due to the low fees charged by working class schools – those in townships and rural areas – and the fact that many parents in these areas cannot afford to pay such fees, the schools cannot afford to employ the number or quality of teachers employed by
fee-charging suburban schools.

Clark says these schools are thus not able to offer a broad range of subjects at the same level as former Model C and private schools, reducing the tertiary study and career options for those matriculants.

Additionally, only about 38% of children who entered Grade 1 12?years ago managed to pass matric, yet the retention rate of middle-class schools is 100% or very close to it. The dropout rate at poor schools is startlingly higher.

The level of educational disadvantage accumulates over time, starting in the foundation phase with basic literacy and numeracy. A child without a sound base in reading and number concepts starts off at a disadvantage which worsens the higher up they go. “In terms of opportunities to learn, they are narrowing all the time.”

Clark says the improved matric pass rate of 70.2% is in itself misleading because it is “quantity without quality”.

“The obsession with the pass rate masks the real debate on the quality of passes. But I come back to where I started,” he says. His view is that barring exceptions, the quality of education a pupil received was “almost locked into where you study”.

The figures produced by Scott underline Clark’s assertion that pupils’ likelihood of success in higher education is dispropor-tionately determined by social class, which is also closely linked to race in this country.

While the overall percentage of youth enrolled at tertiary institutions is 16% across all races, the number of white youth enrolled is 60%.

“The odds are stacked against township kids who are almost guaranteed to be underprepared for higher education,” says Scott. Statistics show that of the 50% of enrolled students who fail to graduate with a degree, “the township kid is likely to be in that bottom half”.

“Not because they are stupid, but because their potential is blocked by a range of factors,” he says.

The problems in township schools are systemic, he says, coupled with the “persistence of poverty and inequality” and the way higher education is structured.

Clinical and educational psychologist Dr Ebrahim Chohan says the socio-economic conditions of a child can affect their chances of reaching “the end of the line”.

“The reality of the matter is that children are not competing at the same level. Some children have to travel long distances, some come from dysfunctional families, where either the parents are deceased or there is marital discord which causes trauma.”

Chohan believes the biggest contributor to school dropouts is the lack of guidance, adding that a parent is the most critical component in a child’s life. If parents put a high premium on education, they will make sure their child is educated at all costs. – Additional reporting Sphumelele Mngoma / West Cape News

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