Poor quality drives school dropouts

2014-01-19 14:00

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Learning handicaps developed at foundation phases.

The poor quality of education delivered by the basic education department is causing massive dropout and repetition rates, the department’s own researchers have found.

The latest Internal Efficiency of the School System report, which was conducted by the department and published earlier this month, reveals that the soaring dropout and grade repetition rates are a direct result of the poor and low quality of education.

The department notes in the report: “Perhaps the most grievous source of inefficiency is the low quality of learning and teaching, which results in educational resources not having the impact on people’s lives and on the economy that one would hope for.

“This section makes the point that low-quality learning throughout the system, especially in the early grades, represents the fundamental underlying cause of various inefficiencies and grade repetition and dropout.”

The report stresses the point that the low quality of education dispensed at the foundation phases – grades 1 through 3 – causes pupils to acquire learning handicaps that they carry all the way to secondary school and beyond.

In recent years, experts in the field as well as different studies have also raised serious concerns about the poor quality of education, which was forcing pupils to leave the foundation phases with subpar reading, writing and numeracy skills.

With the department’s policy that pupils can only fail once, teachers between grades 1 and 9 simply promote weak students.

According to the report, problems begin to surface in Grade 10 as teachers refuse to promote inadequate students.

“More children are nowadays retained in the school system until Grade 10 and Grade 11, but at that point, the impending matric examination induces many schools not to promote weak students any further.

“Many such students spend a few years in grades 10 and 11 before dropping out,” reads the report.

The numbers

The report shows that 886?717 of the 1?627?004 pupils who sat for matric exams between 2009 and 2011 had failed (54.5%).

During the same period, 2?427?530 pupils wrote Grade 11 exams, of which 907?945 failed (37.4%).

About 704?515 of the 3?049?851 pupils who sat for Grade?10 exams during the same period failed (23.1%).

The report also shows that 224?460 of the 1?006?549 pupils who enrolled for Grade 10 in 2010 repeated (22.2%).

Of the 1?055?790 who enrolled in 2011, 257?613 repeated (24.4%). And of the 1?064?898 who enrolled in 2012, 225?758 repeated (21.2%).

Of the 808?997 pupils who enrolled for Grade 11 in 2010, 117?979 repeated the class (14.6%).

In 2011, 197?468 of the 812?627 pupils who enrolled for Grade 11 repeated (24.3%). About 150?420 of the 835?667 pupils who enrolled for Grade 11 in 2012 repeated the class (18%). The figures of those who repeated classes between grades 1 and 9 are insignificant.

“There is a queuing phenomenon in grades 10 and 11. A large proportion of children reach these grades but spend a few years in these grades before dropping out without attaining matric. This is reflected in the high rates of repetition in grades 10 and 11, and the high rate of dropout during grades 10 and 11,” the department says in its report.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has acknowledged the low quality of education, and has promised to address it.

The teachers

The report laid the blame for the low and poor quality of education at the door of teachers.

“There is sufficient evidence of weak content knowledge among South African teachers to warrant attention.

“Grade repetition also raises questions about teacher content knowledge and the quality of school management,” the report states.

Professor Graeme Bloch, an education policy analyst and expert, said: “At last here is a report that proves what we have been saying all along.

“Focusing on the foundation phase is the crux of the matter, this is where they acquire the learning handicaps.”

He also apportioned some of the blame to teachers, but with a caveat. He said: “There is a content knowledge issue, but we can’t blame teachers for everything.”

Mugwena Maluleke, the general secretary of teachers’ union Sadtu, acknowledged that teachers have issues with the current curriculum, which was introduced in 2008.

He said: “There is a disjuncture between what the curriculum requires and what teachers know. They have not been trained in the new curriculum.

“Have we done enough to ensure teachers are aware of what is required of them? Teacher development is a lifelong process.”

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