School drop out mystery

2010-01-17 07:55

ABOUT one million learners who started school 12 years ago are

unaccounted for.

This is according to the country’s top teacher unions, which say

that of the total 1 444 018 pupils who enrolled in Grade 1 in 1998 only 552?073

(38%) of that cohort sat for last year’s matric ­exams.

In a joint statement, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu),

National ­Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) and SA

Onderwysersunie (Saou) noted with concern that only 334?718 (24%) passed matric

out of the 1.4 million who started school in 1998.

Naptosa executive officer Wally Smith said: “We have lost almost a

million children in the dysfunctional education ­system which has a very high

drop-out rate. To put it bluntly, the department is failing so many of our

children. It means that the pass rate is not even 60% because the learner

retention rate is bad.”

Smith said we needed to find out where those children were.

“Are they making a meaningful living? What are they ­involved in

right now?” he asked.

However, not everyone agreed with the figures or the method used by

the unions.

Education director-general Duncan Hindle dismissed the unions’

figures as simplistic conclusions. “There are many factors involved, including a

high repetition rate in Grade 1 and they are only referring to a seamless

12-year cycle,” he said.

Hindle said some of those learners might have opted for further

education and training (FET) colleges after Grade 9 or private schools and

others might have failed a grade but were still in the system.

“We believe the unions’ data is wrong. We stand by the 2007

Ministerial Report on Learner Retention in the SA Schooling System which

investigated the drop-out rate. It put South Africa favourably with other

countries internationally.”

Some of the key findings of the 2007 ­report commissioned by former

education minister Naledi Pandor were that the problem of learner retention was

more pronounced after Grade 9.

“The drop-out rate below Grade 9 is ­statistically insignificant

but it increases sharply from grades 10 to 12,” said the ­report.

It said, however, the extent of the ­problem was not alarming

compared to other countries that are part of the Southern African Development


The report said a proportion of children starting Grade 9 were not

in a ­position to finish secondary school, and that the ­system did not provide

them with sufficient alternatives.

“As a consequence there is a high ­failure rate, repetition and

dropping out in grades 10 to 12 which is a waste of many years of learning,”

said the report.

The report also disclosed that almost all learners remained in

school until they had reached the compulsory schooling age of 16 years.

Further analysis showed that the highest drop-out rate was among

coloured learners followed by black learners, while whites were the least likely

to drop out.

Professor Yusef Waghid, the dean of the ­University of

Stellenbosch’s faculty of ­education, said the school system failed learners,

resulting in the high drop-out rates.

“OBE should never have been a system for South Africa. It requires

of learners ­capacities which they don’t have. It needs discipline, motivation

and passion to do well, as well as the understanding that one needs to

contribute to society,” he said.

Waghid also lamented the fact that there was no filter mechanism to

return the drop-outs into the system.

“Drop-outs serve the economy as cheap labour or become delinquents

in society, which is detrimental to our growth and ­development as a country,”

he concluded.

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