Dropout is everyone’s problem: reducing dropout is good for South Africa’s economic health

Jonera (16) and her friends live in Prince Albert – she hopes that completing matric will help her to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher.

Dropout is at its highest level in 20 years. An additional 500 000 learners [1]https://cramsurvey.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/1.-Spaull-N.-Daniels-R.-C-et-al.-2021-NIDS-CRAM-Wave-5-Synthesis-Report.pdf have dropped out of school during the pandemic, according to new data from the NIDS-CRAM survey. Many young people who exit the schooling system without completing matric struggle to find decent jobs, and only 1% [2]https://ideas.repec.org/p/sza/wpaper/wpapers137.html hold a post-school degree or diploma at, for instance, a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college. Leaving school without a matric qualification cuts young people off from many life chances – the chance to participate, to learn, to earn, and to contribute to social and economic life. These are the chances on which our country’s future depends.

Poverty and inequality are main drivers of dropout

Before the pandemic, four out of ten learners who started Grade 1 dropped out before completing matric. Poverty, inequality and unemployment – perpetuated by cycles of social and economic exclusion – continue to hamper South Africa’s national development. For many children growing up in these circumstances, a matric certificate is probably the only opportunity for social mobility, opening pathways for them to enter the labour market or study further.

What does this mean for our country?

Imagine a tall Lego structure and consider how each block works to support the other — each playing a role in supporting the whole.  A strong base is needed for the structure to reach great heights. In the same way, we are all the building blocks of a healthy and flourishing country. By not focusing our attention on reducing dropout, we are undermining the country’s national development and the potential of its young people to reach great heights.

Quick facts

  • Young people without a matric certificate are at highest risk of unemployment.
  • More than half of South Africa’s unemployed population does not have a matric.
  • Even without further education, a matric certificate increases young people’s chances of employment. When used as a ticket to a tertiary qualification, the chances of finding a job are more than doubled. [3]http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0211/P02111stQuarter2021.pdf

To tackle one of our country’s major issues, which is that of high unemployment and poverty, we need to reduce dropout.  It’s in everyone’s interest to address dropout, as doing so will enable more young people an opportunity to get a decent job and enter the workforce.

Finding solutions

At least three things need to happen to reduce dropout in our schools. Firstly, we need to make dropout a key performance indicator that can be measured and used to hold education officials accountable. Secondly, we need to implement Early Warning Systems that can flag at-risk learners. And lastly, the Early Warning Systems must be able to trigger the right type of support for learners who show signs of disengaging from school.


1 https://cramsurvey.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/1.-Spaull-N.-Daniels-R.-C-et-al.-2021-NIDS-CRAM-Wave-5-Synthesis-Report.pdf
2 https://ideas.repec.org/p/sza/wpaper/wpapers137.html
3 http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0211/P02111stQuarter2021.pdf

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