MTBPS – Education allocation must address school dropout.

Today’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) will play a crucial role in the future of our education sector.

Since Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s Budget Speech in February this year, there have been numerous reports released with worrying insights to the state of our education system, particularly the levels of literacy in South Africa.

In May this year, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 81% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language. This is a three-percentage point increase since the last study, which was conducted in 2016, and what some experts have estimated to be a decade of learning lost since 2011’s study.

Census 2022 results released by Statistics South Africa this October also confirmed that only six out of ten children in South Africa were still enrolled in an education institution by the age of 18. According to research, dropout peaks between Grades 10 and 12, which is why interventions aimed at supporting at- risk learners must start early in their school life.

Census 2020 also found that roughly 39,8% of South African children aged zero to four years were not attending any Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes. This means that two-fifths of learners in South Africa are playing catch-up from their very first day in school.

“These are alarming figures that require timely interventions with sufficient funding to ensure that learning losses and dropout exacerbated by recent challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic are caught up,” urged Zero Dropout Campaign Programme Lead, Merle Mansfield.

Zero Dropout Campaign notes Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s strategic decision to allocate funds to personnel heavy sectors such as education and welcome the extension of the Presidential Employment Initiative (PEI). The PEI has created employment opportunities for thousands of young teachers and assistants, which have provided relief and assistance to countless overcrowded classes, and without its extension their employment and productivity of some of South Africa’s poorest schools would have been in jeopardy.

As (re-)allocations and adjustments take place following the Minister’s Statement, Zero Dropout Campaign is calling for the Department of Basic Education to prioritise the following issues:

  • The expansion of Early Warning Systems and data administrators, which are crucial for detecting learners at risk of dropout early and activating support systems such as psychosocial services to help learners cope with emotional barriers that may interfere with their academic performance.
  • School and district-based support teams, tasked with providing learners with these psychosocial services, must be properly funded as they play an integral role in keeping learners on track to completing Grade 12.
  • Ring-fenced funding for literacy-related interventions and catch-up programmes.“President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet have in recent years repeatedly claimed that early grade reading is a priority for this administration. However, it is difficult to take these claims seriously until there are dedicated catch-up programmes and financial support for them in place.

As learners across the country sit to write their National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams over the next month, we must bear in mind the 40% of learners who have not been able to complete their education journey and are now on a road to uncertainty.

This MTBPS is an unmissable opportunity to ensure that not only our economy, but also our education system get and stay on track,” concluded Mansfield.

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