OPINION: Knowledge is power. Real-time data on school dropout needed

Before the pandemic, at least four out of ten learners in South Africa who started school did not finish. But Covid-19 lockdowns and two consecutive years of disruptions to regular schooling have amplified the factors that typically lead to disengagement and dropout. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has attempted to quantify the impact of the pandemic on pupil dropout by comparing aggregate (collective) data on school enrolments from one year to the next and looking at aggregate attendance figures across provinces. However, these datasets are hardly the complete picture. Here’s why: South Africa simply does not have the suitable types of datasets to measure and monitor school dropout properly. 

While several datasets track matric exam results, annual school surveys, and master school lists, this information tends to be at the aggregate level, not at the level of individual learners. Learner-level information could help us flag which young people are most at risk of dropping out. However, the way in which dropout information is currently recorded in the South African Schools Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) is not well designed for this. 

To be able to pre-empt and prevent dropout, we need accurate and complete datasets that track individual learners’ pathways through school. 

Read the full opinion piece on News24 to find out more.