High rate of pupil dropout is a cause for worry

Johannesburg – Legislators this week brought their heads together to pan out plans to arrest school dropouts across the country, with pressure mounting on the government to prepare a dropout prevention blueprint.

Deputy Minister of Basic Education Reginah Mhaule said there were various reasons why pupils drop out of the formal education system.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted schooling worldwide, including South Africa … evidence of the initial impact of the pandemic is beginning to emerge,” Mhaule told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

“The most pertinent question is what will be the long-term impact? In the medium to long term, the greater risk of dropping out remains weak learning foundations.”

Research outcomes indicate that the pandemic has led to a 20-year school dropout record. The latest National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, which was released in July, estimates that at least 500 000 children were not in school.

The NCOP further heard that about 120 000 pupils fall pregnant every year, with only a third returning to school after giving birth.

Legislators asked Mhaule and the department’s acting director-general, Granville Whittle, what steps the government was taking to prevent the “national crisis” of dropouts.

Whittle said the dropout rates spiked after pupils reached grade 9 and above.

Whittle said: “One of the things we obviously look at is how one identifies those learners at risk of dropping out, and once you have identified them, you have to provide support.”

Research by education economists at Stellenbosch University’s Research on Socioeconomic Policy group shows that it takes 10 years to produce one matriculant.

Compiled by Prof Servaas van der Berg, Dr. Chris van Wyk, Rebecca Selkirk, and Dr. Heleen Hofmeyr, the report presents a picture of pupil performance and flows through the school system.

“We found that our high schools operate at an efficiency rate of only 49% if measured in terms of the years of enrolment in secondary school for every matric pass. In other words, at this rate, 10 learner years at high school are required for every pass. This is because some who eventually matriculate only do so after having repeated once or more,” said Van der Berg.

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