Validating ‘the truth’ about SA’s education system

Comments 5

Claims

Three claims on the state of education in South Africa

Source: Tweet by @Sowellnomics account

checked

Verdict

Incorrect and Misleading


CORRECTION: A previous version of this fact-check rated the claim that “[o]nly 30% [of students] get the marks requires [sic] to get into [university]” as “mostly correct”. The verdict only considered pupils who obtained a bachelor’s pass. The fact-check has been updated to include those who obtain diploma and higher certificate passes. We apologise for the error.

A South African Twitter account promises to “tell you the truth, no matter how hard it is to accept”. But are the education claims @Sowellnomics recently tweeted to its over 10,000 followers the truth?

“South Africa has the 3rd worst education system in the world, 50% of students drop out of the system, while only 30% get the marks requires [sic] to get into Uni,” the account claimed.

The tweet was retweeted 763 times and liked by 1,479 people by the time we published this report.

Africa Checked dug into the data behind the tweet’s three claims.

Claim

South Africa has the 3rd worst education system in the world

Verdict

incorrect

To support the claim that “South Africa has the 3rd worst education system in the world”, @Sowellnomics tweeted a MyBroadband article from 2016.

The article reported on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Information Technology report.

The WEF placed South Africa 137th out of 139 countries for the overall quality of its education system. (Note: This isn’t the total number of countries in the world. The United Nations currently recognised 193 member states.)

More recent data from the WEF’s 2017/18 Global Competitiveness Index report ranked South Africa 114th out of 137 countries for the quality of its education system.

WEF rankings ‘subjective, unscientific’

But the way the WEF assesses education quality has been severely criticised by education experts.

Nic Spaull, a research fellow with Research on Socio-Economic Policy (RESEP) at Stellenbosch University, has described the rankings as “subjective, unscientific, unreliable and [lacking] any form of technical credibility or cross-national comparability”.

That is because the rankings are based on the opinions of unidentified “business leaders” – 170 for South Africa, in the case of the Global Competitiveness Index report. No pupils were tested and educational performance was not compared to determine a country’s education quality.

Martin Gustafsson, a researcher in the school of economics at Stellenbosch University, has previously stressed that while the rankings could offer insight into business confidence, it doesn’t speak to the quality of education in the country.

“You can’t apply opinions to things like education,” Gustafsson told Africa Check. “It is like asking business experts what they think the HIV rate is.”

More useful measures available

A more insightful measure of a country’s education system would be standardised tests, like those compiled by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ).

In 2007, 61,396 Grade 6 pupils from 2,779 schools were tested. (Note: The most recent SACMEQ assessment is from 2013, but there are concerns about the comparability and validity of the results.)

South Africa’s average student maths score placed it eighth out of 15 countries, ahead of Mozambique, Uganda, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi and Zambia. Its average student reading score placed it tenth out of the 15 countries, ahead of Uganda, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zambia and Malawi.

South Africa’s education system does face serious challenges. But the claim that it has the “3rd worst education system in the world” is not based on rigorous data.

Claim

50% of students drop out of the system

Verdict

misleading

“The dropout statistic obviously depends on how one defines ‘dropping out’,” Gustafsson told Africa Check.

Data shows that between 2014 and 2016 an estimated 50% of 22 to 25-year-olds had not passed matric.

“But many of these youths at least attempt the [senior certificate] examinations and fail – I wouldn’t consider these youths ‘dropouts’,” says Gustafsson.

“A useful statistic [to consider] is the number of South Africans, by age, who did not successfully complete Grade 11.”

A recent internal analysis from the department of basic education found that 67.6% of people born between 1990-1992 managed to pass Grade 11, meaning 32.4% of them “dropped out” of the secondary education system.

“Hardly any of these [pupils] would successfully complete the desired or ideal alternative, a qualification in a public TVET college,” said Gustafsson. “Some might complete other qualifications beyond school… but those numbers are not large.”

Last year of compulsory schooling Grade 9

Gustafsson told Africa Check that it is also important to look at the Grade 9 completion rate, as it is the last year of compulsory schooling in South Africa.

The most recent publicly available data shows that in 2016, 88.6% of young people between the ages of 19 and 21 had passed Grade 9.

This means that 11.4% of young people in this age bracket had dropped out of the education system before successfully completing the minimum amount of education prescribed by law.

Claim

Only 30% [of students] get the marks requires [sic] to get into [university]

Verdict

incorrect

The latest National Senior Certificate results show how many students qualify for university entrance.

To apply to study for a bachelor’s degree at university, a pupil must achieve at least 30% in their language of learning and no less than 50% in four other subjects. Of the 534,484 students who wrote the National Senior Certificate exam in 2017, a total of 153,610 (28.7%) received this pass.

But a pupil may also apply to study for a diploma or higher certificate at a university – if they get a diploma pass or higher certificate pass, which have lower requirements. In 2017, 247,598 pupils earned these passes.

This means that 401,208 pupils received the necessary pass to apply for a place at one of South Africa’s universities to study for a bachelor’s degree, diploma or higher certificate. This is equal to 75% of the pupils who wrote the exam – a significantly higher percentage that was cited in the tweet.

 

Further reading:

FACTSHEET: Funding & the changing face of SA’s public universities

The flaw in SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate figure (as calculated by the EFF & DA)

Is SA bottom of the class in maths and science? WEF ranking is meaningless

Is SA worse off now than 19 years ago? The facts behind THAT Facebook post

© Copyright Africa Check 2018. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Comment on this report

Comments 5
  1. By Pat

    Please also include the TIMMS and PISA scores to give a more complete picture of how South African education compares to world standards. It is not useful to use South African pass rates as they are not externally benchmarked and therefore meaningless on the global stage.

    vote
    Reply Report comment
  2. By Johannes

    50% of students drop out of the system” is not misleading of them if they speaking about the school system. Just look at it like this

    https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/School%20Realties%20(EMIS)%202009.pdf?ver=2017-01-19-115936-747

    2009
    ====
    Gr1 : 1 105 186
    Gr3 : 1 003 394 -> 2018 matrics
    Gr4 : 1 018 450 -> 2017 matrics

    2017
    -===

    https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/School%20Realities%202017.pdf?ver=2018-03-02-151206-777
    gr 9 : 894 113
    gr 11 : 892 784
    gr 12 : 661 116

    matric passrate 2017 was 75.1% apparently but actually 629,155 full-time grade 12’s wrote
    https://businesstech.co.za/news/government/217857/south-africas-matric-pass-rate-2007-2017/

    gr 12 passed 472 495

    This means 472 495 of year 2001 babies must carry 545 955 people for the rest of there lives (that started school with them but did not finish)

    0
    -1
    vote
    Reply Report comment
  3. By Marius Buys

    Fact check conveniently do not check the amount of students who enroll for grade 10 vs the amount of students who complete their first year.

    Why? Because it is in that simple math the truth about the failure of students who intend to study further academically can be seen most clearly.

    It seems to me that fact check seems to exist to mislead people about the failures of the ANC by very selectively manipulating facts to lessen the incompetency of the ANC.

    vote
    Reply Report comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.