S. African School Grades Rise for Second Year as Spending Surges

South Africa’s school pass rate rose for a second consecutive year in 2011, after the government boosted spending on education and changed curriculums to improve literary and numeracy levels.

The pass rate for final-year students at state schools rose to 70.2 percent last year from 67.8 percent in 2010, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told reporters in the capital, Pretoria, late yesterday.

“The progress is very encouraging,” Motshekga said. “We are aware we have a long way to go and the eradication of inequality remains a key priority in our schooling sector.”

Poor education standards have been a constraint on growth in Africa’s largest economy (SAGDPANN), with companies battling to hire skilled workers in a country with a 25 percent unemployment (SAUERATQ) rate. Half of all children who start school drop out before completing the 12-year curriculum, while literacy and numeracy rates are among Africa’s lowest, according to the government. Pass rates fell for six consecutive years through 2009.

Under apartheid, South Africa’s black majority received only a rudimentary education from poorly trained teachers at over-crowded schools. The African National Congress-led government has struggled to rectify the situation since taking power in all-race elections in 1994.

The government spends more on education than on any other item in its budget, with expenditure estimated to rise 14 percent to 190.8 billion rand ($23.4 billion) in the year through March, representing 19 percent of total state spending. The education budget is projected to rise by 6.7 percent annually over the next three fiscal years.

‘Weak Capacity’

“The legacy of low-quality education in historically disadvantaged parts of the school system persists,” the government’s National Planning Commission said in a Nov. 11 report. The main failing “is weak capacity throughout the civil service. Nepotism and the appointment of unsuitable personnel further weaken government capacity.”

Of the 496,090 final-year secondary school students who wrote exams last year, 24.3 percent achieved a mark high enough to enter university, up from 23.5 percent the year before.

The pass rate for mathematics declined to 46.3 percent from 47.4 percent in 2010, which “is quite concerning,” Motshekga said.

The lack of skilled teachers has been compounded by the introduction of a system known as outcomes-based education in 1998, which did not require teachers to follow a set curriculum. In 2009, the government said it would phase out the system and ensure teachers focused on improving numeracy and literacy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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