Steps to address South Africa’s dropout crisis

The majority of learners who start Grade 1 will not complete their schooling. The South African education system is failing our children because a lack of educational qualifications puts them at a disadvantage in the labour market, increasing the prospect of a life mired in unemployment, and in so doing, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.

There was a public outcry when the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) 2016 results revealed that 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language. This is symptomatic of a far deeper malaise: South Africa invests extensively in basic education[1] and yet out of every 100 children who begin Grade 1, 60 will make it to Grade 12, and only 40 will actually matriculate from that cohort[2].

While annual matric pass rates have been improving over time, this reflects only those learners who make it through school to write their final exams. The annual pass rate does not account for those who drop out before or during Grade 12, or the high percentage of grade repeaters – with more than half of learners (52%) in Grades 10-12 having repeated at least one grade in South Africa[3].

While it is legal for learners to exit the school system at the end of Grade 9 or the age of 15, the reality remains there are few if any viable alternative pathways to opportunity for young people who leave school without a matric certificate. They cannot go to university. They are less likely to be invited to job interviews. And they will probably be excluded from youth development programmes, many of which have a matric as their minimum entry requirement.

To help stem the tide of school dropout, DGMT’s Zero Dropout Schools Initiative aims to mobilise society to halve the rate of dropout by 2030. In this learning brief, we look at the key risk factors for school dropout, as well as five strategies that local NGOs are putting to the test to keep our children in school.

Download the Dropout learning brief here or page through it in ISSUU below – choose full-screen mode [   ] for a better reading experience.  You can download the full Hands-on Learning publication (Issue 14) here.


[1] South Africa invests 15% of its total budget on education; proportionally this is a higher investment than the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. (Cohen, M. 2017. SA spends higher proportion of budget on education than US, UK. Fin24, 5 January 2017. Available at: sa-spends-more-on-education-than-us-uk-and-germany-20170105)

[2] Spaull, N. 2015. Schooling in South Africa: How low-quality education becomes a poverty trap. South African Child Gauge 2015. De Lannoy, A., Swartz, S., Lake, L. & Smith, C. (eds). Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.

[3] Taylor, N. & Shindler, J. 2016. Education Sector Landscape Mapping. Jet Education Services.

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