SOUTH AFRICA: Scoping the need for post-school education

There were 2.8 million young people not in employment, education or training in South Africa in 2007 - two in five 18 to 24-year-olds - and the number could have soared to 3.2 million now. In a study of post-school youth, researchers Charles Sheppard and Nico Cloete said this "is not only an educational problem but constitutes a social and economic disaster".

Major reasons were post-apartheid reductions in educational opportunities through higher education mergers and tight restrictions on private provision, according to a report Responding to the Educational Needs of Post-School Youth recently published by the Centre for Higher Education in Cape Town and edited by Cloete, its Director.

Also to blame for a rapid increase in 'lost youth' were lack of college opportunities, failure of sector education and training authorities, and low labour market absorption combined with uncontrolled entrance into the labour market of more than three million skilled or educated foreigners since the end of apartheid.

The main reasons given for not being employed were that young people could not find work or suitable work, or that they lacked skills or qualifications for available work.

In a chapter titled "Scoping the Need for Post-school Education", Cloete and Sheppard, who is director of management information at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, set about determining the scope of the growing socio-economic problem of 'lost' 18 to 24-year-olds.

They found that although "huge improvements" had been made in growing participation in basic and further education, South Africa's post-school education environment had:

* Large outflows of students from school without meaningful further education opportunities.
* A post-school institutional architecture that has become more restricted.
* Lack of systematic data, especially on out-of-school youth.
* A recapitalised further education and training (FET) sector with "a serious human capacity problem".

Following large-scale institutional mergers, Sheppard and Cloete said, higher education had essentially become a public university system with a very small private college sector and FET colleges offering a limited number of higher education programmes.

The result was that most young people who leave school without passing final examinations (matric), or who pass matric but do not gain a university exemption, have severely limited opportunities to further their education.

Sheppard and Cloete studied the 2007 Community Survey, a random survey by Statistics South Africa of 274,000 dwelling units, focusing on the 18 to 24-year age group - a population of 6.8 million, representing 13.9% of the total population of around 48 million.

Of these youths 82.1% were black African, 8.6% mixed race (coloured), 6.9% white and 2.5% Indian. There were almost equal numbers of males and females.

According to the Department of Education, there were nearly 14.2 million learners in South Africa in 2007 - 12.4 million (87.5%) in schools, 761,087 (5.4%) in higher education, 320,679 (2.3%) in public FET colleges and nearly 5% in adult education, early childhood development or special schools.

But among young people who successfully complete secondary education, only about one in five continue immediately with higher education the year after finishing school. South Africa had a gross higher education participation rate of 15.9% in 2007, using the Unesco definition.

Of the total of 6.8 million young people, 4.2 million were not attending in education - a shocking 62.7% of all 18 to 24-year-olds - 2.4 million (35.3%) were studying, and the rest did not say.

As expected, the highest proportions of students were 18-year-olds (67.1%) and 19-year-olds (55.1%). "This percentage decreased rapidly for each age group from 42.3% of 20-year-olds to only 10.6% of 24-year-olds," the researchers found. A quarter of the cohort were still in school.

The main aim of the study was to determine the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in need of a second opportunity. The difference between the total population in the age group and the number who were either studying or employed "begins to give us an idea of the number that could be targeted for a second-chance education opportunity," Sheppard and Cloete wrote.

The study found that 1.4 million (21.3%) were employed, 1.8 million (26.9%) were jobless, and 3.2 million (48.1%) were not economically active (the status of 3.8% was unknown).

An important question, said the authors, is whether young people in jobs were employed at a level appropriate to their education. Many occupations were unspecified, but nearly 17% of the employed were in elementary occupations - and this figure is probably much higher.

A further analysis showed that nearly 58,000 of the cohort who were employed and had at least 10 years of schooling were in elementary occupations. Just over 4,000 people in the age group had a higher education qualification but were in elementary jobs.

To determine the number of people in the age cohort in need of a second-chance education, Sheppard and Cloete excluded all students, all people in jobs, and all people who could not work or study because of poor health or disability. The remainder - 2.8 million people, or 41.6% of 18 to 24-year-olds - was then counted as the targeted second-chance group.

"As expected, the percentage increases as the age increases." While 24% of 18-year-olds are in need of a second-chance education, this grows to 40% by age 20 and more than half from 23 years onwards.

"In all the age groups substantially higher percentages of females were not attending an education institution or were not employed," the study found. Also, African and coloured people were particularly disadvantaged regarding attending education and being employed.

The authors concluded that government and universities had made considerable efforts to improve access post-1994, and that the higher education participation rate increased from around 12% to nearly 16% in 2007.

However, a targeted 20% participation rate would only be achieved by around 2020 and the current increase in the rate of only around 1% a year "will have very negative socio-economic consequences," said Sheppard and Cloete. "This implies that specific strategies are required to increase higher education study opportunities for young people in South Africa."

The number of young people who qualify for participation in some form of higher education but are not studying - nearly 700,000 - is far too large if South Africa is to meet its targets of high-level skilled and high-middle-level skilled people required for sustained economic development and the improvement of quality of life for all in our country."

Any intervention aimed at growing higher education opportunities should not be aimed at primarily degree study at traditional universities, the authors concluded.

A major problem is that the unacceptably high number of young people who could be involved in some form of post-school study but are not, are also jobless. This showed that current education and employment strategies aimed at solving this problem had not worked and would have to be changed or augmented. "Failing to do so will simply render the country's broad economic growth and development agenda untenable."