By Gill Price
The release of the Census 2022 results recently show that South Africa is indeed making valuable progress in redressing our past on the education front and charting a better path for our children. While many challenges remain, no one can deny that we are on the path to reversing Apartheid’s evils.
In 1954, then Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd told Parliament, “Blacks should never be shown the greener pastures of education, they should know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.”
This statement encapsulates the stance of the policies of Apartheid towards the children of South Africa. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 condemned Black, and especially African children to poor quality education with no resources, skills or expertise.
But, the results of Census 2022 clearly show the gains the democratic government has made to reverse this awful legacy and instead give meaning to the right to education as enshrined in the Constitution and expressed in the Freedom Charter of 1955.
The Reconstruction and Developmental Plan (RDP) of the new democracy set out ambitious targets on education, saying, “We must develop an integrated system of education and training that provides equal opportunities to all irrespective of race, colour, sex, class, language, age, religion, geographical location, political or other opinion.”
It further states that education must be directed to the full development of the individual and community, and to strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It must promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all South Africans and must advance the principles contained in the Bill of Rights.
The new democratic policies sought improvements in education, including increasing access, enrolments, school completion, enhancing educational policies, and ensuring equal educational opportunities for all, especially previously disadvantaged groups.
Many of these goals are coming to fruition, as evident in the latest census report that highlight improvements in our education sector from 1996. The findings of the census also conclusively demonstrate that our development is not by default; it is by design from government programmes since 1994.
One of the major achievements is the overall increase of individuals (5-24 year olds) attending an educational institution, which has increased from 70,1 percent in 1996 to 73,4 percent in 2022, an increase of 3,3 percentage points. These results also reflect significant improvements for Black South Africans.
The percentage of Black South Africans attending school shows a steady increase from 1996 (70.7 percent) to 2022 (74,1 percent), with an overall increase of 3,4 percentage points from 1996 to 2022, whilst the Coloured population attending school increased by 1.1 percentage points over the same period.
School attendance is essential in growing and equipping individuals to contribute to the development of our communities and nation. Study after study has demonstrated that in order to improve the matric results, schooling needs to be improved from the ECD phase. It is therefore encouraging to see the growth in numbers of young children in institutions that lay the basis for reading and mathematics.
The Census 2022 demonstrates that the introduction of no-fee schools, Early Childhood Development and school nutrition programmes has had a positive impact on enrolments and improvements in the outputs of the educational system.
Over 9 million learners benefit from the National School Nutrition Programme, which contributes towards the country’s realisation of the Millennium Development Goals especially in making education accessible to the poor. The programme enhances the learning capacity of learners through the provision of a healthy meal at schools. This means that children can learn better because they are not hungry and it has resulted in close to 100 per cent attendance by children until at least the age of 15.
According to the Census 2022 report, 3,4 million children aged between 0 and 4 years attended ECD programmes in 2022, of which 2,5 million attended a crèche/educare centre. Between 1996 and 2022, attendance for children aged 5 years and 6 years increased to almost universal level.
A key factor of educational development is our nation’s school completion rates and we are pleased that this has drastically improved as the number of people who now have grade 12 has more than doubled since 1996.
As of 2022, more than 14,1 million individuals aged 20 and over have successfully completed secondary school (37. 6 percent in 2022, compared to 16.3 percent in 1996.
Within this group (individuals 20 years and older) the number of people with no education have reduced almost threefold over the years (19,1 percent in 1996 to 6,9 percent in 2022). The functional literacy of this population has also improved and is 85 percent in 2022, up from a low base of 64,3 percent in 1996. This positive result is partially driven by government’s drive to enroll children in ECD learning.
There has also been significant improvements in the uptake of tertiary education by this population which has increased from 7,1 percent in 1996 to 12,2 percent in 2022.
The successes in terms of tertiary education can be attributed to expansion of institutions, increased access, as well as funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
Two principal sectors of study for 2011 and 2022 were business, economics and management sciences, and education, which were dominated by females. Statistics also reveal that more females are likely to gain qualifications in health professions and related clinical sciences and there are more females present in the fields of communication, journalism and related studies.
These statistics reflect transformation in terms of women now having equal educational opportunities and being able to developing themselves.
Whilst much progress is made, we cannot ignore the areas requiring improvement. One of the real challenges that remains is that not all children in school are completing matric and acquiring the educational skills needed to develop our South African workforce. We are currently facing a skills shortage which can only be fixed through complete education and training.
Another challenge is the decrease of school attendance among those aged 15-24. Particularly concerning was the decline of 18 year olds attending educational institutions which dropped from 75,7 percent in 1996 to 59,9 percent in 2022.
As government we are working to reduce dropout rates and increase school completion by ensuring that learners stay in school.
Whilst we strive to improve our education system, we urge parents and our youth to take hold of educational opportunities, so that we can together continue the transformation of our nation.
What we have seen from the Census results is that Verwoerd’s dream will never be realised. We are on the road to increasing the quality of our education and ensuring the doors of learning are open to all.
While the road ahead is long and arduous, in that so much more needs to be done, we are confident that government with parents, caregivers, guardians, teachers, academia, the private sector and so many other partners can walk that road together for the betterment of all.