Overview: Education and adolescent development
South Africa spends a bigger share of its gross domestic product on education than any other country in Africa.
Primary schooling is compulsory for children aged 7 to 15 while an integrated approach to early childhood development aims to give all children between birth and school-going age the best start in life. A No-Fee Schools policy has abolished school fees in the poorest primary schools across the country, helping to attract poor, orphaned, disabled and vulnerable children to school.
Yet performance levels are lower than in many other countries in the region. High levels of school attendance, gender parity in both primary and secondary education and pro-poor school policies are achievements that contrast with the poor quality of education.
Many children experience a broken journey through school, interrupted by irregular attendance, absent teachers, teenage pregnancy and school-related abuse and violence. Around 27 per cent of public schools do not have running water, 78 per cent are without libraries and 78 per cent do not have computers. There is limited provision for preschool and special education.
The Department of Basic Education has devised strategies to improve learner achievements by 2014. One of these is the Annual National Assessment, intended to provide regular and credible data on learner achievement and inform decision making in the education system. The assessment in 2011 involved numeracy and literacy tests among six million foundation phase (grades 1 to 3) and intermediate phase (grades 4 to 6) learners at government schools.
The findings revealed that the quality of teaching is poor, leading to low performance. The percentage of learners reaching a ‘partially achieved’ level of performance varied from 30 per cent to 47 per cent, depending on the grade and subject considered. Those attaining the ‘achieved’ level of performance varied from 12 per cent to 31 per cent.
UNICEF supports government capacity to improve programme planning and results-based management while implementing innovative interventions to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools. UNICEF also works to strengthen gender-sensitive life skills-based education for adolescent girls and boys in and out of school, with a focus on the prevention of gender-based violence, HIV and teenage pregnancy. The programme also pays particular attention to early childhood and the development of strategies for children’s equitable participation in quality ECD services.