UNICEF is committed to ensuring quality learning for every child.

UNICEF South Africa/2012/Hearfield

The challenge

From birth to the final year of high school, children born into poverty face a range of obstacles that their wealthy peers do not.

Since 1994, South Africa has made great strides in realising the right to education, rapidly building an efficient, accessible and quality education system for children and adolescents. This notable progress has been recorded across the three components of basic education in early childhood development, primary and secondary education:

  • The number of children under five attending an Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre or pre-school has increased to one in three from one in ten since 2002.[1]
  • Primary school attendance is at 99 per cent – up some 3 per cent since 2002.[2]
  • Secondary school attendance has increased to 90 per cent from 88 per cent in 2002, with notable gender parity.[3]
  • Children with disabilities continue to be better included within the schooling system, now representing 5 per cent of the total population of children attending school.[4]

Yet, despite these achievements, the prospects and opportunities afforded to children in South Africa are still largely contingent on which side of the inequality divide they are born. Poverty and inequality remain harsh determinants, preventing so many children from accessing the quality basic education that they need.

From birth to the final year of high school, children born into poverty face a range of challenges that their wealthy peers do not. Emergent literacy and numeracy skills are a key challenge and form the foundation of a child’s future development and learning ability. While access to ECD centres has increased, the quality of early learning and development programmes remain a challenge. An underqualified workforce combined with the poor implementation of appropriate early learning approaches (in play-based learning) impact ECD outcomes, especially in poor communities.

While providing quality early learning and basic education has its own challenges, keeping children in the education system to complete their education (Matric), is another. Just over a quarter of South Africa’s cumulative cohort drop out of school before the end of Matric – the majority of whom are from poor areas and vulnerable to numerous barriers to education. Data shows that learner drop-out becomes a serious problem after grade nine, but that the underlying causes build up during earlier grades. This inequality of access is worsened by a gender inequality that impacts young girls especially. With only 28.5 per cent of young women graduating tertiary institutions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related careers, a widening gender gap in schools must be addressed.

[1] Statistics South Africa. 2019. General Household Survey 2018. Pretoria. StatsSA. (p. 13)

[2] Statistics South Africa. 2019. General Household Survey 2018. Pretoria. StatsSA. (p. 13)

[3] Statistics South Africa. 2019. General Household Survey 2018. Pretoria. StatsSA. (p. 13)

[4] Statistics South Africa. 2019. General Household Survey: Selected development indicators 2018. Pretoria. StatsSA. (pp. 4).

The solution

UNICEF South Africa/2019/Sokol

Inclusive, equitable and quality education – in a safe and enabling home and effective school environment – for all.

UNICEF supports the Department of Basic Education (DBE) through an agreed workplan, together with partners, in realising quality learning outcomes in three interrelated areas:

  1. We are supporting the DBE to expand investment and access to quality Early Childhood Development. By advancing the capacity of the ECD workforce to implement play-based pedagogies and, through providing parents with knowledge and skills (together with the Department of Social Development), we are ensuring young children’s early learning and development from birth.
  2. We are focused on achieving Quality Basic Education by improving the key determinants that impact the quality of education and educational outcomes. This includes improving teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills; increasing access to quality learning and teaching support materials; using real-time data from national assessments to inform planning, decision-making and classroom practice; improving school leadership and management through building district capacity; and spearheading an early grade numeracy and literacy intervention to confront South Africa’s reading and numeracy challenge.
  3. Our focus on rights-based approaches in Adolescent Development is amplifying young people’s voices. We empower adolescents with the skills and knowledge to engage one another, policymakers and society in finding solutions to the challenges of violence in schools and School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV). Through the TechnoGirl programme job-shadowing opportunities are provided for adolescent girls pursuing STEM-related careers, with an emphasis on a technology-orientated and gender equal future. In supporting the Sports for Development Programme (PES4D) nationwide, we are supporting the physical, mental, psychological and social development of adolescents through physical education and leadership development.