Author/s: Katharine HallDate: November 2019
This indicator shows the number and percentage of children aged 7 – 17 years who are reported to be attending a school or educational facility. This is different from “enrolment rate”, which reflects the number of children enrolled in educational institutions, as reported by schools to the national Department of Basic Education early in the school year.
Amongst children of school-going age who are not attending school the main set of reasons for non-attendance relate to the quality of education or the learners ability to progress: “Education is useless or not interesting” is the reason given for 10% of those not attending school. Another 9% are “unable to perform at school” while 5% dropped out because they failed the exams. These signals of failures in the education system account for a quarter of all reported non-attendance. A further 7% of children not attending school are excluded because they were not accepted for enrolment.
The second main barrier to education is financial constraints. These include the cost of schooling (the reason given for 13% of children not attending schools) – which would also include related costs such as uniform and transport – and the opportunity costs of education where children have family commitments such as child minding (4%) or are needed to work in a family business or elsewhere to support household income (2%).
Disability is also an important reason, accounting for 15% of non-attendance, while illness accounts for an additional 5% of the non-attendance rate.
The main reasons for non-attendance can therefore be divided into three main categories: system failures (including exclusions and quality problems); financial barriers; and illness or disability. Together, these account for over 70% of non-attendance.
Pregnancy accounts for around 7% of drop-out amongst teenage girls not attending school, and only 3% of all non-attendance.1
Although the costs of education are cited as a barrier for those who are not attending (and who tend to be older), the overall attendance rate for children in the lower income quintiles is not significantly lower than those in the wealthier quintiles.
Attendance rates alone do not capture the regularity of children’s school attendance or their progress through school. Research has shown that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds – with limited economic resources, lower levels of parental education, or who have lost their mother – are less likely to enrol in school and are more prone to dropping out or progressing more slowly than their more advantaged peers. Racial inequalities in school advancement remain strong.2 Similarly, school attendance rates tell us nothing about the quality of teaching and learning.3 Inequalities in learning outcomes are explored through standardised tests such as those used in the international SAQMEC,4 TIMMS and PIRLS studies.5 The DBE’s Annual National Assessments have been discontinued.
1 Hall K analysis of General Household Survey 2018, Children’s Institute, UCT.
For more information on school drop-out, see also:
Branson N, Hofmeyer C & Lam D (2014) Progress through school and the determinants of school dropout in South Africa. Development Southern Africa, 31(1): 106-126;
Gustafsson M (2011) The When and How of Leaving School: The Policy Implications of New Evidence on Secondary School in South Africa. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers 09/11. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University;
2 Crouch L (2005) Disappearing Schoolchildren or Data Misunderstanding? Dropout Phenomena in South Africa. North Carolina, USA: RTI International;
Lam D & Seekings J (2005) Transitions to Adulthood in Urban South Africa: Evidence from a Panel Survey. Prepared for the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) general conference, 18 – 23 July 2005, Tours, France;
Lam D, Ardington A & Leibbrandt M (2011) Schooling as a lottery: Racial differences in school advancement in urban South Africa. Journal of Development Economics, 95: 121-136.
3 Spaull N & Taylor S (2015) Access to what? Creating a composite measure of educational quantity and educational quality for 11 African countries. Comparative Education Review, 59(1):133-165.
4 The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality. See http://www.sacmeq.org/?q=sacmeq-members/south-africa/sacmeq-reports
5 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study & Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. See http://www.pirls.org/
‘Attendance’ thus reflects the proportion of children that were reported as “attending school” by one of the adults in their household interviewed for the GHS, which is conducted in July each year. This is different from “enrolment rates” that reflect the number of children enrolled in a basic or secondary educational institution, as reported by the schools to the national government early in the school year. Annual enrolment rates can be found in the Department of Education’s Education Statistics in South Africa, published each year.
The number of children aged 7 – 17 years (school-going age) who were attending an educational institution was extracted from the GHS data. This figure was divided by the number of children of school-going age to develop the proportion of children of school-going age attending an educational facility. The numbers of children in each province aged 7 – 17 years were also determined, and the same procedure was applied to develop the provincial attendance rates.