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Are Matric Learners

Are Matric Learners Prepared with the Skills and Competencies They Need for an Ever–Changing World?

Friday 20 January 2023
Written by: Shahana Bhabha
Save the Children South Africa | Education Advocacy

January 2023 – The overall pass rate for the matric class of 2022 is 80.1% - a 3.7% improvement since the previous cohort. Minister Angie Motshekga announced the official National Senior Certificate results on 19 January and commended the resilience and determination of the class of 2022; who rose to the occasion despite facing much adversity in their final years of schooling – Covid 19, load shedding and service delivery protests to name a few. The Minister referenced the upward trajectory in the matric pass rate (from 60% in 2009 to 80% in 2022) as evidence of a stable and maturing education system.

While the department is clearly committed to building an “education system that contributes to the full personal development of each student, and to the moral, social, cultural, political and economic development of the nation at large - including the advancement of democracy, human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes” (National Education Policy act of 1996); the extent to which this mandate is being fully implemented remains questionable.

According to an Amnesty International report released in 2020, “a child’s experience of education still very much depends on where they are born, how wealthy they are and the colour of their skin”. So while privileged children, with access to high quality education and teachers may exit school having benefited from an education system that has nurtured their full personal development, most South African learners do not.

The impact of these disparities is crystallised in the country’s unemployment rate as more than half of youth between the ages of 15-34 are unemployed. While the nature of the labour market and macroeconomic policy cannot be discounted, much of this comes down to failures in the education system. Government-funded schools remain largely under-resourced and over-crowded, rooted in the legacy of apartheid, which has been ineffectively tackled since then. This has resulted in poor educational outcomes across the board - creating a widening skills gap in the country, with over 40% of learners dropping out of school before completing grade 12 (as reported by the Department of Basic Education last year) or leaving school unequipped with the competencies needed for the world outside the classroom. The South African labour force is thus split into two extremes: at the one end, there is a small number of skilled people with highly paid jobs in the formal sector and at the other - where most of the population sits - a large number of unskilled people in the informal sector, with jobs that pay less well (or no jobs at all).

What is needed to catalyse change?

Following the pandemic and global movements to build back better, we are presented with a unique window of opportunity to reimagine education in South Africa. Building back better in the South African case cannot be void of addressing age old issues such as poor learning environments, lack of infrastructure and poor literacy and numeracy outcomes. Instead, parallel paths that address these systemic issues and gear learners for the 21st century are paramount.

Education systems have long been positioned to provide individuals with the skills, knowledge and competencies needed by society. However, as society in the 21st century is characterized by sweeping change, there is a need to realign education systems to equip children with the competencies they need to thrive in an ever-changing world.

While the future is as unpredictable as ever, the trends observed in recent years show that instead of imparting rigid, content-related knowledge, we need to instead equip learners with the tools they need to adapt, thrive and navigate the increasingly complex and volatile world we live in. If we get this right, we may be lucky enough to have cultivated a new generation that is imbued with the skills and common values needed to shape a better South Africa.

There is a growing global movement advocating to include a broader range of skills, competencies, and values, beyond numeracy and literacy, in education policies and curricula. While this is not something new, it has become increasingly important as we observed the impact of covid-19 which saw a complete overhaul in the way we live and work. The nature of work during pandemic years called for more adaptability, problem solving, creativity, resilience, and communication in the workforce as teams were connected only through digital interfaces and had to navigate new ways of operating.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) lists these skills, as well as critical thinking, innovation, leadership and technology use as some of the most coveted for the future of work. They predict that the changes seen during pandemic years are likely to continue and evolve in the next two decades. Coming out of Davos this week, the WEF says that a “Reskilling Revolution” – where workforces are reskilled for new job opportunities - can add $8.3 trillion to the global economy. The International Labour Organisation’s Director General, Gilbert F Houngbo, affirms that “skills development and lifelong learning improve the employability of workers, moving them into productive and decent work and helping to tackle inequalities”.

It is clear that cultivating these skills and competencies in learners can catalyse economic growth and help to close the widening skills and inequality gap we are faced with. This can only be done through forward-looking policy and investments in human development – starting from the early years. A growing body of evidence shows that playful learning in the early years lays the foundations for later learning in life. Through play, children learn higher-order skills like problem-solving creativity and self regulation. Socio-emotional growth is observed in children’s ability to interact, negotiate and compromise with others. Much of the skills, first developed through play, are catalysts for success in the 21st century.

Encouragingly, it seems that government shares the same understanding and is acting on it. The decision to migrate Early Childhood Development from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education highlights the state’s ambition to formalise and increase access to quality early education, including playful learning. Further, the Department of Basic Education’s curriculum strengthening exercise - which aims to embed competencies for a changing world in the curriculum - shows that there is political will to implement forward thinking policy all around.

While this certainly is an exciting time in the education ecosystem, we must act to ensure that inclusive policies are developed and that these policies are implemented equitably. This means adequate resource allocation for any plans – to enable tangible changes in the classroom and improve the quality of education for ALL of South Africa’s children.

If we succeed, we will contribute toward closing the skills gap in the country – with more learners leaving school with the skills and competencies that will set them up for academics, future employability or entrepreneurship. This will invariably contribute toward tackling the trifecta of poverty, inequality and unemployment and propel national development. Apart from the economic benefits of this investment, we will also be enhancing children’s wellbeing and personal development – imbuing them with the skills, competencies and values to thrive in an ever-changing world. We could be at the cusp of something great.


About Save the Children South Africa
Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In South Africa and around the world, we work every day to give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. When crisis strikes, and children are most vulnerable, we are always among the first to respond and the last to leave. We ensure children’s unique needs are met and their voices are heard. We deliver lasting results for millions of children, including those hardest to reach. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.