Census 2011: Not enough progress in education

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What is clear from the 2011 Census results is that more South Africans are getting some education compared to 2001, but not enough of it. Troubling gender disparities persist too – twice the number of black women than black men aged 20 and older had no schooling.

There has also been a modest national increase in attendance at private institutions, with Gauteng and the Western Cape provinces having the highest attendance rates by far.

The percentage of people aged 20 or older who have higher education increased from 8.4% in 2001 to 12.1%. The number of those who matriculated increased from 20.4% to 28.5%. Those who had no schooling at all decreased from 17.9% to 8.6%.

Despite the claim by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that "significant progress since 1994 ... [has been made] to achieve gender parity in basic education", the 2011 Census found that 8.7% of black men had no schooling, while 12.1% of black women were not so lucky.

Two percent of Indian/Asian men over the age of 20 had no schooling, compared to 3.8% of Indian/Asian women.

White men and women in this category were the same, at a 0.6% difference.

But it must be noted that in terms of the highest qualifications of people over the age of 20 who have attained post-school qualifications, the gender gap has, in some cases, hearteningly narrowed.

The percentage of women with qualifications in business, commerce, finance and accounting increased from 16.8% in 2001 to 26.9% in 2011.

That said, the difference in the engineering field remains a concern, with 23.9% of men graduating with a highest qualification in the field compared to 4.1% of women. Business and commerce is the new dominant field of higher education for women, with education and health coming in a close second and third.

Overall there has been moderate increase in people aged between five and 24 attending private institutions rather than public ones. While other provinces averaged with rates of 5% Gauteng topped the list with 16% of people in this age group attending private institutions. This was followed by the Western Cape with 7.5%, and the Free State with 6.4%.

The functional illiteracy rates – people 15 years old and over with no education or a highest level of education less than grade seven – while still alarming, have dropped.

In 2011, 19.1% of people in this group were functionally illiterate compared to 31.5% in 2001 and 33.6% in 1996. Troubled provinces like Limpopo, and the Northern Cape, have cut their functional illiteracy rates by almost half since 1996. But the startling fact remains that almost a fifth of the national population is functionally illiterate.

  • Victoria John studied journalism at Rhodes University. She writes for the Mail & Guardian. This article was published on the Mail & Guardian online.