Releasing Statistics SA’s (Stats SA’s) “social profile of youth” report, statistician-general Pali Lehohla said that the findings indicated “a very difficult future”, and that SA remained stuck in its apartheid past, unable to overcome its legacy issues.
The report strips away the myth that the country is making progress through higher matric pass rates and higher numbers of university admissions.
Youth unemployment — among people 15 to 34 years old — remains stubbornly high at 39.5%, an increase on five years ago at 34.2%. While education remains the key pathway out of unemployment — 57% of unemployed do not have matric — black youth have been less able than other groups to translate educational opportunities into skilled jobs.
Compared to 1994, a greater percentage of white, coloured and Indian youth have made it into skilled work as managers, professionals or technicians. But among black youth, the percentage of those in skilled jobs was almost static over 20 years and even declined. So, in the age group of 25-34, there was a 2% decline in the proportion of those in skilled jobs, and among those aged 15-24, the needle hardly moved from about 9% to 10%.
The implication of this, Mr Lehohla said, “is that the parents are better equipped than their children. And when this happens, you don’t have a future.”
One explanation for this, Mr Lehohla said, was that while the number of enrolments of black students at university had increased considerably, the completion rate of black students was far lower as a proportion of enrolment than it was even in 1994. Another was the closure of teacher training colleges and nursing colleges that were institutions that had catered more for black students than any other group.
Stark data on educational achievement was also released on Monday by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga in response to a question by Democratic Alliance MP Gavin Davis.
Ms Motshekga said educational attainment in SA’s poorest schools is falling, while in its richest schools, it is consistently high. In 2013, the matric pass rate in quintile 1 schools — schools in the poorest areas — was 70.3%. In 2014, this dropped to 67.5%, and last year, to 61.6%. In contrast, in quintile 5 schools — SA’s richest public schools, mostly in the former white suburbs — achieved a 91.9% matric pass rate in 2013; a 90.2% pass rate in 2014; and a 90.8% pass rate last year.
The youth report also illustrates a bigger developmental issue for policy makers: by failing to educate its youthful population — known by demographers as the youth bulge — SA has little hope of realising a “demographic dividend,” which was seen by policy makers as an important factor in SA’s favour.
Some societies — such as the US and Europe during the post Second World War “baby boom” — were able to turn a growing population to advantage when a growing number of people entered the workforce relative to the number of dependants.
In its 2015 report on SA, the World Bank said SA’s potential to reap the demographic dividend was one of the few silver linings in an otherwise bleak economic climate. But significantly, says the Stats SA report, youth have declined slightly as a share of the population, from 36.8% in 2009 to 36.5%, indicating that the youth bulge is coming to an end. SA’s fertility rate at 2.5 children per woman is now close to replacement levels of 2.1%.
“If we are so close to replacement and the proportion of youth is falling, and we have persistently high youth unemployment, then we have a cocktail for disaster. We had the bulge, but the bulge was not translated into usable human capital. It suggests a very difficult future,” Mr Lehohla said.