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SA education system not ‘worst in Africa’ but ranks poorly in WEF report

Former foreign minister Pik Botha’s claim that South Africa’s education system is the worst on the continent has been challenged by a new report from the World Economic Forum.

Pupils at Spectrum Primary School, Ennerdale, SA

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Pupils at Spectrum Primary School, Ennerdale, SA
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SOUTH AFRICA’S education system is not the worst in Africa, despite being slammed by former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha,  the new Global Competitiveness (GC) report suggests.

Talking to trade union Solidarity, Botha recently described South Africa’s education system as â€œthe worst in Africa and [we have] the highest per capita expenditure in Africa,” Eye Witness News reported.

Out of the 148 countries included in the annual GC report, South Africa was ranked 146th for the quality of its higher education and 133rd for the quality of its primary education.

The quality of maths and science in secondary education was rated the worst out of 148 countries.

Despite these poor placements, the quality of higher education is ranked above Libya — which is ranked last — and the quality of primary education is placed above eight other African countries.

The quality rankings are used in part to calculate the overall key indicator ratings for primary education and health and secondary and tertiary education.

The  primary education and health key indicator in South Africa was ranked 135th while the secondary and tertiary education key indicator was ranked 89th.

However, one could dispute the reliability of these key indicator ratings as the factors used to calculate the rankings — including quality and enrolment — are sometimes irrelevant or do not seem to be weighted in terms of importance.

For example; the primary and health key indicator is calculated using ten factors, only two of which are related to primary education; quality and enrolment.

The secondary and tertiary education key indicator is calculated using eight factors, all of which are related to secondary education. These include; enrllment, quality, quality of maths and science education, quality of management schools, internet access, extent of staff training and availability of research and training services. Some of which are more important than others.

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According to the report, South Africa has 85.1% enrolment in its primary schools, 93.8% in its secondary education but only 15.4% in it’s tertiary education.

The GC report calculated the net percentage of those in primary enrollment by only regarding students who are of a certain age. The gross percentage for secondary and training enrollment was calculated by regarding students of all ages.

Despite poor education rankings, South Africa was rated 53rd in the overall GC index, down one position from last year.

The 2013-2014 GC index placed the country second overall in Africa. Mauritius clinched the continent’s top spot, and second place in BRICS, behind China.

South Africa was ranked second for accountability of private institutions, third for financial market development, 13th and 12th for the efficiency of the legal framework for challenging and settling disputes respectively, 28th for efficiency of goods and services market and 35th and 39th for business sophistication and innovation respectively.


The GC index was released as non-profit organisation Africa Watch published a statement contradicting Botha’s claims.

However, the Africa Watch website based its findings on research collected in 2007 by the southern and eastern Africa consortium for monitoring educational quality (SACMEQ).

Out of the 15 countries SACMEQ assessed on the continent six years ago, the organisation rated South Africa eighth for mathematical skills and tenth for reading ability.

The countries involved in the SACMEQ study were Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The findings were released in 2010.


Botha’s claim that the quality of Zimbabwe’s education system is more successful than South Africa’s, is supported by the GC report.

The index ranked the quality of Zimbabwe’s secondary education system 42nd and it’s primary education 63rd.

Zimbabwe was rated 116th by the GC index for primary education and health key indicator but 124th for secondary education and training key indicator, the latter ranked lower than South Africa.

Africa Watch reported that while South Africa spends US$1,225 on primary education, more than most African countries, Botswana spends $1,228 and Seychelles $2,089.

This data, which was also collected in 2007, was released in The 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report and omits some African countries from the report. Despite this, it suggests that Botha’s calculations might be wrong.


Jennifer Blanke for the World Economic Forum said: “What we are looking at in the global competitiveness report is the extent to which countries around the world are putting into place the factors and policies that are necessary to ensure rising prosperity for their citizens.”

“As a country becomes more competitive, productivity will increase and wages will rise with advancing development,” the report states.

The GC index celebrates the developments in South Africa’s business and financial markets but clearly highlights that its education system needs immediate improvement. Despite the quality of South Africa’s secondary and primary education not being ranked last, they were not far off.