Each LMIP Briefing is an evidence-based contribution to informing the development of a skills planning mechanism for South Africa. Briefings showcase our cutting edge research and aim to highlight key trends and potential implications from LMIP research projects.

LMIP Briefing 21

Understanding educational transitions

Understanding educational transitions is vital to address basic skills shortages and improve the life chances of all South African learners. In order to examine the varied educational pathways and transitions taken by youth, the first wave of the South African Youth Panel Study (SAYPS) was administered in 2011. SAYPS, a longitudinal, panel study, followed Grade 9 learners who participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), over the next four consecutive years.

The study found that:

- South African learners follow one of four educational pathways. Almost half, 47%, follow a smooth pathway, where they progress through secondary school without interruption. A further 40% follow a staggered pathway where their advancement is marked by at least one interruption. An additional 7% remains stuck in Grade 9 or 10 and a final 7% leave school shortly after Grade 9 and do not return.

- Although 57% of the smooth transition group come from fee-paying and independent schools, 43% come from no-fee schools.

- Learners who follow a smooth transition tend to have better educated parents and to achieve higher scores in TIMSS mathematics and science.

- Positive attitudes about school, prior achievement and high educational expectations are all related to smooth transitions.

- Gender (being a boy), age (being older) and grade repetition are all related to interrupted pathways through school. 

- While the importance of prior achievement and school quality is clear, many young South Africans from the least well-off schools who have low average TIMSS scores are nonetheless following smooth progression pathways.

The policy implications that emerge from our findings are:

- Our predictable story supports commitments to increasing educational opportunities and ensuring that learners thrive at school, and lend support to the National Development Plan’s (NDP) focus on early interventions to address opportunity gaps.

- Our results also suggest that shifts into and out of the schooling system might be more frequent than previously thought, and so it is important that the country’s schooling and  post-schooling system is well-integrated to allow for these movements.

- Equally important is clarifying what options are available for learners, in terms of Technical Vocational Education and Training and community colleges, the terrain of which is currently very complicated.

- Evidence of persistent grade repetition suggests a need to understand how the current progression policy is applied practically across different schools.

- There are systemic challenges faced by boys at school that require further attention.