Unhappy trends

Bad indicators in the direction of  trends in South African education and health  last week.

Very briefly:

Two recent studies reveal a low and/or deteriorating quality of matriculant entering university.   The national benchmarking test (NBT) tested 13000 first years at major SA universities and found only 43% proficient in academic literacy, 25% in quantitative literacy and, astonishingly, only 8% in maths. More worryingly a major study done yearly for the last ten years at traditionally Afrikaans speaking/teaching universities indicates a clear deterioration in academic readiness. (Note that while the NBT found absolutely poor levels of readiness the test is too new to establish a trend).

Secondly, Lancet, a highly respected international journal on health , published a special series on South Africa that indicated public health and the public health system was in serious trouble:

with the collision of four excessive health burdens: communicable disease (especially HIV/AIDS), noncommunicable disease, maternal, neonatal and child deaths and deaths from injury and violence.

The journal points out that:

Since 1994 life expectancy has reduced by almost 20 years – mainly because of the rise in HIV-related mortality – the average life expectancy at birth is now 50 years for men and 54 years for woman.

Devastatingly, the journal points out that there has been an increase in poverty and hunger as well as in child mortality since 1994.

Good public education and health are the best predictors of a country’s success. Effective investments in public health and public education are probably the most any government can do to change future developmental outcomes. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 taught us that the state can do a lot less than we hoped. The debt crisis and market crash we are experiencing is teaching that the state needs to do a lot more than it is doing. The South African state seems to be a special case: in the long term it will have to do more, but for now what it is urgently required is that it does better.

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