Author/s: Katharine Hall & Arianne De LannoyDate: October 2013
The Gender Parity Index (GPI) reflects females’ level of access to education compared to that of males. This is calculated for each school phase. A GPI of less than 1 indicates that there are fewer females than males in the formal education system in proportion to the appropriate school-age population. A GPI of more than 1 means that there are proportionately more girls than boys attending school. A score of 1 reflects equal enrolment rates for boys and girls.1
There are equal proportions of male and female children living in South Africa, and girls – by and large – do not experience discrimination when measured by access to school. In 2008, South Africa had a combined GPI of 1.01 for primary and secondary schools. This indicates that similar proportions of females and males are enrolled in the education system. However, the combined index masks different trends for primary and high school age groups.
While there are proportionately slightly more boys enrolled at primary school level than girls (GPI = 0.97), this pattern shifts at the secondary school level, where girls are more likely than boys to attend school (GPI = 1.06). For the last three years of school (the FET band), the GPI is 1.13, suggesting an even even stronger lean towards female enrolment. The change in gender parity at high school, and particularly from Grade 10, may indicate that fewer boys than girls are progressing to the secondary school and FET phase, or that boys are more likely than girls to drop out of high school for other reasons. Despite the fact that teenage pregnancy is often quoted as one of the main reasons behind high school drop-out, the data suggest that this is not the primary cause, although it may be a significant factor for girls.
This picture is mirrored in the provincial data, where enrolment ratios change from primary to secondary school level. The GPI for primary school is slightly below 1 in most provinces (signifying fairly equal proportions of boys and girls, with slightly higher enrolment ratios for boys). At primary school level the North West has the lowest parity index (0.91), while the index for the Eastern Cape is slightly above 1. At the secondary level, the provincial indices are consistently above 1, with the exception of the North West, reflecting higher enrolment among girls in most provinces. The most marked difference is in the Eastern Cape, which has an index of 1.22 in the secondary school phase and 1.31 in the FET band, suggesting fairly large drop-out rates for boys in the senior phase. The Free State and Gauteng are the most balanced, with indices of 1.00 and 1.02 respectively in the secondary phase.
Overall, there has been little change in the index over the six-year period, with average GPIs for 2000 to 2008 remaining almost identical across the provinces and nationally.
Although gender-based discrimination in terms of access to school does not pose a huge problem in South Africa, it is important to bear in mind that female learners are particularly at risk of experiencing violence and abuse in the school context. For example, a recent study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention found that 5% of girls at secondary school were likely to have been sexually assaulted or raped.3 The experience of violence at school can influence girls’ decisions about schooling and can result in “fear of school and of their classmates, [and] the inability to concentrate on learning”.4
The South African Human Rights Commission5 also believes that “the results of [sexual, gang and other] school based violence are reflected by the large numbers of school drop-outs, academic underperformance, increased risk of teenage pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and AIDS”. Gender parity data therefore masks a number of other gender-related issues that the South African education system has to deal with to provide truly equal and safe access to education for both boys and girls.
The data collection and processing of this survey have been known to be problematic and even erroneous, and the accuracy and reliability of the data is therefore questionable. The Education Department has previously noted this as a problem, and there have been efforts to improve quality controls in recent years. The Department has signed the Protocol for Inter-Governmental Cooperation with Statistics South Africa, which means that data must comply with quality standards in order to be accredited as official national data. Statistics South Africa’s Statistics Quality Assurance Framework (2008) provides data quality guidelines and monitors the quality of the statistics being produced in the country. This may help to ensure better data quality for the Department of Education.
1 Department of Education (2010) Education statistics in South Africa 2008. Pretoria: Department of Education.
2 See, for example: Buchmann C (2000) Family structure, Parental Perceptions, and Child labor in Kenya: what factors determine who is enrolled in school? Social Forces, 78(4): 1349-1379.
3 Burton P (2008) Merchants, skollies and stones: Experiences of school violence in South Africa. Cape Town: Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, Monograph Series, No. 4, April 2008.
4 Ibid: see footnote 4.
5 South African Human Rights Commission (2006) Inquiry into School Based Violence in South Africa. Pretoria: SAHRC: 3.
National Department of Education
Education Management and Information Systems (EMIS)