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Understanding the sharp primary level enrolment increases beginning in 2011


  • Martin Gustafsson

    () (ReSEP, Stellenbosch University, and Department of Basic Education)


Enrolments at the primary level in South Africa increased sharply from around 2011. Over the six-year period 2009 to 2015, grade 1 enrolments increased by 13%. These increases were not expected, and came after many years of enrolment decline. The current paper concludes that the enrolment increases were due to population increases. They were not caused by fraudulent over-reporting or increases in grade repetition. They were clearly the outcome of a remarkable increase of around 13% in births, in particular during the years 2003 to 2005. This is confirmed by birth registrations data. After 2008, births declined somewhat and settled at a level which was around 6% lower than the 2005 to 2008 ‘plateau’. However, this decline was not large enough to take birth numbers back to their pre-2003 levels. A brief discussion of the aggregate statistics relating to the child support grant and anti-retroviral treatment, and of some available research on causation, leads to the conclusion that it is not easy to explain the increase in births, though the available evidence leans towards anti-retroviral treatment, rather than child support grants, as the most likely explanation. Further analysis of microdata may bring more certainty in future. The paper argues that better use could be made of the available data, all of which have problems, but which, when analysed together, can produce more reliable scenarios around future enrolments. Such scenarios are obviously vital for effective education planning.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Gustafsson, 2018. "Understanding the sharp primary level enrolment increases beginning in 2011," Working Papers 08/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers301

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martin Gustafsson, 2012. "The gap between school enrolments and population in South Africa: Analysis of the possible explanations," Working Papers 23/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
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    1. Gustafsson, Martin, 2015. "Enrolment ratios and related puzzles in developing countries: Approaches for interrogating the data drawing from the case of South Africa," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 63-72.

    More about this item


    Education demographics; South Africa; births;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration


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