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The cost of repetition in South Africa


  • Servaas van der Berg

    () (Resep, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

  • Gabrielle Wills

    () (Resep, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

  • Rebecca Selkirk

    () (Resep, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

  • Charles Adams

    () (Department of Economics, University of the Western Cape)

  • Chris van Wyk

    () (Resep, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)


An almost unnoticed problem in the South African education system is the high rate of grade repetition. In this report, a combination of household and administrative datasets is used to identify patterns in learner repetition and dropout in South African schooling and the costs associated with these issues. According to the most conservative estimate, the number of learners in public schools repeating in grades 1 to 12 could have been 1 180 000. In monetary terms, this implies that the cost of having repeaters in the public education system was at least R20 billion (in 2018 prices), absorbing 8% of the total national budget allocated to basic education in 2018/2019. At least a half of these repetition costs is attributed to the high prevalence of repetition in the secondary school phase, with the largest number of repeaters located in grade 10 (at least 1 in every 5 grade 10 learners repeat). Despite the promulgation of repetition policy that limits the number of times learners can repeat a school phase, repetition trends in the past decade display a strong inertia, especially in higher grades. To monitor these trends better, and to track the implementation of these policies, significant improvements will need to be made to the quality of reporting on repeaters and dropout in EMIS data. While repetition is a problem, it is merely a symptom of a weakly functioning education system. The repetition debate is thus secondary to the need to address the quality of the education provided in our schools, and particularly in the foundation phase. Quality improvements will also make it easier to implement sensible policies on repetition and to provide remediation and support where these are needed. Moreover, by freeing resources currently needed to deal with repetition, improved education quality would also make remediation more feasible.

Suggested Citation

  • Servaas van der Berg & Gabrielle Wills & Rebecca Selkirk & Charles Adams & Chris van Wyk, 2019. "The cost of repetition in South Africa," Working Papers 13/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers327

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    education; repetition; drop-out; education finance; human capital; economic development; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods


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