The aim of achieving primary education for all was one of the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations set itself. South Africa is one of a small group of countries that are now close to achieving universal primary education.
But there are still differences inside the country between the relatively affluent Western Cape, which already has effectively complete access to primary education, and the neighbouring Eastern Cape Province, where only 84 per cent were enrolled in primary schools in 2008. Nevertheless, these figures demonstrate a significant achievement during the past two decades.
Although average school sizes remain high, at about 480 learners per school, the learner to educator ratio is now in the low to middle 30s in most provinces. Compare this to an average of 21.6 for the pupilteacher ratio in primary schools in England, with more than 24 pupils per teacher in the authority with the worst ratio, and there is still a long way to go for class sizes in South Africa to reach those in the G20 countries.
However, one trait that South Africa does share with the G20 countries is the gender imbalance between boys and girls. Although in proportion to the appropriate school-age population there are more boys than girls in primary education, with a gender parity index of 98 (ie, there are 98 girls for every 100 boys), in secondary schools the index is 1.08. This means that there are more females than males in the South African secondary school system. In the Eastern Cape, the index is as high as 1.23.
John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.