The Costs of Illiteracy in South Africa

University of Stellenbosch Economic Working Paper No. 14/10

47 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2010

See all articles by Martin Gustafsson

Martin Gustafsson

Stellenbosch University

Servaas van der Berg

Stellenbosch University

Debra L. Shepherd

Stellenbosch University

Cobus Burger

Stellenbosch University

Date Written: December 17, 2010

Abstract

In South Africa there has been a surge in publicly funded adult literacy education in recent years. There is a recognition that for the effective monitoring of adult literacy, direct measures of literacy are required. Grade attainment, self-reported ability to read and behavioural variables relating to, for instance, reading habits produce vastly different measures of adult literacy in South Africa. It is noteworthy that self-reported values change over time as people’s perceptions of what constitutes literacy shifts. A 75% literacy rate is arguably a plausible figure, though the absence of a direct measure is problematic. An education production function suggests that literacy-related parent behaviour, independently of parent years of education, influences performance of learners in school. In a multivariate employment model, self-reported literacy is a statistically significant predictor of being employed. In a cross-country growth model, poor quality schooling emerges as the variable requiring the most urgent policy attention to sustain and improve South Africa’s economic development. Both microeconomic and macroeconomic estimates suggest that with a more typical level of school performance South Africa’s GDP would be 23% to 30% higher than it currently is.

Keywords: Literacy, Illiteracy, South Africa, Education Production Function, Economic Growth

JEL Classification: C35, D23, I28, O15

Suggested Citation

Gustafsson, Martin A. and Van der Berg, Servaas and Shepherd, Debra L. and Burger, Jacobus W., The Costs of Illiteracy in South Africa (December 17, 2010). University of Stellenbosch Economic Working Paper No. 14/10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1727649 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1727649

Martin A. Gustafsson (Contact Author)

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

Servaas Van der Berg

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

Debra L. Shepherd

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

Jacobus W. Burger

Stellenbosch University

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

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