Gendered Educational Participation and Attainment in South Africa

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University of Cape Town

Across much of the developing world, and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, there are large gender disparities in educational participation and achievement. Educating girls has powerful externalities, which, if scaled, can act as a catalyst for socioeconomic development. It is therefore important to understand the reasons for the widespread gender disparity in education. South Africa appears to be unusual in that it has successfully achieved gender parity in educational enrolment. This paper finds that South Africa's gender parity in enrolment is not as unique as it might seem. Whilst it is distinctive geographically, in comparison with most African countries, it is not so distinctive economically. Other middle-income countries in Africa and elsewhere tend also to have achieved gender parity in education. Over time, also, South Africa seems to be a typical middle income country in terms of its gender disparity in education. The paper also demonstrates that girls' success in terms of educational enrolment and attainment is matched by girls' superior test scores and record in grade progression.