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Outlook Bleak for South African Graduates

Like many nations, South Africa is currently suffering a poor economic forecast. At the end of 2010, the nation's unemployment rate was about 24 percent. Concern is growing that these economic factors, combined with education challenges, could have a strong negative impact on recent high school graduates.

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Recent Grad Woes

In South Africa, high school graduates are often referred to as 'matrics' or 'matriculants.' According to a January 2011 report from Solidarity, a South African trade union, 60% of matriculants will not find employment. With unemployment numbers already high, the union is concerned that South African secondary schools are not adequately preparing their students for work life.

A spokesman for Solidarity blamed this grim prospect on the matrics' lack of preparedness. But the union blames the nation's educational system for the students' problems. According to this critique, South African secondary school graduates are not taught the skills they will need, and schools are not held to high enough standards when it comes time to meeting graduation standards.

All matriculants must take the same exam in order to graduate. In 2009, only 61 percent of those who took the exam passed. Scores on the exam's math section were poor, with less than a quarter of the passing students getting more than 30 percent of the math questions correct. Solidary's spokesman said that even those who passed the exam may not be equipped with useful skills. He blamed the education department's standards for this failure. This spokesman added that only additional schooling could really make a difference for ill-equipped matriculants.

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Both Good and Bad News for the Future

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, statistics showed that South African businesses may have reason to hope for some economic improvement in the near future. Interest rate cuts led to some economic developments, and those developments are being credited with raising the nation's Business Confidence Index. In both December 2010 and January 2011, analysis of economic indicators like consumer spending showed that South African consumers might be feeling some optimism about their financial state.

This may be good news for matrics; with an improved economy, more jobs will become available. Additionally, the government is working on an economic development and job creation strategy called the New Growth Path. According to this plan, job creation would become the main focus for economic policy, with the idea that a working populace can lead to economic recovery. If this plan works, it could mean good news for unemployed South Africans, including new matriculants.

However, not all South Africans and economic analysts are optimistic about this job growth plan. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has criticized the plan as inadequate, saying that more radical steps are necessary in order to affect real change. The New Growth Path hopes to create more than 5 million jobs over the course of a decade, but COSATU, and other critics, feel that this plan is far-fetched in its current state. The New Growth Path plan still hasn't been formally put into effect, and critics say there is still time to change it before it is too late.

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