Schooling as a lottery: Racial differences in school advancement in urban South Africa

Cally Ardington, University of Cape Town
David Lam, University of Michigan
Murray Leibbrandt, University of Cape Town

This paper analyzes the large racial differences in progress through secondary school in South Africa using recently collected longitudinal data. We develop a stochastic model of grade repetition that produces a number of testable predictions that are relevant to the South African school environment. We predict that a higher stochastic component in the link between learning and measured performance will tend to generate higher enrolment, higher failure rates, and a weaker link between observable characteristics and grade progression. Following the progress of students who were enrolled in grades 8 to 12 in 2002 in the Cape Area Panel Study, we find that the probability of grade advancement and enrolment is much more strongly associated with the respondents’ scores on a baseline literacy and numeracy evaluation for white and coloured students than for African students, a result that is consistent with our stochastic model of grade repetition.

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Presented in Session 33: What are the social and economic returns of schooling in contemporary Africa?