A 1995 estimate of the gross enrollment ratio for South African secondary schools was 94 percent. About 54 percent of students enrolled at the secondary level were female that year. In December 2000 UNICEF reported secondary level gross enrollment ratios as 76 percent for males and 91 percent for females.
Secondary education in South Africa, like primary education, is divided into junior and senior phases. Senior secondary schools offering general knowledge last three years, broadening and deepening students' understanding and skills in various academic subjects to prepare them for their choice of career or for further study. In addition to studying languages (normally two to three per student), students choose a minimum of four subjects from the following mainstream areas: general studies, commercial studies, natural sciences, technical studies, the arts, and agricultural and domestic science. In grade 12 students take a qualifying examination at the higher, standard, and lower grades (i.e., the three tracks in which students have been studying). Because of the underpreparedness of mainly African students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, the failure rate in grade 12 has been dismal, reaching the 50 percent mark. Moreover, many students are taught virtually no science and mathematics, making the skills shortages in the science, engineering, and technology areas particularly acute. Besides the general education programs offered at the senior secondary level, vocational and technical programs lasting two, three, or four years can also be followed by senior secondary students.
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