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Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP23/2012

In South Africa, like in many developing countries, the differences between enrolment totals, estimated by the education authorities, and the numbers of children in the country, estimated by demographers in the national statistical agency, defy easy explanations and suggest that one or both sets of statistics are inaccurate. In South Africa, the gap between the two sets of estimates is substantially larger than one would expect. The typical reasons that have been found to underlie developing country data problems of this kind are discussed and their applicability to the South African data is investigated, using a variety of data sources. It is found that not clarifying the reasons behind the data discrepancies and not making necessary adjustments lead to distortions in commonly cited international development indicators that are not insignificant. It is demonstrated that analysing the various possible reasons for unexplained gaps between enrolment and population aggregates can reveal patterns that are generally useful for education planning. For instance, comparing the educational attainment of adults to enrolment patterns for children in the household data can help to gauge the extent to which the child enrolment responses are subject to typical upward biases. The analysis, as a whole, highlights the importance of collaboration between the education authorities and national statistical agencies to improve data collection and imputation techniques on both sides.

Keywords: population estimates, school enrolment, enrolment ratios, household surveys, gross enrolment ratio
JEL Classification: D19, I21