Friday, July 3, 2015


If you think you are worthless. If you think no one will give you a chance. If you think there is no way you can succeed, you can make your vision come true by quitting school. No people has suffered more oppression than the Jews, yet we thrive. Why? Because  our parents might go without food, but they will make sure the children are educated.

Phyllis Carter

South Africa's education system is often described as a hindrance to socio-economic development. This seems even more relevant in light of the most recent World Economic Forum Report, which identified South Africa as one of the worst performing countries in the field of education, in the world. Under the "Skills" sub-category, the quality of South Africa's maths and science education comes in last place. Even though the Report's findings have been challenged, including by the South African Department of Basic Education, based on the processes of data gathering and statistical analysis, there is no denying that South Africa's education system is not performing as it should be. This article sets out to offer a comprehensive overview of the challenges and root causes of South Africa's currently struggling education system. It offers innovative perspectives, introducing for example the concept of "woundedness" and the role of reconciliation in education. It showcases that a society, such as South Africa, needs to tackle its issues on education on a micro, meso and macro level – in the classroom, among societal actors and through educational reform.

"In South Africa, the hierarchical structure of society, including access to wealth, prestige and power, was constructed to be on the basis of race through decades and even centuries of institutionalised inequality"(Taylor & Yu 2009, 5). Under the apartheid state, income inequalities were systematically structured along racial lines. The racist policies of the state were explicit and deliberate and this racial discrimination directly affected income and earnings.

A history of oppression and inequality in education

One of the most vivid examples of the perpetuation of racist ideologies through an extensive process of social engineering in the history of South Africa is the schooling system and the implementation of the Bantu Education Act of 1953. The Bantu Education system was rooted in the systematic underdevelopment of black people and the differential access to education based on race. (During apartheid there were four racial classifications for South Africans. These were White, African, Asian and Coloured. When the term Black is used in this piece it is generally meant to refer to African, Asian and Coloured population groups.)

Until the early 20th century, virtually all non-whites were subjected to missionary schooling. This, in contrast to whites who received schooling directly provided for or subsidised by local governments. By 1923 it was compulsory for all children of 'European descent' to undergo a minimum of seven years of schooling, while it remained optional, and often exceptionally challenging, for non-whites to pursue an education. (Malherbe, 1925, 401).
Segregated Bantu education

In 1948, the National Party was elected to power with a strong apartheid agenda which included the system of white supremacy and the systematic marginalisation and exclusion of blacks. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 was aimed at providing the labour market with unskilled workers.  The rationale for an inferior education for blacks was articulated by the Minister of Native Affairs, Hendrik Verwoerd, who became known as the chief architect of apartheid when he explained the intention of the Act:
"There is no place (for the Bantu) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour…  Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his own community and misled him by showing him the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze."(Pampallis, 1991, 184).
The Bantu Education system robbed the largest section of the population of basic skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving and instead, equipped them with a substandard education that effectively confined them and, in all likelihood, the following generation to a life deprived of the most basic of human rights.
In South Africa successive governments since 1953 essentially institutionalised this underdevelopment of black people through the education system. What followed was a 40 year period of developing a system of education that in effect exercised social control over the political and economic aspirations of black people. This served to reinforce social notions of superiority and inferiority between black and white, male and female (Biko, 2013, 174).

It has been argued that one of the biggest tragedies of democratic South Africa is the lack of real reform within the education system. Post-1994 many public schools recruited black teachers, many of whom were themselves products of the Bantu Education system. The administration at the time, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, followed by Thabo Mbeki, unfortunately did little to eradicate unequal access to quality education in democratic South Africa. (Biko, 2013).
Education today bears scars of the past

In spite of the inferior quality of and resistance to Bantu Education, enrolment grew rapidly over the years. By 1988 primary school enrolment reached 5.4 million and secondary school enrolments almost 1.7 million, compared to 852 000 primary school and 31 000 secondary enrolments in 1953 (Unterhalter et al., 1991, 37). Today, most black adults would have been subjected to the apartheid education system as students, and now find themselves as parents, teachers and some even education administrators.  Peter Lee, South African blogger and activist, reminds us that, "by 1994, 85% of teachers in Soweto were themselves products of Bantu Education.  He asserts that:
"These educators are victims of massive theft and systematic humiliation – both in their past, in their childhood and under apartheid, and potentially in the present if they own up to the fact of the situation.  The old wounds are just below the skin, waiting to be reopened" (Lee, 2012, 3).
In light of the complex Bantu education system, devised to ensure unequal education across races, it may be argued that it is not a surprise that South African education continues to struggle today to overcome such a deliberately divisive system, or that it still perpetuates patterns of the past, promoting inequality.

Spaull's analysis of standardised cross-national assessments, that South Africa participates in, shows that a large proportion of black pupils from poor schools are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Despite being an economic power in Sub-Saharan Africa and its massive financial investment into education, South Africa's education performance is below that of many countries including low-income African countries (Spaull, 2013). A key indicator used by the South African government to measure education performance is the "matric", or high school graduation, pass rate. Education researchers have pointed to the misleading use of this indicator, as it fails to account for the high levels of drop-outs.
Half of the young drop out

Learner retention is a greater concern with rising drop-out levels from grade 10 to 12. The high drop-out levels are correlated with socio-economic status, with most drop-outs observed in the poorer school quintiles (Lolwana, 2012). Spaull's (2013) research shows that "of 100 pupils that start school, only 50 will make it to grade 12, 40 will pass, and only 12 will qualify for university"(Spaull, 2013, 3). This means that half of the cohort is lost by the final year of schooling. 'Second chance' pathways are limited for young drop-outs, with an estimated three million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 falling within the category of 'not in education, employment, or training' categories (Sheppard & Cloete, 2009). These young people, who are mostly black, remain highly vulnerable to long term unemployment and under-employment (Nieuwenhuis & Beckmann 2012; Rankin et al. 2012).

South Africa's unemployment rate is chronically high at 25.2 percent overall and a youth (15-34 years) unemployment rate of 36.1 percent (Statistics South Africa, 2014). The disaggregated unemployment data shows that most of the unemployed are typically young and black and have lesser years of education (Murray et al. 2010; Branson et al. 2012).
Rampant unemployment

Sectors that have traditionally employed low-skilled labour force have shrunk over the past decade as the labour market has shifted towards capital intensive production processes that demand a highly skilled labour force. Even when jobs are available, black youth are further disadvantaged by their lack of social networks (Rankin et al., 2012). Their white counterparts often have a great deal of social capital, they are connected to a network of inherited resources from which they are able to enjoy material benefits such as information about job openings and referrals (Rankin et al., 2012; Mogues and Carter, 2004).
Thus, sustainable policy levers to radically deracialise the economy will require coordinated interventions in the education system. This will require focusing on policies that promote completion of twelve years of schooling, improving quality of education, increasing access to a broad range of quality post-school qualifications, and providing second chance pathways for school drop-outs.

So far in this text we have shown how injustices within the education system persist and have very real consequences for the larger South African population. A poor education drastically decreases prospects of social mobility and many youth are condemned to lives of fewer opportunities and a lowered sense of self-determination. In South Africa, the type of education an individual has access to is largely proportional to their socio-economic status, and because socio-economic status and race are so inextricably linked within the South African context, the danger exists for the further perpetuation of the stereotype that intelligence and development are the domains of whites and that blacks are largely uneducated and inferior. Poor schools have higher absenteeism, failures and drop outs, leading to higher levels of unemployment among youth who often as a consequence engage in illegal activities. Prospects of qualifying for tertiary education are also significantly reduced. (de Kadt, n.d., 27).
In summary: education inequality persists

This article continues at www.lline.fl/en

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