Education in South Africa received more attention after 1994. This is after the fall of the segregationist apartheid regime. The South African government promised to improve its national education system (which has historically been disorganized and unequal). The link between poverty and education is well-recognized and cyclical. Here are eight facts about education in South Africa to provide background and context:
Top 8 Facts About Education in South Africa
- Historical legacies of segregation have created a lasting “race gap” in South African education. This means that quality education in South Africa is disproportionately more accessible to its white citizens. As of 2018, just over three percent of black South Africans were able to attain a university degree, in comparison to 18 percent of white South Africans. The Bantu Education Act of 1953, prescribed inferior education for black South Africans, meant to prepare them for lives of menial labor in the service of whites. Although this system no longer exists, the physical segregation of black homes to townships and rural areas is still present. As a result, this segregation decreases the likelihood that black South African children will receive a quality education, due to the tier-system which allocates funding to schools based on the average income in a particular school zone. Lower-income areas receive more state funding but lack revenue from fees that those in wealthier areas charge.
- South Africa has committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals along with all other African countries. This is a pledge to ensure universal access to free primary and secondary education for all children by 2030. The UN goals recommend re-entry policies for teen mothers and comprehensive sex-education to prevent drop-outs and gender inequality in education. Perhaps due partly to its commitment to these goals, enrollment in school and access to education in South Africa has been increasing over the last several decades. Unfortunately, the quality of education and student retention are still lacking. Less than half of South African students who enroll in grade one remain in school until grade twelve.
- In 2006, South Africa adopted a school feeding scheme called the National School Nutrition Programme to provide meals for needy learners nationwide. The country adopted this program after evidence was found linking well-rounded nutrition with improved school attendance and performance. Currently, the program provides daily meals to over nine million school children.
- The South African government spends a higher percentage of the country’s overall GDP on education than most countries in the EU (6.4 percent versus 4.8 percent, respectively). Yet, South African schools remain under-resourced and poorly staffed. Additionally, the illiteracy rate among sixth-year learners in the country is 27 percent. This is in comparison with other African nations like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, which sit at 19 and four percent. Furthermore, only 33 percent of South African schools have libraries.
- Rural schools are at higher risk of resource-deprivation, and instructors in these areas are notoriously under-trained and ill-equipped to handle large classes of students. Most children who attend school in rural areas leave school at age 16 with a reading age of only nine.
- In 2018, after two children drowned in school “pit latrines” (holes dug in the ground as toilets). As a result, the South African government vowed to tackle its school sanitation problems. President Cyril Ramaphosa created the Sanitation Appropriate for Education initiative and promised to replace pit toilets with safer facilities. The initiative has resulted in the installment of safer toilets in over 20,000 schools. However, a local data analytics organization estimates that it will take approximately 19 years to make all necessary replacements at the current rate of installment.
- Some organizations, like Rural Education SA and Rally to Read are working to alleviate obstacles to education in rural areas by partnering with sponsors to deliver supplies like books and stationary to rural schools. Donors’ investments also support teacher training. Overall, efforts by the organization have been fruitful with research showing that the program helps close the literacy gap at participating schools.
- A non-profit organization called Spark Schools is hoping to provide alternate paths to comprehensive quality education by opening low-cost private schools in the Eastern Cape. In sum, Spark schools follow a more organized curriculum and focus not only on academics but on emotional wellbeing. Currently, there are eight Spark Schools in South Africa, drawing math curriculum from China and phonics lessons from England. Additionally, Spark teachers attend 250 hours of professional development per year (far more than state school instructors). The organization hopes to open at least 10 more locations within the next 20 years.
Poor education, or lack of, deprives children of important skills necessary to become successful adults. In turn, those living in poverty often stop attending school in order to support themselves and their families. A well-funded, organized education system in South Africa is, therefore, necessary to eradicate the racial wealth disparities in the country.
– Nicollet Laframboise