Education in South Africa: Broken and Unequal

Education in South Africa: Broken and Unequal

Understanding the education context in South Africa:

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world – celebrated for its magnificent scenery and rich diversity. But the landscape of our society is deeply marred. The legacy of apartheid has resulted in one of the most socio-economically unequal countries in the world which continues to trap people in cycles of poverty. Many schools and the communities they serve still live with the consequences of political and economic decisions made during the Apartheid era. The result is that a child’s experience of education in South Africa still very much depends on where they are born, how wealthy they are, and the colour of their skin.

These inequalities have been highlighted to an even greater extent during the Covid-19 pandemic, where it is estimated that 60% of learning was lost for students living in socio-economically disadvantaged communities, owing to the lack of access to online learning and technology.

For learners and teachers returning to the classroom, thousands are forced to learn and teach in schools which do not have adequate infrastructure or essential facilities.

South Africa also faces major challenges at the level of teacher skills and ability, particularly in specialist areas such as mathematics and science, with thousands being either unqualified or under-qualified. A study in March 2018 found that South African teachers could not pass simple mathematics and English tests, with some scoring as low as 10% for English first additional language and 5% for mathematics.

New teachers are often insufficiently equipped when they start work, owing to a lack of good quality in-service teacher training, and then have insufficient support for professional development when they are in a post. These teachers, who often face stressed classroom environments, lack the necessary competence to manage these classes and master curriculum delivery. An additional challenge in no-fee public schools is the lack of resources to employ extra teachers, often resulting in the school principal spending their time teaching instead of managing the school.

The contexts into which we work show the long-term effect of our education crisis and the impact this has on the ability of an individual to seek and secure meaningful employment.

Suburb Unemployment Rate Average Household Income
Bonteheuwel 27,4% 50% of households earn below R3,200 per month
Imizamo Yethu 32.84% 50% of households earn below R1,600 per month
**From 2011 census info

South Africa has an acute youth unemployment problem. Data published by Statistics South Africa at the start of June shows that the official unemployment rate among youth (15-34 years) was 46.3% in Q1 2021. The data shows that of the 7.2 million unemployed persons in the first quarter of 2021, more than half (52.4%) had education levels below matric, followed by those with matric at 37.7%.4

Extreme poverty owing to poor education and high unemployment has long term psycho-social consequences. Social ills such as gang violence, or even the effort to just not being caught in the crossfire on the way to school, are additional challenges that some learners face.

Our education system is unequal and broken. Change is needed if we are to break the cycle of poverty that too many of our people are trapped in.


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