SOUTH AFRICA — In 1953, the infamous Bantu Education Act was passed as the words of Hendrik Verwoerd echoed across the country: “There is no space for him [the “Native”]in the European Community above certain forms of labor…Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the greener pastures of European Society where he is not allowed to graze.” Education in South Africa stands in crisis.
Prior to the Bantu Education Act, most black South Africans attended mission schools. However, the overtly white supremacist act focused on segregating schools, relegating non-whites to underfunded, ill-equipped schools that teach kids to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” The act was followed by the Coloured Person’s Education Act of 1963 and the 1965 Indian Education Act, both of which had similar goals.
Both aimed to use education in South Africa as a tool to cement white control and create a race-based social and economic hierarchy.
The residue of these overtly racist acts still lingers, hindering education in South Africa. Nicholas Spaull, professor of Economics at the University of Stellenbosch, emphasizes that predominantly white schools remain functional after apartheid while black schools are dysfunctional and behind in numeracy and literacy skills.
The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report for 2015-2016 placed South Africa’s math and science education quality as last out of 140 countries analyzed. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) of 2015 – usually given to children in grade eight but in South Africa is given to children in grade nine because the latter are ill-equipped for the test – ranked South Africa 38th for mathematics and 39th for science out of 39 countries.
What’s more, analysis of annual matric results shows that for every 100 children beginning their education in 2005, only 56 made it to the matric test in 2016. Of these, 37 passed and 14 qualified for university.
What these analyses fail to show, however, is the extreme inequality within South African schools. The Economist recently reported that the performance gap between the top 20 percent of schools and the rest is wider than in most other countries. Out of 200 black students, only one will perform well enough to go on to study engineering. In reference, an average 10 white students would yield the same result.
Considering that 90 percent of people living in poverty in South Africa are black, the correlation between race, economic status and education is startling.
Indeed, education is integral to propagating and maintaining apartheid ideologies. Despite multiple attempts at reform, the structural issues remain as misguided precedence emphasizes infrastructure, access and enrollment.
Obviously, education in South Africa is in a massive crisis. Under-qualified teachers, astronomical dropout rates, and a general distrust of the education system make up the aftermath of apartheid. Yet, there is a light in the dark. Multiple schools, from the Bramley school in Johannesburg to collaboration schools in the Western Cape, are developing new curriculums and staffing well-trained instructors.
However, these schools make up a tiny percentage. For adequate and lasting change to education in South Africa, a renewed vigor in dismantling apartheid’s lasting heritage is necessary. As Nicholas Spaull notes that “South Africa is a tale of two schools: One which is functional, wealthy, and able to educate students; with the other being poor, dysfunctional, and unable to equip students with necessary numeracy and literacy skills.”
The South African government must take this into consideration and devise an education reform agenda addressing the massive gap, continuing its fight against apartheid’s ugly legacy.
– Joseph Dover