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The Tragedy of Apartheid- Education in South Africa

In June 1976, an uprising began in Soweto, a township in South Africa, in response to the Apartheid government's introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. Movements like the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and South African Students Organization (SASO) raised the political awareness of many students and many joined the anti-Apartheid sentiment. On June 16, 1976, between 3000 to 10,000 students were mobilized by the BCM and SASO to march peacefully to demonstrate against the government's directive. On their way to the Orlando Stadium, the students were met by teargas and live ammunition by heavily armed police, resulting in the death of hundreds of students, and turning the revolt into an uprising against the government which spread across the country.

To understand the background of these revolts, one needs to understand how truly repressive the Apartheid government's approach to education was. The Bantu Education Act of 1952 ensured that the Black community received an education that would limit their educational potential and remain in the working class. For one instance, school was compulsory for White students from age seven to sixteen, for Asians and Coloreds from age seven to fifteen, and for Blacks from age seven to thirteen. The less education students received, the fewer choices they had to get better jobs and access more education.

Funding was also evidently disproportionate under the Bantu Act, with separate Departments of Education being created by race, and Black schools received less money. This determined the amount and quality of learning materials, facilities and teachers, thus disproportionate funding created disproportionate learning environments. The average teacher pupil ratio in white schools was 1:18, in Asian and Colored schools 1:24 and 1:27 respectively, and in Black schools 1:39. Of the minimal teachers available in Black schools, only 15% had teaching certificates, compared to 96% in white schools. Under the Bantu Act, many schools associated with religion were also shut down as funding was withdrawn from them- this was particularly detrimental to the Black community, as church schools provided education to a large number of Black students.

With such a wide disparity at primary and secondary schooling levels, it is no surprise that very few Black students got to avail the opportunity of getting a higher education. Even for those who were able to make it, universities presented another level of marginalization in their acceptance- four Afrikaans speaking universities and one English speaking university admitted only Whites, and five others had restricted admission and segregated classrooms. No financial aid or loans were given for Black and Colored students to avail.

Even after the end of apartheid in 1994, things in the education sector have not made much progress in South Africa. While integration has occurred, school is compulsory for nine years for all races, and the Bantu Education Act has been abolished, a new de facto segregation has taken place in schools. Most Whites have moved to private schools, while township and rural schools remain primarily Black and Colored. While the government spends 20% of its budget on education and attempts to address inequalities by dividing schools into five strata according to income levels in a community (where lower income level areas receive higher funding per pupil), there still remains a disparity in the fee structure of different schools. These fees vary according to the qualities of schools, and are unaffordable by many Blacks- thus they are now left unofficially at the bottom.

The de facto segregation also has to do with socio-economic factors, which can be traced directly to apartheid policies. The apartheid's policy to keep Blacks and Colored at the lower end of the economic strata meant that after its end, they faced 90% unemployment rates, and earned just 20% of Whites. This meant that it was impossible for them to afford the higher fees of quality schools, which ended in further generations being deprived of good education. Due to their limitation to working class jobs, many Black communities cannot afford universities for younger generations, and there is still a lack of financial aid for these students.

Even two decades after the end of apartheid, massive disparities exist within South African education- out of 6476 high schools, only the top 200 high schools have students achieving distinctions, and of these 200, 185 are former White-only schools that charge significant fees. 57% of the students that go to these 200 schools are, unsurprisingly, White. The progress of South African can be divided into three phases- (1) the stagnating phase (1995-2003) where no progress was made in learning outcomes; (2) the improving phase (2003-2011) where learning outcomes improved relatively quickly; and (3) the stalling phase (2011-2016), where gains have flattened out. Between 2010 and 2017, an 8% decline occurred in per learner expenditure despite a 7.1% per year increase in expenditure on education- this primarily had to do with 80% of the expenditures being spent on teacher salaries, and the unprecedented increase in learners from the 13% increase in birth rates from 2003 to 2005.

South African schools face many issues, including a lack of teachers who have the content knowledge and pedagogical skills necessary to impart curriculum, low through-put rates to university, 78% of primary school children not learning to read in Grade 1-3 and 61% of primary school children not learning basic mathematics by Grade 5.

While many of these massive disparities can be traced to the Bantu Education Act and the general racially charged policies of the apartheid government, there is hope for change in the future and a move past the legacy of apartheid. According to the "Priorities for Education Reform in South Africa," a report presented to the Treasury's Economic Colloquium in 2019, the Department of Education should focus on reducing the per-learner education expenditure decline, prioritize on fixing the weak foundation of the education system by focusing on primary schooling till Grade 3, and impose a reading plan that would increase the level of reading for meaning in primary schools, provide a minimum box of educational resources to all classrooms from Grade 1-3, introduce technology in education, and eliminate extreme class sizes and inadequate physical infrastructures.



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