Fri, May 27, 2022

The South African education system (schools, tertiary and work related education and training) has undergone a major shift. This shift was away from a system that damaged society as a result of its divisive structure to a more democratic, engaging and empowering one.


Does Education Opportunity Continue to Divide Society?

  • This article illustrates how education is closely linked to social stratification and how the education model we choose can directly facilitate or impede an individuals progress and ability to accumulate wealth.
  • As education becomes increasingly commodified so it enhances social stratification. The wealthier you are – the more you are able to spend on education.

In South Africa, the situation is already more politically complex given that it is both race and class that stratifies society. Many analysts agree that South Africa’s ‘political miracle’ was purchased at the price of ensuring the survival of one of the world’s most unequal capitalist systems.

  • The ‘new South Africa‘ gave rise to the South African Schools Act and the Funding Norms and Standards. These have been passed in order to divide schools into two categories:
  1. public and
  2. independent or private.
  • It was also a process for redirecting authority to schools and, theoretically, to channel most state funding to the poorest public and independent schools.
  • Nice.
  • Reality is very different to the theory. Both the public and independent sectors are becoming increasingly diverse and pupil migration patterns in urban areas are undermining the concept of a neighbourhood school on which the Schools Act is premised.

Poverty and Education

  • In addition, the funding base of many urban schools, which are intended to become individual cost centres, is becoming more socially integrated making it difficult for schools to decide upon school fees.
  • The provisions for education are set out in Section 29 of the South African Constitution. Section 29 recognises that everyone has the basic right to education, which, at present is education to the level of grade 9. It is also stated that everyone has the right to further education implying that the state has a constitutional duty to develop education so that further education becomes increasingly available and accessible to all. Section 29 also refers to the need for transformation and democratization which would bring it in line with democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom which underpin our constitution.

Educating to be poor or educating the poor?

  • As government has made it clear that it does not have the resources or capacity to meet all the needs of education, the principles of private-public partnerships and cost-sharing run through all the policy changes. Although no pupil may be excluded from a public school for failure to pay school fees, the school may take legal action against the parents.
  • The Constitution of South Africa enshrines the right to basic education and the right to establish private schools. Public schools’ right to determine their own admissions policies has been limited by provincial and national legislation. Demarcated feeder areas for schools ensure that first preference is given to those children whose parents live or work in the surrounding area. The underlying principle is that public schools must first be open to all children in the local area. The Constitution prevents discrimination on the grounds of race in public and independent schools.
  • A person born into a wealthy family or who has two working parents earning professional salaries is likely to have better access to high quality schools. This will facilitate networking with other, similarly situated students. Graduation from a prestigious school provides an edge in obtaining entry level employment with powerful organizations which in turn provide opportunities for advancement.
  • And so the cycle continues – as individual wealth and prestige rises their children benefit in the form of better life chances. Someone in dire poverty has significantly fewer resources, which will not only affect his life chances but what he can pass on to his children in the way of life chances.
  • Under Apartheid, the masses received a lower standard of education which meant that they could only apply for low skilled employment. This systematically limited career progression and the ability to actually find work.
  • Financial constraints result in the rise of a ‘status education.’ Realising the importance of education for the life chances of their children, parents make huge sacrifices to place them in schools which are often far from where they live. Perceptions of middle class ‘flight’ from public schooling to private education have been interpreted as ‘evidence’ of declining standards in public education.
  • Reduced numbers in some black township schools have raised concerns about the impacts of pupil migration on quality and equity. Higher levels of integration in English schools are a common phenomena in ‘ex-Model C’ schools because of the overwhelming desire of black parents to have their children learn English, as the route to jobs and higher education.

Can education break the poverty cycle?

Hofmeyer (2000) found that the black pupils left in the African schools were from the poorest families, many of them with unemployed parents. The African children who remained in those schools faced the very real threat of becoming an ‘African underclass.’ While some white parents had accepted the integration of the schools and were continuing to send their children to those schools, it was also clear that those who could afford it, were sending their children away to boarding school, particularly at the high school level. Increasingly, therefore, it seems that class stratification will determine who will be left in the integrated schools and the inadequate African schools.


  • Allais, Stephanie Matseleng (2003/6) The National Qualifications Framework in South Africa: a democratic project trapped in a neo – liberal paradigm? South African Institute for Distance Education
  • Ballantine, Jeanne H. The Sociology of Education, A Systematic Analysis. Third Edition. Prentice Hall, USA. 1983
  • Carrim, Nazir. 2002. Inclusion / Exclusion in South African Education, Discussion Paper 2. Department for International Development.
  • Christie, Pam & Colin Collins. 1988. Bantu Education: Apartheid Ideology and Labour Reproduction in Calloway, Apartheid and Education
  • Department of Labour [a] (2001). The National Skills Development Strategy, April 2001 – March 2005 – Skills For Productive Citizenship for all.
  • Department of Labour [b] (June 2001). National Skills Development Strategy – Setting the Context, Second Edition.
  • Habib, Adam. 1995. “ The Transition to Democracy in South Africa: Developing a dynamic model” Transformation, vol. 27, pp.50 – 73, Economic History Department, UND, ISSN: 0258-7696
  • Habib, Adam & Padayachee, Vishnu. 2000. “Economic Policy and Power Relations in South Africa’s Transistion to Democracy”  World Development. Vol.28, (2), pp. 245 – 264. Pergamon ISSN 0305-750X
  • Hofmeyer,  Jane. 2000 “The emerging school landscape in post-apartheid South Africa
  • ISASA.
  • Kirov, Dotcho (nd) “South Africa’s Skilled Labour Shortage – Myth or Reality?” Paper presented at University of the North, South Africa.
  • Kraak, Andre [a] (2003). HRD and ‘Joined – up’ Policy in Human Resources Development Review – Education, Employment and Skills in South Africa, Kraak & Perold (eds).
  • Kraak, Andre [b] (2003). HRD and the Skills Crisis in Human Resources Development Review – Education, Employment and Skills in South Africa, Kraak & Perold (eds).
  • Parker, Ben. (2003 / 08). Knowledge, markets and public goods: the development of South Africa’s National Qualifications Framework.
  • Vally, Salim. November 15, 1999. Violence in South African Schools, Current Issues in Comparative Education, 2(1)
  • Webster, Edward & Adler, Glenn. 1999. “Toward a Class Compromise in South Asfrica’s ‘Double Transistion’: Bargained Liberalization and the Consolidation of Democracy” Politics and Society vol. 27 (3), pp. 347 – 385 ISSN: 0032-3292
  • Web (nd). Part 7 – Appendix 10: The South African National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the Development of ICT Skills
  • Wolpe, H. 1995. The Struggle against Apartheid Education: Towards People’s Education in South Africa in V. McKay (Ed). The Sociology of Education. Lexicon. Pgs 1 – 29.
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judy backhouse May 25, 2016 at 5:45 am

Agreed there is a problem, but its the endless red tape in SA that makes it hard for anyone to improve matters. I have been helping a school started by a young graduate who is idealistic about providing good education at low cost. Three years on she is doing amazing things on a shoe string, but is not registered. Her ongoing attempts to register the school have been a horror story of lost applications and changing requirements. Parents are still enrolling their kids because they see that at her school the kids are really learning. Yet you appear to champion all this red tape. Why? I know that I would have started any number of educational enterprises, but I can’t face the accreditation regimes in SA. I think they are strangling innovation in education. As long as it is so difficult, and your business is at the mercy of officialdom, the private sector will not be able to play an effective role in improving education.

    Leonie Hall May 30, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Judy, sorry to read about those registration challenges – lost documentation is definitely unacceptable. The only red tape I’m supportive of is that which ensures ethical standards and industry relevance. Tell the enterprising lady not to be daunted and intimidated by the bureaucracy but to tackle it at all levels. Consider accreditation as a way of reinventing yourself and tapping into new knowledge about market relevance…it can actually be an extremely validating and innovative process! #ComeToAWorkshop 🙂

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