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:
- public and
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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