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Serving South Africa's population since 1994
29 October 2014

Building a winning nation

Under the constitution of the new South Africa everyone has the right to an education, something denied to non-whites under apartheid.

The South Africa School Act (SASA) of 1996 charged the Government to change the unequal, racially segregated system of the past and to improve education for all learners. What are the challenges and how successful has the Government been in meeting them?

The Challenges

  • Lack of investment in black education
  • High rates of illiteracy
  • A culture of non-attendance and resistance to learning
  • Low pass rates among black and coloured students
  • Poorly trained or unqualified teachers
  • Out-dated, racist curriculum
  • Too few schools – and those that did exist urgently required modernisation

The Government’s record

In 2003, the Government invested one fifth of its entire budget in education, a sum of 69 billion rand (£7 billion). At 6% of the country’s GDP, this is one of the highest rates of investment in the world.

Between 1995 and 1998, 1,000 new schools were built and 4,500 had been renovated. By 2003, 30,000 classrooms and 350 Special Schools had been built.

The number of schools without water dropped from 40% to 34% between 1996 and 2000. There has been a 68% improvement in the provision of toilets, and the number of schools without a telephone has dropped from 59%to 34%. There is, however, still much work to be done in this area. In 2004, over 1,800 schools had been identified as having unacceptable facilities and there were still 150 schools without any classrooms at all (‘schools under trees’).

A new curriculum has been introduced. The old apartheid curriculum which discouraged students from thinking critically will be phased out by 2005. The new school curriculum, called Outcome Based Education (OBE) encourages students to question and think flexibly. Subjects relevant to South Africa in the 21st century will be introduced, such as information technology, management sciences and life orientation (understanding the values and beliefs of others).

The matriculation pass rate which was as low as 38% in some poor provinces had risen to 73.3% by 2003. However this statistic doesn’t reveal the inequality that remains between black and white students. The examination system has been inspected and approved by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Literacy in South Africa has risen from 86% to 93% in the ten years since democracy. Between 1999 and 2002 over one million learners achieved literacy through the Government’s Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programme.

When the new Government came to power in 1994 there were twice as many white students in universities as black students, although white South Africans make up only 12% of the population. By 2004, there were twice as many black students as white students.

Challenges remain

Although the Government achieved a great deal in the ten years since election, it recognises there is still much work to be done. Priorities include providing all schools with access to clean water and sanitation by 2005, building schools and classrooms, the continuation of the National Schools Nutrition programme, ensuring there are no remaining ‘schools under trees’ and modernising the vocational training offered in further education and training colleges.

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