Education reform in South Africa

South Africa’s Constitution mandates that the government make education accessible to all South Africans (Brand South Africa, 2013). Under apartheid, black South Africans received only Bantu Education, while white South Africans received a quality free public education (Brand South Africa, 2013). Today, South Africa spends over 20% of its budget on education, more than any other sector (Brand South Africa, 2013). Educational investment accounts for a full 7% of the GDP (Brand South Africa, 2013). Since the ANC instituted widespread accessible education, the total number of years the average South African completes has increased. The structure of the national educational system gives power to individual provinces to choose how their schools run, while maintaining a streamlined national curriculum (Brand South Africa, 2013). This significant investment in education has slowly closed the educational gap between black and white South Africans. Since 1994 and the end of apartheid, black African enrollment in higher education has nearly doubled, and continues to grow faster than overall higher education growth, at about 4.4% a year (Brand South Africa, 2013). Key strategies of the educational reform include offering free meals to students during the school day, providing free schools to the poorest areas, improving teacher training programs, standardizing progress assessments, and improving school infrastructure and management (Brand South Africa, 2013).

However, 27% of 6th grade students are functionally illiterate (Nicholas, 2013) while only 4% of the wealthiest students are functionally illiterate, indicating a stark divide in literacy between income quartiles (Nicholas, 2013). The spatial segregation of apartheid continues to affect educational opportunities. Black and low-income students face geographic barriers to good schools, which are usually located in expensive neighborhoods (Nicholas, 2013). While South Africans enter higher education in increasing numbers, there is still a stark difference in the racial distribution of these students. Currently, about 58.5% of whites and 51% of Indians enter some form of higher education, compared to only 14.3% of coloureds and 12% of blacks (Brand South Africa, 2013). As of 2013, the global competitiveness survey (World Economic Forum, 2013) ranked South Africa last out of 148 for the quality of maths and science education and 146th out of 148 for the quality of general education, behind almost all African countries despite one of the largest budgets for education on the African continent. The same report lists the biggest obstacle in doing business as an “Inadequately educated workforce”. Education therefore remains one of the poorest areas of performance in post-apartheid South Africa and one of the biggest causes of continued inequality and poverty.

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