SA Education challenges

Social Impact

Out of 30 500 schools in South Africa, 25 741 are public schools with a yearly average enrollment of over 13 million learners (Depart of Basic Education, 2015). These learners represent the previously disadvantaged group and 85% (South African Human Rights Commission) of them do not have a science laboratory – the problem that needs my solution. Learners in these schools are subjected to learning science from a textbook. Due to lack of science labs, more learners are opting out of science. And that is dangerous for a country that is dependent on scientific skills for economic growth. Just over 171 000 out of 535 860 learners who wrote matric in 2014 registered for Physical Science (Department of Basic Education, 2017). Dr. Azar Jammine, of Naci, says of these learners only 5.5% achieved 60% or higher, yet he concludes that, in SA, there is a direct link between a person’s probability of being employed and their level of education. This is a huge social problem in a country where more than 17 million people are dependent on social grant. In the report; “Poor maths, science education at heart of SA’s skills problem (Creamer Media’s Engineering News, 2017)”, Dr. Sam Ramaila, a lecturer at UJ’s Department of Applied Physics and Engineering Mathematics postulates that the acute skills shortage is as a result of low standard of maths and science education. The same report says, “inadequate and inequitable science education is a threat to democracy and that the state of high school physics affects the overall health of the physics profession”.  “Further, a substantial number of schools are still under-resourced 20 years into democracy. Inadequate infrastructure to aid meaningful teaching and learning is also a hindrance…,” Ramaila states. He adds that economic growth in SA has been sluggish, owing to the lack of critical scientific skills. The SA Institute of Physics (SAIP) president Dr. Igle Gledhill says, “In a review of undergraduate physics teaching and learning, SAIP found that university departments agree unanimously on the poor level of preparedness of students entering first-year physics. This is disastrous for a country where so much depends on geology, mineralogy, chemistry and technology. Health professionals, engineers and technologists require training in physics by virtue of its nature as a fundamental discipline (News24, 2015)”.

The need for the StarLab in South Africa’s public schools is ever increasing due to poor science performance by learners from one year to another. Broadband reported that, “The pass rate in Physical Sciences declined from 67.4% in 2013 to 61.5% in 2014. Only 36.9% of learners scored over 40%” (Broadband, 2015). And in 2015, this figure had declined to 58.5% (, 2016). According to the Department of Basic Education a learner must achieve a mark of 30% to pass a subject, while the minimum required for admission into a university is 60% and above for physical science (University of Cape Town, 2017).  In 2017, only 14% of physical science learners achieved 60% and above (Skills Academy, 2018). This is a clear indication that much still needs to be done to improve the quality of science education.

Income inequality 

South Africa has one of the most unequal income distribution patterns in the world: approximately 60% of the population earns less than R42,000 per annum (about US$7,000), whereas 2.2% of the population has an income exceeding R360,000 per annum (about US$50,000). Poverty in South Africa is still largely experienced by the black population. Despite many ANC policies aimed at closing the poverty gap, As of 2007 blacks are over-represented in poverty, being 90% of the country’s poor while at the same time being only 79.5% of the population.

47% of South Africans are considered impoverished by being under the national poverty line of US$43 per month and the number of people living on less than US$1 a day has doubled from 2 million in 1994 to 4 million in 2006. The remnants of apartheid-era spatial segregation of black Africans to poor, rural areas is correlated with higher levels of poverty among them.

Education reform

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 math 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.