In 1953, the White controlled government of South Africa introduced the Bantu Education Act, enforcing the segregation of education throughout the country. The aim of the legislation was clear: black and non-white youth should look to the unskilled labor market for work, rather than seeking academic advancement. Hendrik Verwoerd, known as the “Architect of Apartheid,” stated that, “There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?” The disparity between school reserved for whites and their non-white counterparts grew exponentially as time progressed. White schools were up to western standards, while 25% of black schools lacked running water, 30% electricity, and more than half plumbing.
In the 1970’s, the per capita governmental spending on black education was one-tenth of the spending on white. While the policies of Apartheid Era South Africa have since been purged, the echoes of these procedures continue to affect the equality in education in the country. The disparity between the success of black students compared to their white counterparts continues to be a major issue in South Africa, and studies have shown that it is a wide range of issues that can cause this inequality. Mmusi Maimane, leader of the political opposition party, has addressed the legacy of the system while making a speech aimed to address racism in the country, saying, “”We are entitled to ask why a black child is 100 times more likely than a white child to grow up in poverty. We are entitled to ask why a white learner is six times more likely to get into university than a black learner.”
In the last academic year, some 213,000 children failed their end of school examination for the academic year, out of a total of nearly 800,000. However, this benchmark does not include students who dropped out of class, out of the 1.2 million seven-year-olds who enrolled in Grade 1 in 2002, slightly less than half went on to pass their school-leaving exam, 11 years later. This is not about a lack of funding. In fact, South Africa spends more on education, some 6% of GDP, than any other African country.
So what issues are holding South African schools back? One of the most easily seen problems are those related to the many languages of South Africa. In 2010, 400 12-year-old students were asked to work out the answer for 7 x 17. 130 of the 400 were able to work out the problem. However, when the same problem was asked in English in word form, none of the 400 students were able to answer. There are 11 official languages in South Africa but most teaching is in English, especially for subjects such as math and science.
Nationally representative household surveys from 2002 to 2009 in post-apartheid South Africa demonstrate that substantial educational inequality still exists. This inequality may not evident at ages when children begin school but increasingly manifests itself as students become older. This pattern suggests that black and coloured students either drop out or repeat grades to the extent that by age 18 they have a two-year education disadvantage compared with white and Asian (mostly Indian) children. A substantial share of this disadvantage is because of family background, while other factors, like school characteristics play a role as well. There is some indication that the trend may be narrowing, but not enough to eliminate inequality in the near future. South Africa requires a more effective education policy that can address both issues of racial inequality and disadvantaged family background.