The Scando Review
The Scando Review
Post-apartheid education in South Africa

Post-apartheid education in South Africa

South Africa, which is a multi-cultural society, became a democracy in 1994. However, before its transition into a democratic state, little account was taken of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural nature of the South African society.

Jeremy Sarkin, Professor of Law and Human Rights as well as an expert on African affairs, writes: “The state catered almost exclusively to White, Christian, Afrikaans and patriarchal minority. South Africa was a highly polarised and divided society. Many people had to face human-rights violations. They were dispossessed of their lands and had their languages and culture marginalised. The majority of the South Africans were denied access to amenities, institutions, opportunities, and employment and this led to increasing levels of intolerance, a culture of violence, and a lack of respect for life.”

The South African government has been trying to transform school education since 1994, through legislation and by introducing new curricula.

History of education in South Africa

The Population Registration Act of 1950 divided all South Africans into four groups: Blacks, Indians, Coloureds, and Whites. The apartheid legislation was based on these categories. In these groups, Blacks accounted for about 75% of the population.

The first school at Cape of Good Hope was opened by the Dutch East India Company in 1658. The Dutch arrived at the Cape in 1652 to build a halfway station for traders travelling between Europe and the East. This school was designed to train slaves. After that, separate schools were set up for children of colonists as the Church recommended that slave children and colonist children had to be educated separately.

The School Board Act of 1905 granted local education authorities the power to establish schools, raise money for education, and own school property. However, there were no provisions made for the education of black children. Mission schools funded by overseas Churches were primarily responsible for black education. Only about one in a thousand black children received elementary education. By 1940, less than 25% of black children between the ages of 6 and 16 were in school.

In 1953, the South African government spent $180 on the education for each white child whereas the amount spent on each black child was only $25.

In 1948, the National Party came to power, and it started the institutionalisation of apartheid. Laws establishing white supremacy were enacted. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 took Black education away from mission Churches and gave it to the state. This further accentuated the unequal systems of education in South Africa.

According to Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of the apartheid, the education system before the rule of the National Party had been misleading by showing blacks “green pastures of European society in which they are not allowed to graze.”

In 1953, the South African government spent $180 on the education for each white child whereas the amount spent on each black child was only $25. By 1980, the government spent ten times as much per capita on white as on black students. At that time, education was not at all compulsory for blacks. In addition, teachers in black schools were forced to use textbooks that expressed the racial views of the South African government. Most teachers in black schools were poorly trained. There were disparities in the qualifications of teachers as well. About 97 percent of all the white teachers had professional teaching qualifications whereas two-thirds of black teachers did not even have the equivalent of high school diploma.

Education in post-apartheid South Africa

Apartheid began to crumble in the late 1980s as a result of resistance, protests and domestic pressure as well as international calls for justice. On February 2, 1990, President F.W. de Klerk started the process that would lead to democratisation of the country by 1994. Between 1990 and 1994, developments in the country influenced debates and practices in schools.

In October 1990, Minister for Education Piet Clase announced that schools could lawfully admit black students. As the country moved towards democracy, schools started to accept children from other racial backgrounds.

Intense debates by educationalists on what educational practices should be followed led to the development of two alternative approaches – multi-culturalism and anti-racism.

The enrolment of students from different communities at historically white schools posed the question of cultural diversity. At the beginning, schools decided that all pupils should emulate a white cultural approach, but as the number of black children entering these schools increased, the schools had to shift to a multi-culturist approach. Studies have shown that the multi-cultural approach did not perceive differences within racial groups, but saw Whites, for example as a homogeneous group and not as Afrikaans, English, Jews, and so on.

Intense debates by educationalists on what educational practices should be followed led to the development of two alternative approaches – multi-culturalism and anti-racism. The supporters of the multi-cultural approach argued that it had a major role to play in achieving national reconciliation. However, for the supporters of the anti-racist approach, making a difference was a more fundamental principle than national unity.

Effect of democracy on education

Education sector was necessarily affected by the constitutional changes as South Africa transformed into a democratic country. Article 32 of the interim constitution stated that all people must have basic education and all educational institutions should be accessible to all. It also gave rights to the students to select the language of instruction. When the final constitution came into force, it also included the provisions for right to education, according to article 29.

Before 1994, there were 20 different authorities in charge of schooling in South Africa. In 1994, a National Ministry for Education was established to administer a unitary school system. This department is responsible for the administration of school systems, developing educational policies, monitoring educational progress and setting educational standards for the entire country.

In 1994, National Ministry for Education launched the Reconstruction and Development programme, in which they provided free school lunches as they believed that education system would equalize the disparity between blacks and whites. This programme only had little effect. In 1996, Parliament passed the National Education Policy Act to ensure the work-flow of Ministry for Education in developing the education system.

Parliament’s next major step was The Schools Act which was passed in 1996. This act provides a uniform system for governing and funding of schools, thereby ensuring that all citizens have access to quality education. In addition to this, in March 1997, Department of Education passed South Africa’s new curriculum: Curriculum 2005. It was a plan over an 8-year period, between 1998 and 2005. The National Norms and Standards for School Funding was regulated in October 1998 to set the norms for funding of independent schools.

The constitution and new legislations provide the conditions for free compulsory education for all citizens of South Africa. However, it is still a work in progress as the government is trying to solve the problems inherited from their previous colonial regime.

Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.

How would you describe the term “apartheid” to your students?

Can you think of how the transformation to democracy influenced the education sector in South Africa?

Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.

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Happy Teaching!