Equity and Social Cohesion in Post-Apartheid South African Education

Conference Paper to be presented by Yusuf Sayed

Yusuf Sayed is the South African Research Chair in Teacher Education and the Founding Director of the Centre for International Teacher Education at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa. His research focuses on education policy formulation and implementation as it relates to concerns of equity, social justice and transformation.

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South African Pre-School (Photo: private)

The formal end of apartheid was greeted with much optimism and many expectations. A new Government of National Unity with Nelson Mandela at its head signalled a new just and democratic social order, including social justice in and through education. Redress was assured through the deracialisation of education provision and the opening of schools, through equality in education spending and through a commitment to positive discrimination in favour of the marginalised. Whilst there have been many gains, twenty years later, formally desegregated yet class-based educational institutions, continuing disparities and inequities and poor academic achievement are key features of the contemporary educational order. Learner assessment results suggest that South Africa is characterised by a two-tier system of education, resulting in a poorly resourced public schooling sector serving the poor, while the wealthy have access to semi-private public schools and have significant management control over the running of the schools, rupturing the ideals of social cohesion encapsulated in the powerful metaphor of the “rainbow nation”. Based on a review of education policy in South Africa since 1994 (Sayed, Kanjee, & Nkomo 2013), this paper considers how this has come about, focusing specifically on a review of the changes in the governance of schools since 1994. The paper argues that for the poor in South Africa the doors of quality learning and education and social mobility remain firmly shut. In this context, this paper also considers some key strategies to advance social justice. The paper is a call to act with urgency to reform South Africa’s educational approach to make it possible to address the systemic crisis of education that especially affects South Africa’s historically disadvantaged and marginalized peoples.


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