South AFrica: 1 + 1 = 2

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jun 20 13:38:02 UTC 2006

1 + 1 = 2

David Macfarlane

19 June 2006 01:59

The South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) has found that South
Africa has two basic education systems -- the dysfunctional and
impoverished schools used by the majority of children, and those for the
privileged minority comprising well-resourced islands of educational
excellence. The HRCs report on the right to basic education, released to
the public and tabled in Parliament this week, follows public hearings
last October on the provision of education for pupils aged between seven
and 15 years, or grade nine, whichever comes first. It considered
submissions from the government, teacher unions, social movements,
academics, NGOs and community members, among others.

The Constitution guarantees the right to basic education for all, and
since 1994 the government has poured resources into schools to eliminate
apartheid-era inequalities. Despite this, the education sector generated
most complaints received by the HRCs legal services department, said Andre
Keet, director of the commissions National Centre for Human Rights
Education and Training. Thirty years after June 16 1976, some of the
issues that ignited that struggle still impact on our society, said HRC
chairperson Jody Kollapen.  There are big gaps between the promises of the
Constitution and the lived reality of many South Africans -- and we are
not doing well in bridging those gaps.

In the one education system, the report says, are rural and township
schools characterised starkly by poverty ... dysfunctionality,
vulnerability, alienation and a lack of social cohesion. The other
comprises formerly white, mainly urban schools that have maintained their
quality because of legislation governing school fees. Between the two
systems are glaring inequalities in every area of school provision,
meaning that many children are still being denied their constitutional
education rights. Resources are not enough, the report says. We are not
seeing the outcomes in terms of quality education that were anticipated.
The context is poverty, which has a bearing on the costs of schooling --
fees, uniforms, transport -- and in less well-documented trends such as
the drop-out rate.

The report urges the government to move rapidly and at greater speed to
increase no-fee schools, and says primary education should be made free as
soon as possible. It also recommends that the South African Schools Act be
amended to make it obligatory for the state to investigate why a learner
is failing to attend school. Teachers and principals should be made
accountable at district level to explain the non-attendance of children in
their classrooms. The report says that the impact of HIV/Aids on education
is not yet adequately understood. But it notes that there is still clearly
much stigma that pervades communities. Until HIV/Aids is spoken about
openly ... it cannot be said that we are addressing the issue
sufficiently. There may well be policies, but these will make little
difference in the lives of learners who head households and whose teacher
is oblivious of the fact or chooses to ignore it.

It also finds that there is a disturbing silence on language issues in
poor and rural schools. It cites the Nelson Mandela Foundations study of
rural schools last year, which reported that 42% of the pupils surveyed
said they had difficulty understanding their teachers. Debates on the
language of learning are dominated by former Model C schools, the report
says, which have the resources to publicise or litigate the issue. But
this ignores what is happening in the majority of schools, where
mother-tongue learning is still a rarity. It says the Department of
Education should re-evaluate the policy of granting school governing
bodies the power to choose language policy, and amend the Schools Act if

The report adds that governing bodies work better in wealthier communities
than poorer ones, and that the model of schools raising their own funds
for their own development simply does not work in impoverished
communities. In the latter, parents often experienced schools as
autocratic and alienating, resulting in loss of community participation.
Alternative models, such as rural community forums, should be explored,
and active participation by civil society including social movements is
necessary in order to ensure that social context is truly given effect in

The report also finds:

that teachers morale is generally low, and that many are underqualified
and underperforming;

high levels of school violence and sexual abuse of girl pupils; and

many schools still lack electricity, running water, toilets and libraries.

Education Director-General Duncan Hindle welcomed the report. Some of it
is not pleasant for us to read, he said, but is has a range of authentic
voices we dont often hear. The department would especially consider the
recommendations and respond in due course.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list