Secondary education in South Africa: Two decades after democracy

– By Jocelyne Kamwanya Mwabi

In South Africa, after nearly two decades of democracy there is a fear that the quality of education has decreased despite the huge investments made by the local and national government into the educations systems from the primary to the tertiary level.  It is possible that in trying to rectify the injustice of the Bantu education act on the black African population the government might have compromised the quality of education nationwide. The current South African (SA) government has made various policy changes in the education system and curriculum changes in order to ensure that every South African citizen has an equal opportunity to basic education.

However, the socio-economic status of an individual South African plays a large role on the level of education he/she will be able to obtain. Despite the government’s efforts to reduce or remove the racial inequality brought about the apartheid government, nearly 60% of the country’s economic wealth belong to the white minority. Some studies have shown that the average white home earns six times more than the average black home. Therefore the white families are much more capable of investing into their children’s education.  The current situation in SA is one where the wealthy whites have built expensive private schools for their children. There are a few wealthy families of other races that are able to place their children in these private schools. However, the majority of South African youths who are black still suffer the aftermath of the past government. Most of their parents are poor and cannot afford the funds required for schooling. Unfortunately the government education budget is not enough to cover the costs for efficiently running a school. Therefore the parents must also contribute to their children’s education.

In the past white South African students were privileged as they were given the opportunity to be educated at a higher standard than all other races. Therefore a white youth on completion of secondary school was guaranteed a good well paying job, managerial or supervisory position, while his black counterpart  was left with little choice for a career ( working in a mine or doing road and railway work). With the new government all racial groups have found themselves on the same platform with equal opportunity to education and improved lifestyle. Therefore more and more students are completing secondary school and a large number are entering tertiary education institutions.

The quality of education in South Africa should also be re-evaluated. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the average secondary school graduate to obtain a job. The current students are lacking a number of practical skills required in the workplace and employers are not willing to provide training due to additional costs on their business. The students are often obliged to attend tertiary institutions to obtain the skills they lack. Those involved in developing education policies for South Africa need to come up with strategies to improve the secondary school curriculum in a way that would give students more career options outside of tertiary diplomas and degrees.

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