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Exploring South Africa's troubled education system

Exploring South Africa's troubled education system
By Euronews
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This week Learning World is getting to grips with the state of education in South Africa. From the early days of schooling through to university graduates euronews’ Maha Barada has explored the highs and lows of a system only liberated from apartheid some 20 years ago.

Apartheid Legacy

For the past two decades South Africa has struggled to normalise a two-tier education system created under apartheid. But the shackles of inequality between the country’s white and black populations continue to blight classrooms.

Government schemes have attempted to amend this by removing school fees for South Africa’s poorer areas. The result has been more children in classes, but critics point to a lack of universal quality which heightens the divide and often means those of a poorer background fail to progress.

School principle, Zola Pahlana, highlighted the scope of the problem:

“One has to give credit for the national government for all the efforts that they have done to bridge the gap between the previously disadvantaged and advantaged schools in terms of monetary allocation, unfortunately this has not yet manifested itself in terms of the academic results.”

Below par facilities are cited as a primary cause for the poor performance in schools. Many lack access to libraries and computer labs, whilst some even struggle to get a regular supply of electricity.

Dotted around the country, there are some excellent public schools, but getting into them is expensive and fiercely competitive. Government bursaries, school financial aid and private funding can help.

The organisation Students for a Better Future Foundation, funded pupil Sihle’s studies, who shed light on the notable divide:

“I come from Gugulethu where there are mostly black people and I am coming to people who are very high classed, driving big cars, big cell phones so I was kind of intimidated. I was like, is this actually for me? Dan I actually do as well as they do.”

University Challenge

South Africa has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, with a gaping wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Nearly half of its population live below the poverty line.

A university degree is one way for young people to break the vicious cycle of poverty, but many students have to wrestle with the cost of study.

The poor quality of education at secondary school level also hampers the intake for higher education.

In South Africa the overwhelming majority of students don’t go on to enrol in universities, with many falling short of the entry requirements. Professor Crain Soudien, from The University of Cape Town noted some of the issues:

“The gap between the good universities and the weaker universities is quite significant, the poor universities are not so good – poor academically – and they tend to be historically black universities. The differences between poorer kids and richer kids are quite stark. So the richer kids are going to have success rates in the order of about 80% the poorer kids around about 40 to 50%.”

Township Tutus

Away from the classroom, some are turning to dance to help build valuable skills and expertise.


The Joburg ballet company, one of the most prestigious organisations in their field, is helping promising dancers to take to the stage.

Classes are offered in both classical ballet and contemporary arts. But its their scheme offering backing to disadvantaged youths that’s really turning heads

For Thabang Mabaso it has proven a life changing experience:

“I get to be one of those black people who would really experience the whole thing that people fought for, for us to be free. For the fact that one: I work in a ballet company, two: you obviously work with every single race, that is obvious.”


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