Education in South Africa: How It Works, and How It’s Struggling

It’s January, and that means the start of a new school year in South Africa. In less than a week, students (or learners, as they’re called in South Africa) and teachers will fill classrooms, hoping to embark on a new year of learning, enlightenment, and growth. It’s a good time for students to ride the momentum gained with last year’s record-breaking high school pass rate. For those of us in the United States, Canada, and other Western countries, it’s a good time to learn about the educational experiences that our young South African friends will have this year.

Primary education is mandatory in South Africa. According to the country’s Constitution, South Africa has an obligation to make education available and accessible. All South Africans have the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and further education.

School in South Africa begins in grade 0, or grade R. It’s the equivalent of our kindergarten, a time of school preparation and early childhood socialization. Grades 0 to 9 make up General Education and Training, followed by Further Education and Training (FET) from grades 10 to 12. Students either stay in high school during this time, or enter more specialized FET institutions with an emphasis on career-oriented education and training. After passing the nationally-administered Senior Certificate Examination, or “matric,” some students will continue their education at the tertiary level, working towards degrees up to the doctoral level. Over a million students are enrolled in South Africa’s 24 state-funded colleges and universities.

With a solid educational structure in place, South Africa continues the long and arduous process of overcoming the discriminatory legacy left behind by 40 years of apartheid education. Under that system, white South African children received a quality schooling virtually for free. Black students, on the other hand, had access only to “Bantu education”, a system based on the unjust philosophy that there was no place in South African society for black Africans “above certain forms of labor” (a quote attributed to HF Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu Education Act of 1953). In the 1970s, government spending on black education was one-tenth of spending on whites. By the 1980s, teacher to pupil ratios in primary schools averaged 1:18 in white schools and 1:39 in black schools. Even the standards for education were different between black and while schools: while 96 percent of all teachers in white schools had teaching certificates, only 15 percent of teachers in black schools were certified. Not surprisingly during apartheid, high school graduation rates for black students were less than half the rate for whites.

Bantu education was abolished with the end of apartheid in 1994. Nevertheless, South Africa continues to struggle with inequality and educational disparities. Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, the vast majority of poor black children are denied a quality education at severely deprived public schools. Over three-quarters of these schools do not have libraries, and even more do not have a computer. Around 90 percent of public schools have no science laboratory, and more than half of all pupils either have no text books or have to share them. Over a quarter of public schools do not even having running water.

More affluent South Africans (read: White South Africans, along with a small but growing contingent from the black middle class) can afford to send their children to so-called former “Model C” schools, publicly funded schools that were previously allowed only for white students. These schools charge extra school fees to supplement teachers’ salaries and buy extra resources. Not surprisingly, these former white-only schools have far superior facilities and quality of education.

School outcomes tell the story of South Africa’s educational inequalities. In 2009 just over half of black students passed the high school final exam, compared with 99 percent of whites. Of the South African population over 20 years old, 65 percent of those who are white and only 14 percent of those who are black have a high school degree or higher. The disparities remain at the university level. Although black Africans account for 80 percent of the whole South African population, they make up less than half of all university students. Less than one in 20 black South Africans ends up with a degree, compared with almost half of all whites.

Education in South Africa: Why not Cape Town

Lovers of English Literature, looking to pursue higher studies in English, tend to follow the route to the renowned universities in the world like Oxford, Cambridge – the best places to study English Literature – and even Harvard among other American universities, which has world class reputation. India is also a great place for Literature lovers planning higher studies in English Literature, with not one but numerous universities offering different courses, including JNU and University of Delhi – one the very best across the globe. But due to limited seats in those leading Universities to study English, along with the high cost, many students dig deeper to find other locations to study English, which are comparatively cheaper than and are as effective as those top more expensive peddlers of a good education in the study of English Literature. Places in the entire Australasia opens up other options for students to study English Literature as they offer good courses at minimal cost coupled with affordable living expenses.

Things That Matter

Work permit along with the student visa is something that affects the priority for almost all students who seek education in a foreign country.

Specialization and research in certain areas also attracts students from different countries to specific destinations. For example, universities across the United States of America specifically attract students from all over the world, willing to pursue American Literature and Modernism in particular. Students studying in the United States also have the potential to experience better living conditions, advanced course material and tuition assistance and the potential for lucrative part-time work.

Studying English in Cape Town

Your dreams to pursue the study of English Literature abroad can be achieved quite easily in Cape Town – the coastal city on the southwestern side of South Africa. This foremost university in Africa – the University of Cape Town – has one of the best English Departments in the world. It is among the best places to pursue Postcolonial Literature. University of Cape Town gets numerous applications from all over the world every year. The city also features not one but many language schools which offer distinct courses in English Language. The city’s beauty is one of the main reasons students from all over the world wish to study here.

Higher Studies at UCT

University of Cape Town is listed at 103rd spot on the rankings of 2010-2011 issued by the Times Group for the best universities in the world. It is also featured on the list of QS World University Rankings at the 156th position in the year 2011. Holding the top spot among all universities within Africa, UCT offers various courses for scholars of English Literature. The faculty features Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee as well as eminent film critic and Pulitzer Prize Winner Robert Ebert, among its alumni. The University of Cape Town promises quality education for each student it admits. Apart from a highly diversified undergrad course, the university offers post-graduate programs ranging from Creative Writing to Linguistics. Research scholars in English Literature also have options at UCT to pursue their area of interest in an environment full of renowned scholars and philosophers. The University also has a spectacular placement record for both graduate and post graduate students, which promises great career opportunities.