Housing in South Africa and its Impact on Education

Throughout our time in South Africa and time spent in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, we have had the opportunity to go to and spend time in communities of all types. From Langa and Khayelitscha near to Cape Town to Soweto and Alexandra which we have visited in the past days, we have seen people living in communities with a myriad of different types of housing ranging from people who are living in shantytowns in informal structures, to people who are living in the more affluent and glamorous homes that are often merely across the street from one another. Since my first experience in a township, I have been fascinated by the differences in housing that I have seen and the impacts these types of homes have on their residents. As a future educator, many of my thoughts and reflections revolve around education, schooling, and students. In this case, as our bus drives by miles upon miles of informal structures, my thoughts immediately go to the students who live and work in these structures they call home.

According to Richard Cockett’s article titled, “Chasing the Rainbow,” the author discusses the significance of poverty in South African communities, particularly in impoverished townships. He states that if students are able to go through school, pass their matriculation (“matric”) exam, and graduate, “they will have achieved something remarkable: it will be the first time that anyone in their families will have risen out of the degradation and imposed by apartheid.” The impacts that apartheid government has had on South African communities continue to be visible and have major effects on the black population, particularly in the field of education. Many students in township schools are living in informal structures or one room homes that often house many more people than can fit comfortably.

Today, for example, we went to Ekukhanyisweni Primary School (EPS) where we were able to work with the principal and staff to help and be useful in any possible way. The principal, Helen told us that the school accommodates upwards of 1,070 students, most of whom reside in informal structures within the township. As we spent more time in the school, it became more obvious to us that it was a school that was in need of additional resources. In regards to staff, only 28 teachers work in a school of over 1,000 students, financially, students struggle to buy their own school uniforms, or schoolbooks and materials to be able to register for school. Within the school, one of the areas in which we worked was the library where the shelves were scarcely occupied with books. While at EPS today and tomorrow, we are helping to unpack books that have been donated to the school to provide a broader range of books for the library, as well as painting the outside of the school. Ekukhanyisweni has many needs and often the needs of the students, both socially and financially, impact the overall school and classroom environment.

Despite socioeconomic statuses or backgrounds of students and their families, many are realizing the importance of education and the “ladder out of poverty” that it provides. Students who live in informal structures or one room homes often struggle with trying to find a place of their own in their homes or a quiet space to study or do homework. However, as we learned in Langa, some students retreat to the library for some peace and quiet and time to be able to work on schoolwork. But for other students, going to a public library is not an option. However, students with determination and resolve work towards academic progress despite their housing situations. Often students, if they are living with their parents, are often in single parent or inconsistent family situations. There can also be a lack of consistency in friend groups and social influences. Students, without positive influences in their lives or friendships with people who are not committed to academics can also be detrimental to the students academic success.

Students attending schools in townships face many more obstacles and challenges than many students in other schools in South Africa and around the world. Children living in informal structures or shacks are automatically put at a disadvantage in many ways, and often the odds just continue to stack up against them. Despite the many obstacles the face, students do find a way to accomplish their goals to pass their matric examinations and graduate, going on to go to university or obtain gainful employment. Academic success can be challenging, particularly for students living in townships or shantytowns, but can it feasibly be achieved for the students at EPS or from Khayelitscha, Langa, and Soweto? I would like to think they can with the right determination and ambition.

Tweet: Housing in townships range from shacks to ritzy homes. Can students living in an informal structure really achieve academic success? #SASA13

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10 Responses to Housing in South Africa and its Impact on Education

  1. Alex Kessler says:

    I think you pose a really interesting question inquiring whether students can achieve academic success in an informal housing environment. It is unfortunate that children living in poorer housing structures are at a disadvantage and struggle to receive a quality education. I am impressed with students who have poor living situations and are still motivated to go to school and receive an education. We saw a spectrum of housing situations and a couple different school systems in the country. With great determination and focus students can achieve academic success, although it may not be to the extent or quality of those who are better off. It’s hopeful to see students looking beyond their present situation, envisioning a better future, and channeling their hopes and dreams into hard work and a devotion to a greater education.

  2. Allie Weller says:

    I really like the content of this article, and it brings up many things I have never thought about regarding informal housing. When I saw the housing, I immediately thought about the disadvantages that come along with living in such a home, such as poor access to power, poor facilities, and destitute living conditions. I never really considered what kind of an impact living in informal housing would have on every other aspect of a student’s life, especially school. If they don’t have the space or resources to do their homework at home, how are they expected to succeed? It really shows the vast problems that come with informal housing, and provides yet another reason to eradicate such housing and replace it with adequate houses for families!

  3. Jill Hollis says:

    Throughout our time in South Africa, I was consistently impressed with the students living in shacks and striving to get a solid education. So many complications and barriers arise in that sort of environment – lack of study space or regular study habits, peer pressure from those not dedicated to ignore school work, and even pressure from parents to focus on chores or other home life work instead. In talking with the students at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, these students’ drive and determination was remarkable. Many of the girls came from township schools with lackluster, apathetic teachers and have chosen to focus on their education for themselves. I think that kind of persistence is unfortunately rare in the American society, and I commend these students for trying to make something of themselves, even as they are up against all odds.

  4. Tricia Teter says:

    I find your comment about the student’s lack of a study area so significant. When I was in middle and high school, I could never get any work done when I was around my parents and my brother. They were so distracting! I would have to lock myself away in my study room to get any work done. Even in college, I have to remove myself from social situations in order to get work done. Students living in informal structures, however, do not have that luxury. They are constantly around people. There is no hope of finding a peaceful study area. Without an area to study, the likeliness of performing well decreases immensely. Our guide in Langa explained that the public library is an option for students but I wonder about the school libraries. I noticed that the library in Ekukhanyisweni Primary School (EPS) was locked once the school day ended. While that is most likely done for security, it is sad that the school library cannot offer a space for students to study. I know that my high school library was open for a few hours after school, particularly for extra help. While I took it for granted, I am sure the availability of a study space significantly helped me in my academics. I hope that someday a program can be set up at EPS to provide a study space in the school library for students after school. I feel that it would significantly impact their academic achievement and would solve the issue of study space among students living in informal structures.

  5. It’s very important that students manage to accomplish their goals and finally go to college even if they live in rough conditions…

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