Governmental Strives for Change: Public Education in South Africa

            While it may seem like the educational system in South Africa is below par, the Department of Basic Education in South Africa has been hard at work to improve its public education sector, in order to uphold its promise of free education for all. According to Elijah Mhlanga, Chief Director: Media Liaison – National and Provincial Communication in the Department of Basic Education, “we have made a massive difference [in the public education sector].” International studies have confirmed his statement through evidence from the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Studies (PIRLS). The SACMEQ proves that the rate of enrollment in pre-primary to secondary education has been on the rise in South Africa. Interestingly, South Africa falls under the same percentage as the United States for many categories such as expenditure on education and school life expectancy. Additionally, the performance of students in lower Grades has increased, specifically with students in Grades 4, 5, 6, and 9. All of this data proves that South Africa is headed in the right direction in regards to its youth’s education.

            During our research day in Cape Town, I was able to get in touch with Mr. Mhlanga to learn about the actions the South African government is taking to improve the public education sector. While we were unable to meet in person, I still learned a lot of valuable information. He spoke of several initiatives the government is taking such as the addition of 220 new state of the art schools—all built within the past 5 years, a school nutrition program which feeds 9.8 million children per day, teacher support and development programs, a comprehensive learner support program, free textbooks, workbooks, and transportation to and from school, available grants to youth who are interested in studying education, and a very limited number of people who still pay school fees. He claimed that “86% of the 12.9 million learners don’t pay fees…the few households who can afford [the fees] do pay.” Overall, these new steps have encouraged children to attend school and made it possible for them to receive an education.

            After learning about the government initiatives, I found it surprising how much the government is actually doing to improve public education. From visiting townships alone, like Langa Township, it is easy to judge the education the students receive, and to question if they even pursue an education. From driving by shanty towns, it is also easy to assume that the children in these locations do not have access to education at all. I now see that this is not the case, and that all children do have opportunities to get an education. Big Ben, one of our tour guides in Johannesburg, explained that a neighbor can even report parents for not bringing their children to school, which can lead to the parents being arrested. This goes to show the significance the state and government puts on obtaining an education.

            Mr. Mhlanga also discussed where the government falls short in the public sector of education in South Africa. He explained that overcrowding in schools is their biggest issue—particularly in areas of the country along the border. South Africa receives and cares for learners from all the countries bordering South Africa. As you can imagine, this leads to increased attendance in those bordering schools. Mr. Mhlanga claims that they are currently working to address this issue. Unfortunately, since we couldn’t go to the school in Alexandra, I did not get to see this issue for myself, and therefore unable to personally apply my research to the experience.

            In conclusion, I have learned much more than I anticipated regarding education in South Africa and governmental action, even though I did not get the chance to attend a school here. South Africa seems to be moving in the right direction in terms of access to education and in bettering schools such as by providing free lunch for the children. I strongly believe that there is still a lot of work to be done, but South Africa has come a long way from where it has once been. While South Africa is able to provide a free education for all, how can it provide an equal education for all? This is an idea worth exploring.

            All in all, after communicating with Mr. Mhlanga, speaking with individuals in the townships, and learning from our tour guides, one thing has become quite apparent. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.” With the governmental action to improve education for all children in South Africa, the country is making strides towards changing the world one education at a time—but we must ask ourselves—will this be enough?

Works Cited

Mhlanga, E. (2019, Jan 15). Personal interview.

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