Education & Jobs

One nation, two societies – education marks the divide

South Africa is sometimes said to possess both first and third-world societies. This can be seen in the sharp divide between the education and job prospects of its citizens.

Streetwear fashion

Streetwear Fashion

In this video… At his cottage industry workshop in Mamelodi, on the outskirts of northern Johannesburg, Moses is proud of his brand ‘Greeedy, the spirit of success’. To Moses, ‘greeedy’ means ‘ambition’, ‘drive’ and ‘motivation’. Moses was brought up in Mamelodi, one of the rural settlements where black people were transported out of white-dominated Pretoria during apartheid. SOS Children helped pay for his education so he could learn a skill. Now Moses repays that support by helping other disadvantaged children learn the sewing trade.

The well-educated are able to take advantage of the country’s growing economy, choosing to work in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and mining, or finding employment in new industries such as IT and alternative energy.

But for those with a low level of educational attainment, prospects are bleak.

Standards of schooling

School is compulsory for all children between seven and 16 years (or ninth grade) and a high priority is placed on education, which accounts for one-fifth of state expenditure.

However, as a legacy of the apartheid era, there are wide variations in the standards of schooling. In mainly white and more affluent areas, children receive a much better education than in rural and poor areas.

Resource shortages

Shortages of textbooks are still common and many schools lack essential services (such as electricity or heating) and facilities – two-thirds of state schools have no library or computer and only one in ten has a science laboratory.

To improve the quality of learning in poverty-stricken areas, government initiatives have included setting up ‘fee-free schools’ and a National Schools Nutrition Programme, which provides meals for around seven million school pupils each day.

South Africa has a high rate of unemployment – over 30% of the population are out of work. The African National Congress (ANC) pledged ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ when the party came to power in 1994, but solving the problems of South Africa’s labour force is no easy task.

World-class universities

Low achievement for the majority

In 2009, just over half of black candidates passed their school-leaving ‘matriculation’ exam, compared with 99% of white children, 92% of Indians and 76% of children from mixed-race families.

South Africa boasts some world-class universities. For those pursuing non-academic subjects, there are several technical colleges and vocational/industrial training centres. Some high schools also offer specialisations in technical, agricultural, commercial or art subjects.

However, because of low standards of schooling and the cost of most degree courses, only one in six young people attends university.

The universities of South Africa were the first institutions which effectively challenged apartheid, adopting admission policies which were based solely on educational merit and refusing to exclude applicants by race or skin-colour.