Despite numerous educational reforms and significant government spending on education in the post-Apartheid period, the South African education system is consistently ranked poorly. Though the ANC’s educational and economic reforms stress the goal of social equity, ANC policies have instead worsened previously existing inequalities among schools. These inequalities are most clear in rural areas, where schools are typically historically disadvantaged and continue to be underfunded and under resourced.
In the rural areas, where many historically disadvantaged schools are located, issues of community poverty and isolation only increase the burden of students and teachers. It is common for students to not have the money to pay for uniforms and school fees. Oftentimes the punishment for this offense is to stand outside during class, essentially forcing students to fall behind in their classes. Students report that teachers use corporal punishment for minor offenses, such as pronouncing words incorrectly, giving the wrong answers, and not wearing the school jersey. Teachers often greatly outnumber students, and are sometimes under qualified for their positions. The stressful working conditions and lack of accountability when teachers hit students or do not attend class only serve to worsen the relationship between students and teachers in rural schools.
In rural areas, schools are not simply a part of the community, but in many ways are a reflection of the community. Schools are often used for social gatherings, adult education centers, and even as polling stations. Schools are vital to the functioning of a rural community, and thus a lack of basic needs in schools is a reflection of a lack of basic needs within the general community. Lastly, the isolation and difficulty of finding transport within rural communities poses a problem for students’ school attendance. Many students do not have access to car transport, and the distance between school and the students’ houses can sometimes take over an hour to travel by foot. Students must also take care to avoid road accidents or even the possibility of being robbed or raped by strangers on the road. Moreover, the problem of long traveling times is exacerbated by the household expectations of many students. As one out-of-school student said, “You can’t leave cattle at home and go to school – you cannot desert your father’s bank like that.” That domestic chores sometimes take precedence over schoolwork is one reason for high dropout rates. The data shows that in 2001, only 40% of students starting from first grade completed their schooling up to 12th grade.
For more information, check out “Emerging Voices: A Report on Education in South African Rural Communities” published by HSRC Press.