South Africa’s youngsters are let down by a lousy education system

The government is hostage to the biggest teaching union


Nearly 80% of South Africa’s 9- or 10-year-olds cannot read and understand sentences in any language

The government is hostage to the biggest teaching union

Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor's Picks. Education both reflects and entrenches the inequalities in South African society. The top 200 high schools in the country produce more distinction marks in maths and science exams than the other 6,476 high schools put together. Meanwhile in 47% of high schools not a single pupil meets a commonly accepted international standard for maths. The equivalent figure in Botswana is just 2%. These schools could be called “cognitive wastelands”, says Nic Spaull of Stellenbosch University. Apartheid still casts a shadow over education. Non-whites were deliberately given poor schooling, lest they get uppity or, worse, skilled. In 1994 per-pupil spending was 1.5 to 5 times higher for white pupils, depending on the location of the school. Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, said blacks should be educated enough only to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. The legacy of this racism is starkly apparent in the villages around Willowvale. Most pupils’ parents have left to seek work in nearby cities such as East London. They leave their children with grandparents, most of whom are illiterate. After 1994 the ANC opted for a compromise on education policy. Formerly white-only schools would have to accept children from all races, but they could still charge fees. In theory they cannot exclude any pupil for being too poor, but in practice, poor children do not live near these schools, and the costs of transport, uniforms, sports and trips make them prohibitively expensive. As in other areas of South African life the effect of post-apartheid policy has been to replace a system directly based on race with one based on wealth (and thus, still indirectly racially skewed). More than 180 of the top 200 schools took only white pupils under apartheid. Today non-whites make up 60% of the pupils across all fee-charging schools, but they are overwhelmingly from the country’s elites. Since 1994 there has been some progress. There is no basis to the notion that education is worse than under apartheid, notes Mr Spaull. Piecing together evidence from various test data, he reckons children today are roughly two years ahead of where they would have been before 1994. Yet in recent years progress is “stalling”, he says. South Africa ranks bottom or near-bottom when countries are ranked by their pupils’ scores in comparable international tests. Nearly 80% of children in grade four (9- or 10-year-olds) cannot read and understand sentences in any language; 61% of pupils a year older cannot add or subtract whole numbers. Small wonder then that, of the 100 pupils who begin a school year, just 50-60 can be expected to take the end-of-school "matriculation" exam, with 40-50 passing, and only six going on to complete university. All of this has a big impact on a labour market that offers a premium for skilled labour. The jobless rate for people with a high-school certificate (28%) is more than quadruple that for university graduates. The quality of teaching is a major obstacle to better education. Nearly four in five maths teachers cannot do the sums expected of their 12- or 13-year-old pupils. Many of these teachers were themselves educated under apartheid. Nevertheless the lack of accountability for poor performance has been the responsibility of ANC governments. It is all but impossible to fire a teacher in South Africa. Even when school leaders are suspected of sexual harassment of pupils they are more likely to be moved to a different school than prosecuted. The problems of South African schools are not for a lack of money. Public spending on education is more than 6% of GDP , a higher share than the average in the OECD club of mostly rich countries. Spending is also higher than in other African countries with better results, such as Kenya. The tolerance of failure, as well as the relatively lavish spending on salaries, is largely a result of the power of teaching unions. The South African Democratic Teachers Union ( SADTU ) is one of the largest unions in the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the federation that forms part of the “tripartite alliance” with the ANC , along with the South African Communist Party. SADTU ’s political influence means it can get away with stunning levels of mediocrity and corruption. Its shamefulness was outlined in a report for the government in 2016. Written by John Volmink, it documented widespread fraud and corruption in the school system, such as the sale of jobs for cash or cows. It also found that SADTU was in “de facto control” of the education departments in six of the nine provinces in the country, concluding that “it is not improbable to say that schooling throughout South Africa is run by SADTU ”. Those who can afford to extricate their children from this mess are doing so. Low-cost private schools are increasingly popular. Parents are showing similar preferences for the private over the public as they do in other sectors. In 1997 the number of private security guards and policemen was the same. Today there are three times more private guards than police. No one who can afford private health care relies on the public system. Yet, given the state of the South African economy, there is a limit to the number of people who can afford to go private. The future of the poorest pupils depends on government policy. Mr Ramaphosa has made some promising suggestions, for example saying that he will embrace an intensive evidence-based reading programme championed by Mr Spaull. That would be a great start. But ultimately a better education system requires the president to take on the unions. Only then will teachers spend more time teaching children than looking out for their own interests. This article appeared in the Technology Quarterly section of the print edition under the headline "School’s out" Read more: The Economist

EvolvingJuan Kinda surprising that they can understand every language in existence but can't read. alllibertynews The ecommunist blames the system rather than the individual. Parents start value of education early. Maybe if leaders focused on cultural value of education than seizing land they’d have better success? ASavageNation

Sad 80% is a severe failure for young hopeful minds. Such a real shame..... Lets see how south african can move without foreigners,😟 wht goes around, comes around...2020 South Africa is in urgent need of remember the dream of Nelson Mandela. Bantu education 101. But hey 2019. Useless people CarolNdosi They never be late they still have enough time to go to school

Amegaxi PhilipDzifa IngWalax Its the parents fault. They don't value education...they value spinning cars and getting drunk

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Now we all know what is the source of all those unjustified acts 🤣🤣 Self Inflicted! Uneducated population is very dangerous going forwards.Looking at what is transpiring in SA now. Fortunately in Pakistan we have improved a lot in 70 years, only 98 percent 9-10 years old can't read and understand a sentence in any language. South Africa should wait for many years to reach to our stage

gabstine SA steady taking Ls Not good at all I deny. May be your grandchildren Hahahaha promoters of xenophobic The_Seeker76 You mean in ANY language? At least, they can practice Xenophobia! Shame

Nigeria to evacuate citizens from South Africa after xenophobic attacksNigeria will evacuate hundreds of its citizens from South Africa following a recent spate of violent attacks on foreign nationals living there, officials said. 'We will continue to put pressure on the South African Government to take concrete and visible measures to stop violence against citizens I feel sorry for South Africa as a nation cos they are making a great mistake sending foreigners away. flySAA_US

Very sad... the paradox of South Africa... I used to think SA was the most developed country in Africa but it clearly isn't Wonder why? 🤔 I guess Foreigners have taken over their schools... The_Seeker76 I'm not surprised. Those South Africans must have a really small brain compared to that of other humans. Who goes about slaughtering foreigners because they run better businesses if not a half idiot half homo erectus called South African.

Ibgreenson Their Brains are full of Xenophobia This is unacceptable. Just wrong. The success of Apartheid is finally completed! ShameOnCongress So they still can't read and comprehend in Swahili lang Same kids in 10 or.more years will becomes street Boyz looting and looking around for Africans to main, kill and loot their properties. What generation are they producing for the future SA in deep shit

Buying a big stick: South Korea's military spending has North Korea worriedSouth Korea and North Korea have continued to pour resources into modernizing th... What is that shit above the water behind them? Are those smoke rings? It looks weird whatever it is. Certainly our stable genius will reassure his Pen Pal in the North that nothing will come between them. 😘 'cutting-edge Aegis radar system?' Aegis systems are older than I am.

Do 80% of South African children have both parents? Remember to vote anc.... Can Mr lepoefie please comment.... Says a lot about how most of them behave in later years! You can force the donkey to the river but you cannot force the river to drink the donkey! I learnt this somewhere in one of those schools!

That’s a living nightmare 🤷‍♂️how possible can it be for a country with so much resources-and when they grow up and they start stealing and drugs-you will blame foreigners-Government please give free education if you can!! And you will not stress how to stop Xenophobia Cc akaworldwide lmoseki zzbuhlesibeko remember what I said

😊 Sophisticated Almajiris on the come up They r being taught t fight n kill

Nigeria to evacuate citizens from South Africa after xenophobic attacksNigeria will evacuate hundreds of its citizens from South Africa following a recent spate of violent attacks on foreign nationals living there, officials said. reverse racism....!!!😡 The two countries have failed their people. Their political leaders are criminals who are only concerned with their self-aggrandisement. Nigerians have no reason to migrate en masse to South Africa but for the ineptitude, failure and thievery perpetuated by the political rulers. Oh boy!!! :(

Nigerians caused it 🤣 See them! larryifedi Shame to SA. This is what i think a responsible government would face squarely so as to change the ugly narrative rather than inciting xenophobia. Most of them are thieves, drunkards,prostitutes whilst they always blaming foreigners M_Jay94 come check this out !

Lols their teachers are teaching only Nigerians , the joke is on south Africa The olodo people think it is Nigerians that is their problem o. They may become murderous xenophobic mobsters riaz_tanoli Is that the case? But it’s ok because they are now independent! It’s only bad if the exploiter is foreign.

South Dakota hospital is evacuated after a tornado hits Sioux FallsA South Dakota hospital was evacuated after a tornado hit Sioux Falls, leaving some buildings in shreds I feel bad for them. Very Unfortunate. Prayers ! If CNN is reporting it then I have to follow up with a reputable News Source to verify if it's True. You Clowns lie like rugs. CNN when are you going to report on the fact that your reporters including Anderson Cooper were frequent visitors to EPSTEIN'S PEDOPHILE ISLAND. Along with most of CNNs top executives.

LitSego should we blame Nigerians too? It’s the foreigners... Nigerians have learnt all the languages. akaworldwide come and see your people. They are clowns I hate to think it but the US probably comes close to that🙈 Look at them. Awon first class OLODOs. Mumus. Empty heads. No wonder their reasoning online is so dense and embarrassing. Na that kin country I won carry myself go. As if na juju. Msteeetw!

Now SouthAfricans the real enemy here is not foreigners, it is your government, ANC and greedy corrupt politicians. Teachers are teaching only Nigerians Still ,you will hear politicians and their citizens blame foreigners for this. Xenophobia SouthAfrica Check those same figure for democrat run Detroit. Not much different.

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A serious question here. Hoping for an evidence-based non-political, non-emotional answer. Can we lay the blame for this situation squarely at the doorstep of past apartheid policy, or did apartheid merely delay it? Trump's fault. Wtf ' what are they teaching them And then they get in boats to come to Europe.

For real the SA government need to take a hard look at themselves in mirror. Something is not just right with the present system. By the time they drive all foreigners out, they will have on one to turn to but themselves. Give it 5 more years, the country will implode. GeorgeClaassen I know a potential foreign investor who tried hard to establish a factory in South Africa. The salaries demanded by Unions and the lack of basic education made the possibility uneconomic, so he went to Italy! 🙃

Even their youth.... dats why most can't think properly... sense they don't have. Why can't we just admit they're naturally stupid? They need and have needed special assistance in order to learn almost anything. In fact, without outside help, the whole continent would have long ago been killed off by disease. Or am I wrong about that? Bring back Rhodesia.

And they still think we are the problem... The shame of the ANC.

This one too blame foreigners. Immigrants will leave their country, let's all watch & see how they'll grow their GDP. South African alone cannot sustain their economy, no country can without FDI. Ma_LoJ is this also the fault of foreigners in your land? Primary education is under threat around the world. Education develops the independent thinking necessary for self-governing. The rich and the dictators will do all they can to destroy education in order to destroy democracy. If we allow it, we are truly fools.

If this trend of educational deficiency among black SA continues, the black population might remain in vicious cycle of poverty and crime for many decades to come. Awon werey CarolNdosi now we understand Then they grow up to loot shops for a living... If we talk now they'll maka zandule chukuchuku twikka ogbontarigi

Zulu is the only thing they know It would very interesting know what the stats were for white and post-white government leadership. South African black government leadership was expected to improve education, particularly in Black townships.

This is also caused by Nigerian drug dealers. People always looking for someone else to blame for their woes. Lol 😂... what are they doing in school. They better go learn farming. Baaad teachers are not equip ANC Consequences! Yet other foreigners are reason they don’t get good job (According to them) Madiba the Great Mandela spent 27years in prison...all for it to come to this? South Africa, shame on you!😪 notoxenophobicattacks

😆😆😆 I said it. Their major problem. Smh Where did it all go wrong! I can't belive such a forward thinking, rainbow nation could end up being such a Totalitarian distopia!

Country went down the tubes after Mandela's death They are the ones that need a certificateless president, not us. Poor kids!..they will grow up to be illiterate adults blaming Medical-Doctors from other countries for 'taking their jobs' Republicans are in charge of South Africas education!?! WhoKnew Nigerians caused it. 🤣😁😀🤧😂. Tell akaworldwide that their problem/inability to excel is not caused foreigners. They have good schools but they’ve refused to go to school.

What a neglect by the same government that sound like they have the interest of their people at heart. What a shame! African leaders must wake up and show that we can actually lead ourselves. Leadership is a call to action Oh i see..... No wonder🤔 The story of RSA is that of African independence: Its leaders, after years in the apartheid limbo, were more interested in amassing, for themselves, the wealth they felt they'd been excluded from by white rule. The result? No true leadership. The nation and the poor suffer

That's why these nations never progress and keep living from one dictatorship to another. Hello Mr CyrilRamaphosa Was this caused by the annoying Nigerians and Kwere-kweres too? 😂😂😂 FixYourEducationSA

CTET walon chalo africa yahan kuch accha krte h world k liye I blame the Nigerians and other foreigners who stole their precious education. Focus on that instead of hacking other Africans up with machetes What's actually happening? I thought it was all rosy in Southy. They will soon say their teachers are teaching only nigerians ....nigerians better leave so their children can learn

Look at all that diversity! Oh, right, in brown countries, the rule is 'less white people' But in white countries the rule is 'more brown people'. Also, live what brown people are doing the they'd kids 🙄 So why doesn’t Africans try to improve themselves? This is appalling.Nigerian educational system that we ussually veraciously lampoon isn't as bad as this.If the supposed biggest economy in Africa could be in the threshold of backwardness then Africa is in for it.

chimbiko_jerome Said who? If you don't know, those fellows have PhDs in languages of street violence and xenophobia. Stop spreading wicked lies and hate speech 😣😣

If true, this is frightening, however, one should show proof of this allegation. I couldn't read the whole article - limited access - but are the findings for the entire country or some part of the Eastern Cape? 80% is chilling. Are they ever going to conquer SDG4 on learning achievements? education

With all the money in USA there's some southern states with 40% of adults who are functionally illiterate. Still sad to see kids that can't read. Keeping education at the lowest standard is elitist mission in a cannibalistic soceity Could you imagine this. The basic is fundamental for education. sonaliranade Gujarat model is nothing but South Africa model. Xenophobia, majoritarian racism, hate for minorities, etc. Same as Gujarat. And yes, its education system is totally trash.

Very sad. South Africans should stand up against their leaders and demand a better life instead of attacking foreigners. I agree the government of SA has massively neglected it's own country and it's citizen... But blaming foreign investors for everthing negative is just not justified... This breaks my heart. They are keeping then uneducated to better to control them and keep them down. Love the children!

This is terrible for their future And they will blame the failed system on fellow Africans. Afrophobia induced with Xenophobia. And they will still blame foriegners for that...smh Not justification for killing foreigners. Because they Xenophobic? Not justification for the killing foreigners. Not much different from kids (and too many adults) in the US.

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