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One of the bleak outcomes of European settlement in South Africa was the adoption of the apartheid. This system which was adopted by the minority white government was characterized by unequal rights and opportunities for the various races living in South Africa1.
Apartheid had various far reaching social, economic and political implications for the black, white, Asian and colored peoples of South Africa. The policy of Apartheid was based on segregation of people depending on their race. An aspect of society that was significantly affected by this policy was education.
This paper will aim to discuss the impact of apartheid on education in South Africa so as to demonstrate that apartheid negatively affected the educational development of non-whites in South Africa. To reinforce this assertion, a critical look at the ways in which apartheid impact educational development for the various races shall be provided.
A Brief History of Apartheid
South Africa is a society in which “Africans, Asians and Europeans co-exist in the same territory” as a result of a long history of interaction between these three groups.
The first European settlement took place in 1652 and since then, there has been prolonged contact characterized by cooperation as well as conflicts over resources between these groups of people2.
Apartheid as a political system was proposed by the National Party which took power in 1948 as a system to safeguard “White supremacy”. Walshe states that the original concept of Apartheid which was developed by Afrikaner intellectuals and idealists who sought to create complete territorial separation of the races3.
However, this original ideal of Apartheid was not practical to implement since the Europeans required the surplus labor that could only be provided by Africans.
Successive Nationalist governments therefore modified the ideal so as to maintain white privilege and bolster Afrikaner power while at the same time exploiting the other races so as to maintain their high standard of living.
Effects on Education
The government of South Africa recognized the importance of education for the country. Even so, education was greatly influenced by the official policy of Apartheid with dire consequences being felt by the Africans and the Colored and Asian minority.
So as to conform to the ideal of “separateness”, Africans, Asians, Coloureds and Whites were educated in independent spheres. Separateness was emphasized from the method of finance to the type of syllabus stipulated for each group by the administration.
For the white children, education was provided free of charge and was compulsory up to a certain age. On the other hand, almost all black schools required substantial fees even at the primary level which means that the economic resources available to black families had a bearing on their ability to ensure that their children received an education.
Traditionally, all educational efforts are designed to increase the productivity of the student so as to benefit the society. The apartheid system deviated from this standard and Brookes described apartheid education as “the only education system in the world designed to restrict the productivity of its pupils in the national economy to lowly and subservient tasks”4.
The South African government endeavored to give the “natives” an education that would make them manual laborers. Apartheid education rendered non-whites non-competitive in the South African economy as their education did not given them a chance to compete on the same grounding with whites.
The high paying jobs were therefore reserved for the whites since the other races could not attain the education level required to fill this capacities. UNESCO recorded that in 1960, South Africa faced a chronic shortage of top-level manpower in science and technology since the racial discrimination in education ensured that only a small number of people received higher training5.
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This was because of the policy of “separate development” in the field of education which was encouraged by the government. This policy was in fact synonymous with inequality of access since non-White schools suffered from inadequate facilities.
UNESCO reported that as a result of low standard of equipment in African schools, Africans who wished to continue to higher education especially in sciences were handicapped.
Treiman asserts that a central feature of apartheid in South Africa was unequal access to education by race with the white population being given preference6. In particular, black children were subjected to limited educational opportunities and their education system was of an inferior quality.
For example, the training of teachers for the various races was also significantly different. The South African Government in 1949 appointed a committee which was tasked with modifying the training of teachers for the respective races7. The training was to be adjusted in respect to content and the form of syllabuses so as to conform to the government policy of preparing the non-Whites for their future occupations.
Teachers in African schools also suffered from poor salaries as a result of the shortage of finances. Due to these, African schools suffered from a lack of adequate number of trained teachers since not many people felt motivated to train for this profession.
The type of schools that could be built was also greatly affected by available finances and for this reason, non-white school facilities were poor. The ability to expand the school systems was also greatly deterred by financial constraints.
Education also served as a potent tool for domination and assertion of White Supremacy to the other races in South Africa. Apartheid education was designed to benefit the Europeans by enhancing their omnipresence. Abdi asserts that the peoples of South Africa were “culturally dominated with colonial and apartheid education”8.
After the 1948 ascendancy into power of the National party which championed apartheid, a separate and unequal education program was implemented. The African population was given the Bantu Education program9. This education program not only vastly inferior to the white education program but it also elevated the use of Afrikaners as the language of choice.
The fact that education was a key to domination is confirmed by the statement by apartheid Prime Minister and Minister of Native Affairs, F. Verwoerd, who asserted that “when I have control over native education, I will reform it so natives will be taught from childhood that equality with Europeans is not for them”10.
This approach to education by the Apartheid regime was contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stated that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”11.
Universally, education efforts are geared at preparing the individual for their future occupation. In apartheid South Africa, the Blacks and other minority groups were a source of cheap labor for the White South Africans. A major objective of Bantu Education was therefore to provide mass labor for the country’s rapidly growing economy.
The levels of achievements in non-white schools were therefore deliberately imposed to fit in with the different expectations in employments and for the non-whites, this meant being prepared for a future occupation as an unskilled laborer12.
The primary priority in African education was to create mass literacy and to increase education at the lowest (primary) level. The government therefore encouraged lower primary school enrolments which were to concentrate on “the tool subjects (three R’s)”.
There were major financial discrepancies between the expenditure made on white pupils and the average African pupil. Before the implementation of apartheid, the South African government provided grants to private schools for all the races.
However, starting from 1957, the government withdrew grants to private schools for Africans which made it impossible for Africans to afford private education. As of 1990, the educational expenditure incurred by the government on behalf of the white pupil was as high as four times that of the average African pupil.
The relative cost of schooling for blacks was much higher than for whites despite the fact that whites were more economically empowered and had a much higher standard of living.
As a result of this, there was a higher drop out rate and lower education attainment for blacks compared to white South Africans. Treiman cites the lack cost of education as the primary reason for dropping out or not enrolling in school13.
The apartheid education system was racially divided and highly discriminatory and Nelson Mandela described the system as “a crime against humanity”14.
The fact that education was free for all white children until the end of secondary school while the rest of the population were forced to pay for the education of their children through direct and indirect taxation points to the discriminatory nature of apartheid.
The education provided to non-whites in the Apartheid era was aimed at sustaining their subservient role in relation to the white population. Bantu education was structured in such a manner that Black South Africans could contribute as much as possible to the maintenance of the apartheid system.
The education provided in the apartheid era was not what the Africans desired. According to UNESCO, Africans desired to get from education; an integration into the democratic structures and institutes of the country15.
As such, they wanted an education which was equal to and not inferior to that provided to other races in the country. The Apartheid system was officially abolished in 1994 when The African National Congress let government of national unity took power16.
Since then, positive changes have been made to redress the inequalities that apartheid brought about. Even so, the negative impacts of Apartheid education system in South Africa continue to be felt today.
Education is critical to the development of the nation and the well being of individual members of the society. This paper set out to highlight the manner in which this important aspect of society was affected by apartheid in South Africa.
From this paper, it is clear that the provision of education to by the white government was not aimed at empowering the Black South Africans and the other minority groups. Instead, education was used as a means to provide cheap labor for South Africa’s budding industries as well as enhance white domination.
Abdi, Ali. “Apartheid and Education in South Africa: Select Historical Analyses.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 27, no.2 (2003): 89-97.
Brookes, Edgar. Apartheid: a Documentary Study of Modern South Africa. London: Routledge 1968.
Lemon, Anthony. “Redressing School Inequalities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa”. Journal of Southern African Studies 30, no.2 (2004): 269-290.
Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa, Revised Edition. Boston: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995.
Treiman, Donald. “Migration, Remittances and Educational Stratification among Blacks in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa”. Social Forces 89, no. 14 (2011): 1119-1144.
UNESCO. Apartheid: Its effects on education, science, culture and information. United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1967.
Walshe, Peter. “Review: Aspects of Apartheid.” The Review of Politics 25, no.1 (1963): 140-142.
1 Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, Revised Edition (Boston: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995), 23.
2 UNESCO, Apartheid: Its effects on education, science, culture and information (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1967), 13.
3 Peter Walshe, “Review: Aspects of Apartheid,” The Review of Politics 25, No. 1, (1963): 140.
4 Edgar Brookes, Apartheid: a Documentary Study of Modern South Africa, (London: Routledge 1968), 57.
5 UNESCO, 22.
6 Donald Treiman, “Migration, Remittances and Educational Stratification among Blacks in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa”, Social Forces 89, no. 14 (2011): 1124.
7 UNESCO, 31.
8 Ali Abdi, “Apartheid and Education in South Africa: Select Historical Analyses,” The Western Journal of Black Studies 27, no.2 (2003): 90.
9 Abdi, 91.
10 Abdi, 93.
11 UNESCO, 25.
12 Ibid, 22.
13 Donald, 1125.
14 Anthony Lemon, “Redressing School Inequalities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa”. Journal of Southern African Studies 30, no.2 (2004): 270.
15 UNESCO, 29.
16 Anthony, 270.