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Education in South Africa Analysis Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 8th, 2021

Current essay deals with a difficult and controversial issue of education in South Africa through the prism of its historical development. Our main task is to provide readers with a comprehensive account of its development through different stages and historical ruptures which are so abundant in South African history. First, the analysis of colonial system of education including its main premises and purposes as realized by British colonial authorities will be provided. Second, the discussion of educational policies and system in the apartheid era till 1994 is provided with a particular emphasis on racial legislature, the limitation of color majority and its effects on educational process in South Africa.

Finally, drawing on the previous analysis we discuss the changes to South-African system of education after the fall of apartheid. The main question posed and answered in the cause of this undertaking is whether education became more democratic and inclusive, how it addresses multicultural demands of modern world and how it is adapted to the requirements of globalization and national development.

The history of education for blacks (natives) in South Africa and from 1910-1948

Before installing colonial rule the education in South Africa was as elsewhere in pre-colonial Africa directed at securing the needs of people adapting to exclusively African environment and social conditions.

The process of education was mainly the process of socialization as young members of tribal communities trained from elders in various manners, responsibilities, roles, fighting and military skills. There is no denying the importance of the fact that the colonial system of education was directed at the reproduction of physiologically weak and oppressed indigenous population (Abdi, 2003).

The African Union which was formed in 1910 pursued segregation policies in education though increasing the number of schools for native people. The developing of new schools was rather slow, for instance as of 1905 2.1 of total native population were in primary schools and in 1925 – it increased only to 4.1 percent. The government was not inclined to spend too much costs at African education and thus the role of Christian missionary schools was maintained in education of African population (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p. 48). In 1922 the Union Parliament enacted legislation that prohibited provincial authorities from spending funds for education of native population. Only Governor-General was entitled to distribute grants to province in educational purposes. Thereby formed the contours of discriminatory system of education which significantly reduced the rights of natives to receive equal access to educational purposes (Hlatshwayo, 2000, p.36). Though education system under the African Union was discriminately it didn’t include some of the clauses and practices that appeared later during apartheid regime. For instance, there existed one curriculum and syllabus both for White and African children however schools often offered the language of community to be studied. Each of Union’s department’s conducted their own university entrance examinations which were normally taken by all the pupils. African students could enroll for any of those examinations. Hence, it should be noted that in comparison with later racist approaches of education the period between 1910 and 1948 may be claimed to be relatively ‘democratic’.

The history of black education in South Africa during Apartheid 1948-1994

Apartheid system was a system of racial discrimination of black majority by black minority which was the product of colonial legacy of South Africa. Using racial ideologies and Christian nationalism white settlers introduced undemocratic racial legislation which discriminated all color people classifying them into different categories.

Racial segregation was not an exception for South African education system. When apartheid system was settled in South Africa in 1948 this racist regime formulated and introduced unequal, separate and inferior programs for education of black and colored majority which was called Bantu education.

This education was ideologically grounded to produce myth and illusions of Afrikaner’s divine mission and their ethnical and racial preeminence that aimed at imposing slave consciousness on African people. To support these goals in the educational realm the courses for black and colored majorities were contaminated by destructive visions of culture, history, social sciences. The courses of natural sciences were excluded from the curriculum as being not ideological and not needed for people whose fate was to become a cheap labor.

Bantu education was introduced in 1953 by Bantu Educational Act (№47) (Gerwel, 1994, p. 56) its mandates were spread at the following service of education: lower and high primary education, the secondary education, the secondary education, the teacher training, continuing classes and night schools.

This education system had several premises embedded in inner colonizers’ needs such as provision of cheap and disenfranchised labor, oppressing social and ethnic oppress, the restraint of cultural development of African people. Besides the concept of ‘own education’ was designed at the national level to legitimize apartheid motivated patterns of education which were claimed by racists to meet cultural needs of African people. By sanctioning cultural difference apartheid authorities sought to legitimize repressed cultural subjectivity and create inferiority complex which very quickly transformed into intergeneration phenomenon.

The African people educated in this way were used as representatives and mediators of apartheid authorities since they were safe for it and could disseminate inferiority complex.

To raise truthful representatives of apartheid authorities in Bantustans among native population the so-called system of Historically Black Universities was created which were to serve as administrators in Bantustans which was in line with racist program of ‘separate development’.

The achieving of scientific degrees was limited in these universities as white University trained 85% of South African masters and doctors.

The result was really catastrophic for native majority: in 1991 for every six white Afrikaners which held bachelor degree, the proportion of the black population was 0,1 (South Africans Institute of Race Relations, SAIRR, 1995, p. 6). To sum it up the dominant system of education in South Africa during colonial era was not aimed to provide genuine education. Instead, it was embedded in the wider fabric of racial discrimination, indoctrinated African and Indian people with ideology. Apartheid system of education was not aimed at developing genuine personality but formed people with inferior complex produced by many years of internal colonization.

Changes in South African education since 1994

The reforms in South African education after the fall of apartheid faced with a large spectrum of problems inherited from apartheid era. For white students it was difficult to escape the widespread ethos of racial hatred and discrimination as educational system became more democratized. Black Africans instead had to overcome the problems of Bantu education which neglected sciences and mathematics and was oriented on racist anthropologies used to raise cheap and oppressed labor for whites. Indian and other colored students were also treated as disenfranchised cast. Notwithstanding the fall of apartheid the system of racism segregation is still in place affecting the levels of literacy and education of non-white majority.

The evolutionary process of educational change is one of the main reasons of many features of apartheid system in education are still in place. Segregated educational bureaucracy still continues to determine the contours of education policy and racialization of education continues in the form of social divisions between rich and poor which homologous to racial structure of society: poor are people of color and rich are whites.

Notwithstanding this fact some democratic innovations were introduced. Article 29 of Constitution guarantees equal access for elementary and higher education for all people notwithstanding race, gender and age. To address the problem of colored majority low access to higher education the democratic government initiated restructuring of the higher education by means of mergers and various incorporations which were completed by 2005 and have created twenty two institutions from existing 36 universities and the professional colleges. Besides this the South African government tried to increase capital expenditures on public schools which were mainly attended by colored majorities.

Besides this the democratic government made considerable efforts for enhancing infrastructure of earlier disadvantaged schools. Such organizations as Khanya worked hard to guarantee computer access of public schools traditionally attended by black and students of color. Besides this government initiated various student exchange programs which benefited formerly disenfranchised and oppressed black and Indian majority.

Furthermore, in the line of recent governmental initiatives Focus schools were created with the particular emphasis on commerce, finance, engineering, liberal arts which were aimed at benefiting black and colored students.

Notwithstanding this evident progress there several major shortcoming that should be addressed in order to make education system of South Africa more democratic. First of all, the level of illiteracy is still very high. About 19% of population do not possess formal education from which 92% are black population living in poor provinces and conditions (Department of Education, 1999). Government distribution of available funds seems to be oriented not at poor provinces and the creation of new educational institutions for dispossess majority but instead at enhancing educational conditions of dominant institutions which is line with longstanding apartheid traditions.

Besides this Asmal and Wilmot suggest, ‘There are serious problems with the provision of support materials, such as school stationary, and with capital projects, including school maintenance’ (2001, p.188). The majority of South-African teacher, particularly those who work in segregated schools attended by colored majority do not have the sufficient level of training hence it is important that the South African Department of Education allocated more funds for the teachers’ training programs. Unless this is the case the majority of South African population will stay poorly educated and divided on the ground of race and social status.

To sum it up as the history of South African education through colonial ages to democratic era suggests education system was in constant flux depending on the social conditions of reproduction. The main lesson that should be learned from this history is that the task of educational system democratization can not be realized until the rudiments of apartheid and racist culture which dominated society for more than half a century are liquidated by concerted efforts of all democratic forces.


  1. Abdi, Ali A. “Apartheid and Education in South Africa: Select Historical Analyses.” The Western Journal of Black Studies 27.2 (2003): 89-123.
  2. Asmal, Kader, and Wilmot James. “Education and Democracy in South Africa Today.” Daedalus 130.1 (2001): 185-201.
  3. Department of Education. Annual Report:1999. Pretoria: Department of Education, 2000.
  4. Gerwel, J. Education in South Africa: Means and Ends. In J. Spence (Ed.), Change in South Africa. New York: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1994.
  5. Hlatshwayo, Simphiwe A. Education and Independence: Education in South Africa, 1658-1988. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
  6. SAIRR. Fast Facts, No. 4, 1995.
  7. Woodson, C. The Mis-Education of the Negro, Introduction by J. Kunjufu. Chicago: African American Image, 2000.
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