About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Education

In late 2002, the government promised that some poor parents would be exempted from paying school fees. The enabling legislation only passed in 2006 and it may take some time for its provisions to become fully effective since provinces are mainly responsible for overseeing its implementation. Until 2006 poor parents were exempted from paying school fees under certain circumstances, provincial education departments were frequently remiss with regard to informing parents of their rights or ensuring that they exemptions were granted. Even with the national legislation now in place, many problems remain with regard to the standards and norms for the fee free policy and the poverty index that provinces would use to determine which schools should be exempt from having to charge fees. 'No –fee schedule in shambles,' Mail & Guardian 13 to 19 January 2006

With a stated commitment to access, quality, and democratic governance, the South African Schools Act of 1996 created an educational system of "cooperative governance," delegating substantial authority to the provincial legislatures, governments, and local, democratically-elected school-based governing bodies to run educational affairs. The Act also provides for two types of schools – public and independent – and compulsory education for children between 7 and 15 years old, or until a learner reaches ninth grade.

Yet despite this goal of cooperative governance, laws pertaining to education in South Africa were deliberately fragmented so as to accommodate various political interests. In January 2007 the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported the circulation of a proposal for sweeping changes to strengthen the education system and give the national department greater control over the running of the country's more than 30,000 public schools. (Buddy Naidu, "More clout for school principals," Sunday Times, 14 January 2007, and SASA Review Task Team Discussion Document and Annexures, August 2006, which can be obtained at http://www.suntimes.co.za/TheVault/Documents/Document.pdf)

Although accurate figures are hard to come by, according to the national education department there are 11.8 million learners in the primary school system, with about 6.8 million, or 48 percent, in independent schools, and 5 million, or 42 percent, in public "no fee" schools. By January 2007, 5,000 schools qualify for "no-fee" status, thus benefiting those households that have struggled the most to provide their children a decent education.

However, "no-fee" does not mean "free education." Despite the fact that the South African government allocates funding to 13,856 no-fee schools, parents and families are still required to furnish uniforms, books, and supplies, as well as provide transport for their children to and from school. Some help is given to truly needy families as a result of provisions made in the Guidelines on School Uniforms, published in 2006, and the QIDS (Quality Improvement and Development Strategy), a program that has distributed books to more than 4,000 schools, with another 6,000 targeted for 2007.

In late 2002, the government promised that some poor parents would be exempted from paying school fees. The enabling legislation only passed in 2006 and it may take some time for its provisions to become fully effective since provinces are mainly responsible for overseeing its implementation. Until 2006 poor parents were exempted from paying school fees under certain circumstances, yet provincial education departments were frequently remiss with regard to informing parents of their rights or ensuring that they exemptions were granted. Even with the national legislation now in place, many problems remain concerning standards and norms for the fee free policy and the poverty index that provinces would use to determine which schools should be exempt from having to charge fees. ("No-fee schedule in shambles," Mail & Guardian, 13-19 January 2006)

In a submission in October 2005 to the Human Rights Commission's hearings on the right to basic education, guaranteed by the Constitution,  the Education Law Project of Wits University Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) said that only 5 percent of pupils received exemptions from school fees and that the poor had to borrow R2.7 billion to spend on education. (David Macfarlane, "Poor borrow R2.7 billion for schooling," Mail & Guardian, October 14-20 2005. In 1995, 95.3 percent of children between ages 7 to 18 were in school. (Statistics South Africa October Household Survey 1995 ; and 93.5 percent in 2003 General Household Survey 2003)

Although nationwide the commitment to equitable quality education is strong, South Africa lacks the necessary resources to make this commitment a reality. Class size is large, averaging 40 to 50 students per class, and school principals often do double duty as teachers. While South African educators face many problems similar to other educators in the world, one cannot overlook the effect that HIV/AIDS has had on the process of teaching and learning. South African educators daily confront the challenges associated with working to improve the lives and futures of children who have been both infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

The overall policy goal is to ensure equitable education for all South African learners, but the dual challenge is to provide adequate funding to the poorest of the poor, while making sure that the quality gap between rich and poor schools does not widen. An additional concern is providing assurances that those no-fee schools having authority over their own financial affairs (possessing so-called "section 21", or nonprofit, status) are able to manage the large amounts of money that will be deposited into their accounts at the beginning of each school year, while handling the rising number of fee exemptions granted to families. (Caiphus Kgosana, "No-fee schools an 'excellent concept", City Press, 26 November 2006; Pregs Govender and Buyekezwa Makwabe, "Alarm bells raised over fee exemptions," Sunday Times, 14 January 2007)

No-fee schools tend to be located in rural and impoverished areas throughout the provinces that often are plagued by poor infrastructure problems related to water and sanitation. Only 15 percent of schools have toilets that work, 40 percent have electricity, and 80 percent don't have libraries according to Salim Vally, Education Policy Research Unit, University of Witswatersrand. ("Starvation or education is a choice facing many families," Charlene Smith, Sunday Independent, 31 July 2005) The Eastern Cape has the highest number (3,825), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (3,341) and Limpopo (2,557). Provincial departments are expected to make allocations ranging from R500 to R800 for each learner, which includes the cost of teacher salaries as well as student books and paper. This reportedly represents a five-fold increase in the annual fees many of these schools previously charged.

School fees are set at annual public meetings, with parents voting on the amount proposed; those parents who cannot afford or are unable to pay the fees are granted an exemption or reduction. In 2003 the government announced a plan of action to "progressively improve access to free and quality education for all" and "greater inter provincial equity so that learners with similar levels of poverty receive the same minimum level of school funding."1

For a comprehensive listing of websites pertaining to South Africa education, go to http://www-sul.stanford.edu/africa/southafrica/rsaed.html.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.