Born to fail

2018-01-07 06:03
Not one classroom at Siseko Junior School in the Eastern Cape was built by the state – the community volunteered to pay for construction and each household donated R50 to ensure pupils have a roof to learn under. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Not one classroom at Siseko Junior School in the Eastern Cape was built by the state – the community volunteered to pay for construction and each household donated R50 to ensure pupils have a roof to learn under. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

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Luminathi Mangwana wants to become a medical doctor, however, according to a recent study, the quality of education offered in schools located in poor communities will limit the eight-year-old’s chances of achieving his dream.

Luminathi is looking forward to Grade 3 at Chamshe Primary in Willowvale in the Eastern Cape.

His school falls in the quintile 1 to 2 category, which means it is classified as a poor school and doesn’t charge school fees.

Like many children from poor communities, Luminathi’s mother, Nolusindiso Mangwana (34), who is a security guard, cannot afford to send him to a former Model C school so that he can get a better level of education.

In a report compiled by academics at the University of Stellenbosch titled A Society Divided: How Unequal Education Quality Limits Social Mobility, the researchers paint a bleak picture of the effect the country’s dual education system has on poor children.

The 45-page report says children from poor schools have little chance of furthering their studies at university level or being able to secure higher paying jobs.

The few who will succeed will most likely do so through affirmative action or vocational training.

The study calls for an appropriate and immediate intervention “with a particular focus on quality education in Grade R and the primary school grades”.

“The continued dualism in the education system that produces distinctly different learning outcomes has far-reaching consequences for social mobility.

"Poor quality education for the majority of pupils leads to poor labour market outcomes, which in turn beget poor quality education for the next generation.

“The persistence of deep inequality, two decades after apartheid and despite considerable shifts in government spending to poor schools, is a powerful indictment of the South African education system’s failure to overcome past injustices,” the report says.

In addition, the report notes that social mobility, poverty and income distribution are closely linked to the quality of education that South African society provides for its children.

“The imperative to improve on this cannot be clearer, and requires wider debate, more experimentation and improved implementation of policies in education to create a better future for the millions of children who are caught in the cycle of poverty.”

Persisting inequalities

Referring to international studies, the report says that research shows that cognitive gaps between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds are established well before they enter school, and widen as they progress through the education system.

This is despite the school system being seen by many as the primary mechanism for reducing inequality.

“These early school and home environment inequalities persist into the labour market, where poor employment and wage prospects for the poor deterministically could assign future generations to the same fate as their predecessors,” the report warns.

The academics investigated the role of education in promoting social mobility for the poor in the highly unequal South African economic landscape.

The report says this is relevant in a country where the rapid expansion of educational attainment since the 1970s has not produced the desired labour market outcomes for many South Africans, thereby perpetuating patterns of poverty and inequality along the apartheid dimensions of race and geography.

It states that a minority of pupils attend functional, high quality (mostly former white) schools that are staffed by qualified teachers and characterised by good management, assessment and parental involvement.

Pupils graduating from these schools had relatively good chances of entering the upper end of the labour market, often (but not always) after first acquiring some form of tertiary education, it says.

“In contrast, the majority of South Africa’s [mostly black] pupils attend formerly black schools that typically also suffer from poor management, little parental participation and poor assessment, and produce poor cognitive outcomes, which are poorly rewarded in the labour market, resulting in low employment probabilities and low wages from unskilled occupations,” it says.

The report further argues that, while the transition from low quality schools to low productivity jobs was relatively deterministic, it was possible for individuals from this part of the education system to access the high productivity side of the labour market through vocational training, affirmative action or other forms of labour market mobility.

Published in February last year and released in November, the report was compiled in partnership with the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation and the EU.

It amalgamated existing and ongoing work done by the department of economics and research on socioeconomic policy group at Stellenbosch University and work produced specifically for the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development, which is a research programme funded by the EU, which is located in the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Researchers also reviewed recent international and local research work investigating education attainment, quality and the effect on labour market outcomes, as well as the next generation’s education opportunities.

Read more on:    education

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