No escape from history

The biggest failure of the current government in South Africa is not necessarily the education system, but rather the perception thereof and the inability to create a culture of education amongst the poor in South Africa. This is not a recent problem, it is as a result of a nation that protested formal education in the past and this has rubbed off on the generations that followed. There are two key reasons why formal education isn’t high on the population’s list of priorities: Firstly, it is as a result of the perceptions of the importance of education and secondly the education system is a failure.


The greatest part of the South African population is poor black people, in the Apartheid era these people were forced to be educated in a language that wasn’t their own and that they often didn’t understand. People were often encouraged to boycott school and support the struggle; as a result a lot of people didn’t even finish their primary school education. The ones that did couldn’t really strive for something better because there wasn’t really anything better to strive for because their skin colour restricted them.

Today there is a similar problem facing the country, there is a lack of motivation to better oneself. Today in South Africa the unemployment amongst young South Africans is very concerning. Highly qualified people (in terms of the South African standard) cannot find jobs to support themselves, and yet there is uneducated people running the country. This causes a lot of discouragement amongst already educated people and as a result skilled people are leaving the country. Racial transformation has also contributed to the ‘brain drain’, laws surrounding movements, such as BEE, has caused a lot of professionals to lose jobs to less educated people and struggling to find new jobs. This resulted in wide gaps being formed between the public and private sectors of, not only education, but also health and infrastructure. Skilled professionals left the country or went into the private sectors, and these are thriving while the public sectors are in ruins, as a result even more racial and income inequality follows. There is a number of initiatives that encourages better education and improvement such as LEAP Science and Maths schools and African School for Excellence. These projects might make a difference but the attitude towards education in South Africa is the root of the problem that needs to be addressed or the spillover effects on the economy and political environment can be detrimental.

It is a never ending cycle and the biggest question remains why strive for a better education if you know its no use and the only way to achieve something is if you have the right political affiliation and know some people in high places. The perception of formal education lacks importance, and there is no real motivation to go to school. The government’s inability to deliver textbooks, build libraries and better schools only encourages this problem and nepotism also contributes to it. South Africa spends a large part of GDP on education, but again there is no motivation inspiration from teachers to actually better the youth of today.  The lack of a culture of education in South Africa is evident in events such as the recent mining strikes. The mine workers demanded a ridiculous wage raise. These are uneducated laborers that demanded a salary that is almost equal to that of a public school teacher with a five year degree and 15 years of experience. On the one hand the mine workers need to support their families, but what is the motivation now to go and study for five years if you can just go work in a mine and receive the same salary. 


Uneducated people are likely to concentrate on the wounds of the past instead of having a forward looking attitude about how to better and improve on the mistakes of the past. These people are easily manipulated and that is exactly what the ANC wants and needs to stay in power. A suggestion was made that the model of democracy should be adapted and people should only be allowed to vote who pay a certain amount of tax – the amount shouldn’t be too high, otherwise it will again be a problem of an adapted Apartheid type regime. By allowing such a rule, it ensures that the voters are fairly educated, contribute to society and can make better decisions. The problem with this strategy is that South Africans are very sensitive to exclusion, if such a law is adopted it will cause a lot of social unrest amongst the excluded part of the population and the word ‘Apartheid’ will be seen everywhere once again on the strike posters. Without better education there will never be political transformation and the economy will suffer because of this, thus there is no simple solution to escape history and its spillover effects.


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