Increasing Equality and Social Cohesion in South Africa by Reducing Educational Inequality
Encouraging a prosperous and sustainable future requires addressing inequality. Why? Because inequality underlies other barriers to a sustainable future by undermining social cohesion, denying opportunity and entrapping a large portion of the population in poverty. Inequality in South Africa is extensive and perpetuated intergenerationally.
The South African education system contributes to continuing inequality into future generations with white children and those from higher socio-economic backgrounds getting better opportunities than black children and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. But education also offers the best path to reducing inequality in South Africa. The most effective way of increasing equality of opportunity would be to reduce the current gap between well performing and poorly performing schools.
Spacial and economic inequality were all intended outcomes of the racial inequality that Apartheid entrenched. But since ’94, inequality has not reduced. South Africa’s Gini Coefficient - a measure of income inequality — is estimated to have increased from 0.64 in 1995 to 0.69 in 2005 (1). Increased levels of inequality lead to increased violent crime, a decrease in economic growth and less social cohesion, all of which reduces the future prospects of youth. (2)
The theory of Multidimensional Inequality (3), suggests that social, economic and educational inequalities are not isolated or independent variables, but rather interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Inequalities affect each other and people are likely to be advantaged or disadvantaged by multiple inequalities. So income inequality in South Africa can be understood to be strongly linked with educational, racial and spatial inequality. This suggests that an increase in any of these factors leads to increases in all of them, but a decrease in any of these could decrease any or all of the others. It follows that reducing educational inequality could have a direct effect on reducing economic, racial and spatial inequality thus transforming the future prospects of young people in South Africa.
Many former Model-C schools provide education near equal to their private counterparts. Hyde Park High School in Johannesburg, a Former Model-C, has a 100% matric pass rate. Many former DET schools — those run by the Bantu education department under apartheid — offer education far below this level. Alexandra Commercial School which is only a few kilometres away from Hyde Park, has a 19% matric pass rate. These are not isolated examples. In numeracy and literacy , children at historically white (Including Model C) schools dramatically outperform children at historically black schools. (4)
As predicted by the multidimensional inequality theory, inequality in education strongly correlates with inequality in income. An analysis of data gathered by Stats SA shows that when entering the job market, a person’s first salary is very strongly related to their level of education. These differences continue into future generations. The South African Intergenerational Elasticity measure is estimated between 0.57 and 0.67 (5), meaning that up to two-thirds of a South African’s income is explained by what their parents earn.
Apartheid-designed spatial inequality also continues to affect education outcomes and current rules affecting how children are allocated to schools exacerbate this. In Gauteng the default feeder zone is a 5 kilometer radius around the school (6). These regulations were originally established to limit time and cost of transport for students and their parents, but they actually perpetuate the damage caused by apartheid geography.
The links between racial, income, educational and spatial inequalities are easy to see at a micro-level. Compare two wards separated by the M1 highway in Johannesburg. Ward 103 - Sandton and Morningside - is 53% white with an average annual household income of R461,000. Ward 116 in Alexandra is 0,1% white with an average income of R26,000 (2011 Census data)(7). While most people in the richer area have a university level education, only one in one hundred do in the poorer area. The school results in these areas, with a 100% pass rate in schools in the Sandton area and a 19% pass rate in one of the Alex schools, show how these massive differences are being transmitted to the next generation.
So how could educational inequality be addressed? Merging under-performing and higher-performing schools would transform inequality of opportunity in the system. This would consist of combining the schools’ students, teachers and finances, and using both locations. The original schools would become one school run from two locations. The better resourced school sites would still offer superior infrastructure and amenities (at least within the short term), so in order to promote equality, the students would change location on a weekly basis.
In order to implement this policy, an effective, safe and reliable school transport system would be needed. The logistics would be relatively simple. The students and teachers would go to their “original" school locations (near their home) everyday, and then depending on which location they were allocated to that week, would travel with school transport to the other location. The government would need to fund, manage and maintain this transport system, but it would be cheaper and more effective than a usual school bus system because each bus would only travel between two locations.
This change would give the students from less advantaged schools improved educational outcomes and also access to networks of economically successful people, increasing opportunity. It would also increase social cohesion between people who would otherwise be unlikely to interact with each other because of their economical, racial and geographical differences.
I believe that solving inequality is the most important change to make in order to secure prosperous futures for the youth. This school pairing policy would increase educational equality, and in turn stimulate equality in other forms. This radical policy is needed to ensure that future generations are not caged in by the circumstances of their parents.