South Africa faces a number of formidable challenges in the years ahead in the realm of education. Some of the newly proposed and developed educational reforms in South Africa, including OBE and Curriculum 2005, involve sophisticated educational concepts that require better-skilled teachers than were produced in South Africa under the Bantu education system as well as resources most schools cannot afford. Additionally, many of the new education policies are as yet unenforceable (e.g., provisions for free and compulsory education and the language policy), although they express the ideals and common values that underlie education in post-Apartheid South Africa and provide guidelines for further action. Resource constraints, both human and material, on implementing the new policies and their associated programs will limit the speed at which the educational system can be reformed and high quality education can be made accessible to all in South Africa, especially for the very poor. The major constraints in most sectors of South African education, as already noted, are trained personnel and adequate material resources. Strategies have to be evolved for training the trainers at just about every level education if the outcomes envisaged by the Ministry of Education are to be realized. Turning around the legacy of Apartheid education in South Africa in all probability will take several generations.
Furthermore, the as of yet immeasurable impact of HIV/AIDS will likely be devastating on the entire educational system, debilitating and destroying the lives of countless teachers, administrators, and other educational staff either directly or indirectly in the years to come and diminishing the number of students able to participate in education as the rates of infection and death from HIV/AIDS grow. The educational sector has a special obligation and responsibility to attend to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its various ramifications in South African society, including the schools. Designing and implementing a well-structured campaign to combat this ravaging disease is essential, and educators must take their part in the campaign, as the Department of Education has noted in its May 2001 report on the status of education in the new South Africa.
The funding available for education, even with donations from the United Nations, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Britain, U.S., and other international sources, currently is inadequate to address the scale of South Africa's education problems created by Apartheid in the near future. In August 1997, for example, the Schools Register of Needs was launched to determine the exact location of each school, the state of physical facilities, condition of buildings, services provided, and available resources. The survey of more than 32,000 schools found that no water was available within walking distance of 24 percent of the schools and that only 43 percent of the schools had electricity. In the northern province, where conditions are most severe, a staggering 79 percent of the schools had no electricity and 41 percent of the buildings were in a serious state of disrepair. More than half of the schools used pit latrines with 13 percent of them having no toilet facilities of any description. The survey also found the most appalling conditions imaginable in the estimated 5,400 schools countrywide located on land owned mostly by white farmers. The task alone of developing these schools—public schools on private property—to the required level would require the country's entire education budget.
In its May 2001 review of educational accomplishments in the post-Apartheid era, South Africa's Department of Education underscored the importance of education for equalizing the opportunities and improving the future prospects of all South Africans. The report's authors emphasized that "education is pivotal to economic prosperity, assisting South Africans—personally and collectively—to escape the 'poverty trap' characterizing many of our communities. It has also to reach beyond economic goals, enabling South Africans to improve the quality of their lives and contribute to a peaceful, concerned, and democratic nation." The burden of attending to the requisite demands of the transformative process is Herculean indeed, and improving South Africa's education system will require the dedicated perseverance of South Africans from all backgrounds for many years to come. As the authors of the May 2001 Department of Education report observed,
The national project of education transformation is multi-faceted and complex—requiring systemic transformation at all levels and in all sectors. It takes account of widely disparate conditions, characterized by differing degrees of capacity, poverty, inequality, and privilege. It must go beyond mechanisms of delivery seeking to mobilize educators, young people, and communities to celebrate learning: as a celebration of human nature and as a means to personal and social development, employment, and opportunities for a better quality life.
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—Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane and
S. D. Berkowitz
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