Standard of South African state schools lands ministers in court

Elizabeth Buie

South Africa's education and finance ministers are being taken to court over poor standards at state schools.

Five thousand children, most of them from black families on modest incomes, are switching to independent schools annually.

The quality varies, but in Gauteng province alone, South Africa's economic hub, more than 100 new independent schools have applied for registration in the past year.

Nationally, less than half of all school leavers pass the matric exam - an indictment of an education system that is dysfunctional, critics say.

The independent sector has grown by 75 per cent in the past decade.

"It's been driven by parent demand," says Ann Bernstein from the Johannesburg-based thinktank, Centre for Development and Enterprise.

The government itself admits that 80 per cent of state schools are failing. Basic education minister Angie Motsheka revealed recently that 1,700 schools are still without a water supply and 15,000 schools are without libraries.

This month, the campaign group Equal Education launched a court case to force the government to provide equal infrastructure at all schools.

Ms Motsheka has already promised reforms and investment in infrastructure, but it is a huge task.

It also requires political courage, says Ms Bernstein. "We have research from various communities, and increasingly from government, saying that in many places, teachers are not in school on Mondays or Fridays, that many teachers have other jobs simultaneously and the amount of teaching going on in the classrooms is a fraction of what it should be."

In numbers

80% of state schools are classed as "failing"

1,700 schools are without water

15,000 schools have no library.

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Elizabeth Buie

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