Effects of apartheid on education still felt by girls, marginalised: report

Equal Education report underlines how infrastructure and physical conditions at schools play fundamental role in quality of teaching and learning

21 November 2023 - 16:48 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
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A report by Equal Education has revealed how the after-effects of apartheid remain in schools. File photo.
A report by Equal Education has revealed how the after-effects of apartheid remain in schools. File photo.

Almost three decades into democracy, the post-apartheid government is still struggling to undo the inequalities in the schooling system, with infrastructural decline affecting morale, school attendance and access to education.

Marginalised communities and female students are most affected. 

This is according to a report by Equal Education (EE) released on Monday titled “Schooling under Unusual Conditions: Research into how school infrastructure shapes teaching and learning in South Africa”.

According to the report, a top contributor and often neglected part of the learning crisis is the physical conditions at schools, which are not always favourable to good teaching and learning.

“Findings largely confirm what we know to be true, as well as other interesting and unexpected ones. Generally, insufficient classroom infrastructure or overcrowding conditions emerged as a consistent and important environmental factor at the school level, with a negative impact on motivation for learners and teachers,” the report says.

“The results showed that overcrowded conditions increase the likelihood of learners and teachers being absent from school regularly.

“In addition, and more importantly, it was revealed that teachers’ quality of teaching and performance, as well as their general attitude towards their job, are greatly affected by poor school conditions or facilities.”

The 2016 report assessed 60 schools across seven districts in the Eastern Cape. It was found that the government has failed to comply with the norms and standards for school infrastructure.

The findings showed that 46 of the 60 schools visited had at least one inappropriate structure. Thirteen were entirely or substantially inappropriate as they were almost all mud schools, with zinc shacks in some.

The findings are not individual cases of the state failing to meet its own target but is a microcosm of a bigger crisis. The physical school environment can serve a dual purpose in tackling the learning crises in the country. The findings indicate that physical conditions affect teaching and learning in three ways:

  • attendance and learner engagement;
  • teacher attitude and motivation; and
  • learners’ academic performance.

“Infrastructure affects learner participation and engagement in the schooling system in many ways. For example, insufficient or inadequate classroom infrastructure can affect learner enrolment and the subsequent participation of some children in the schooling system.

“Thus, where schools have reached full capacity or are overcrowded because of a lack of classroom infrastructure or space, children may be refused admission, depriving them of their right to education,” says the report.

In South Africa, research shows that pupils from rural, marginalised or densely populated urban communities (that is, townships) bear the greatest impact of poor classroom infrastructure as they are mostly affected by overcrowded school conditions.

Despite the clear directives in both the norms and standards for school infrastructure and the government's Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, the condition of buildings in many schools is still appalling — in some cases putting the health and safety of pupils at risk, it says.

“Aside from the environmental and health risks common to all, female learners are mostly affected by the consequences of undignified sanitation. This not only puts the health of female learners at great risk, but it exposes them to physical and social discomfort, embarrassment and vulnerability to bullying.

“This could, in turn, contribute to their school attendance, retention and academic performance as they try to cope with bullying and other forms of intimidation and embarrassment.”


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