School Enrollment in Apartheid Era South Africa

Outside the Apartheid Museum.

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It is well known that one of the fundamental differences between the experiences of whites and blacks in Apartheid-era South Africa was education. While the battle against enforced education in Afrikaans was eventually won, the Apartheid government's Bantu education policy meant that black children did not receive the same opportunities as white children.

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Data on School Enrollment for Blacks and Whites in South Africa in 1982

Using data from South Africa's 1980 census, roughly 21 percent of the white population and 22 percent of the black population were enrolled in school. There were approximately 4.5 million whites and 24 million blacks in South Africa in 1980. Differences in population distributions, however, mean that there were black children of school age not enrolled in school.

The second fact to consider is the difference in government spending on education. In 1982, the Apartheid government of South Africa spent an average of R1,211 on education for each white child (approximately $65.24 USD) and only R146 for each black child (approximately $7.87 USD).

The quality of teaching staff also differed. Roughly a third of all white teachers had a university degree, the rest had all passed the Standard 10 matriculation exam. Only 2.3 percent of black teachers had a university degree and 82 percent had not even reached the Standard 10 matriculation. More than half had not reached Standard 8. Education opportunities were heavily skewed towards preferential treatment for whites.

Finally, although the overall percentages for all scholars as part of the total population is the same for whites and blacks, the distributions of enrollment across school grades are completely different.

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White Enrollment in South African Schools in 1982

It was permissible to leave school at the end of Standard 8 and there was a relatively consistent level of attendance up to that level. What is also clear is that a high proportion of students continued on to take the final Standard 10 matriculation exam. Opportunities for further education also gave impetus to white children staying in school for Standards 9 and 10.

The South African education system was based on end-of-year exams and assessments. If you passed the exam, you could move up a grade in the next school year. Only a few white children failed end-of-year exams and needed to re-sit school grades. Remember, the quality of education was significantly better for whites.

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Black Enrollment in South African Schools in 1982

In 1982, a much larger proportion of black children were attending primary school (grades Sub A and B), compared to the final grades of secondary school.

It was common for black children in South Africa to attend school for fewer years than white children. Rural life had significantly greater demands on the time of black children, who were expected to help out with livestock and household chores. In rural areas, black children often started school later than children in urban areas.

The disparity in teaching experienced in white and black classrooms and the fact that blacks were usually taught in their second (or third) language, rather than their primary one, meant that back children were much more likely to fail the end-of-year assessments. Many were required to repeat school grades. It was not unknown for a pupil to re-do a particular grade several times.

There were fewer opportunities for further education for black students and thus, less reason to stay on at school.

Job reservation in South Africa kept white-collar jobs firmly in the hands of whites. Employment opportunities for blacks in South Africa were generally manual jobs and unskilled positions.