School Enrollment in Apartheid South Africa

It is well known that one of the fundamental differences between the experiences of Whites and Blacks in Apartheid-era South Africa was education. Whilst 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

The above table gives data for school enrollment of Whites and Blacks in South Africa in 1982. The data highlights significant differences between the schooling experiences between the two groups, but additional information is needed before you carry out an analysis.

Using data from South Africa's 1980 census1, roughly 21% of the White population and 22% of the Black population were enrolled in school. 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, and only R146 for each Black child.

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% of Black teachers had a university degree, and 82% 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 is completely different.

1 There were approximately 4.5 million Whites and 24 million Blacks in South Africa in 1980.

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Graph for White Enrollment in South African Schools in 1982

The above graph shows the relative proportions of school enrollment across the different school grades (years). It was permissible to leave school at the end of Standard 8, and you can see from the graph that there is 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. Note that 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 assessment. If you passed the exam you could move up a grade in 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), and so the graph here is also representative of pupil ages.

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Graph for Black Enrollment in South African Schools in 1982

You can see from the above graph that the data is skewed to attendance in lower grades. The graph shows that 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.

Additional factors have influenced the shape of the Black enrollment graph. Unlike the previous graph for White enrollment, we can not relate the data to the age of pupils. The graph is skewed for the following reasons:

  • It was common for Black children to attend school for fewer years than white children. Rural life had significantly greater demands on the time of Black children (they were expected to help out with livestock and household chores) compared to that experienced by urban-living families.
  • 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 Black 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.) The number of pupils in Sub A and B include a significant number retaking the year.
  • 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.

The two graphs, which illustrate the educational inequality of the Apartheid system, are representative of an industrial country with free, compulsory education, and a poor, third world country, with significantly less industrialization.