A new report, “Low Quality Education as a Poverty Trap” by the Social Policy Research Group at Stellenbosch University, has provided a troubling assessment of the quality of education available to children in South Africa. The study reports that by age eight, school children from the most affluent 20 percent of South Africa’s population were already far outperforming children from poorer families, showing stark distinctions between the prospects of children from poorer communities and those from more affluent communities at an early age.
The top 20 percent of state schools have adequate facilities and attract the best teachers, mostly because they charge tuition fees.
In order to improve schools in poor areas, government spending on the poorest fifth of schools is roughly six times higher than spending on the richest fifth of schools, excluding teacher pay and other forms of “personnel spending.” Despite this, education quality has remained disappointing. Even though South Africa is one of the wealthiest countries on the continent, learning outcomes are uneven. The South African government is on the right track budget-wise, having allocated $28 billion, or 21 percent of its FY2011/12 budget to education.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found job prospects for children leaving schools were determined both by the number of years of schooling they received, as well as by the quality of that education. Education is a proven tool. Even a few years of quality education can reduce infant mortality and increase lifetime wages, helping children escape the cycle of poverty, even if they were born into the poorest 20 percent.