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The state of education in South Africa has been the focus of sustained protest and political debate over the past 18 months. With the rise of the student-led Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns in early 2015, debates have raged over the escalating price of university education, the content of curriculums and broader problems of social inequality.
But there are massive problems in the primary and secondary sectors too. Access to quality education remains deeply unequal and divided along social lines. Critics say the government has done far too little to improve education in the 22 years since the end of apartheid, and in many areas the situation seems to be getting worse, with overcrowding, and inadequate resources and staff. About 80 per cent of South Africa’s 25,000 schools are officially classified as struggling.
In this audio feature, recorded in Cape Town in May, I speak to primary teachers and students as well as education experts from the Partners for Possibility programme, which is working to overhaul government primary schools. It is building partnerships between school principals and local business leaders to bring the innovation and creative skills of South Africa’s flourishing business sector into state education. Together, principals and their business partners assess what the problems facing schools are and come up with solutions. Funding and training collaborations between businesses, universities and local civil society then work to put these in place.
Central to this is the idea of schools as the hub of communities, connecting parents, families, teachers and local organisations. I visited Kannemeyer Primary School in a neighbourhood in the Cape Flats, a series of townships lying on the south-east fringes of Cape Town. There I spoke to the principal, staff and students of the school about the challenges facing South African education, and what they have been doing to tackle these head on. “We need to get every school to develop and restore full citizenship to all our children,” the principal, Ridwan Samodien, told me. “All the adults, all the citizens need to hold the hands of our children, so that together we can get our children on the correct path to success and to make a meaningful difference in this country.”
With thanks to the staff and pupils of Kannemeyer Primary School, Cape Town.