Segregation still the rule in schools
When apartheid ended in 1994, South African's new government abolished racially segregated schools. But a decade later, there is little racial mixing among students.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
At Ummangaliso ("Miracle") Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Khayelitsha Township, more than 1,400 children play on the lone jungle gym during morning recess. Nearby, half a dozen women sit with large plastic buckets of sweets and soft drinks, waiting for those children with pocket money to spare. Many of the kids have already eaten the one meal of the day they can count on - the school's standard-issue two slices of bread plus a protein shake. In the school's 17 years of existence, burglars have stolen everything from bricks to toilet bowls, so a construction team is installing new security grids over the windows. Beyond them all, through the smoke of the squatter camps, stands Table Mountain.Skip to next paragraph
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Tuesday is Freedom Day in South Africa, honoring the first multiracial vote in 1994. But a decade after the official end of apartheid, the legacy of the former regime's racially based policies still looms large in the nation's schools.
The new government's most dramatic stride toward equalizing schools - dismantling 15 distinct departments of education and creating a single nonracially based one - came in the early heady days of democracy. Their major goals were straightforward and attainable. They successfully excised the most blatant excesses of apartheid education by officially doing away with racially divided schools and a white-supremacist curriculum.
Yet 10 years later, there is still little racial mixing in South Africa's schools, and a far more complex and fundamental problem endures: ensuring that blacks get access to equal academic opportunities.
"The overwhelming majority of resources were lavished on white students," says Edward Fiske, co-author of "Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa." If the new government had tried to redistribute resources - a practical difficulty, since it's not easy to split up a state-of-the-art science lab or a cricket field - Mr. Fiske says the spreading would be thin, because blacks are the overwhelming majority. "Their goal was an equitable system, but they didn't want to lose the white students."
As at more than 90 percent of South Africa's schools, the racial demographics haven't changed at Ummangaliso in the past 10 years. It remains all black.
The schools that have experienced the most racial and cultural exchange are the formerly white ones, virtually all of which now enroll at least a handful of nonwhite students.
Virtually all black schools remain all black. Whites haven't voluntarily integrated them. Anthony Hess, principal of the formerly "colored" (mixed-race) Groenberg High School in Grabouw, a wealthy fruit-farming town east of Cape Town, doesn't expect whites to be integrated. "Parents still see across racial lines," says Mr. Hess. "There's a stigma associated with being a colored school."
Apartheid has left once-white schools with better facilities than black schools. For example, a school in Grabouw maintains its excellent sports facilities, while Groenberg has no playing fields. Hess hopes that offering subjects not taught in the town's formerly white school might attract some white students, at least for a period or two.
School fees also remain a barrier to integration. In South Africa, public schools may levy whatever charge they want. "No school can deny [students] access for nonpayment, but schools can sue the parents," says Helen Ladd, coauthor of "Elusive Equity." "Schools serving middle-class kids can raise a lot more money than those in rural areas or townships."
Pupils at Ummangaliso are asked to pay 30 rands ($4.45) per year. When parents can't pay even this modest amount - and most can't - they tend to avoid any direct contact with the staff.
At Groenberg High, total student fees amount to 370,000 rands ($55,000) per year, while the formerly white school in town rakes in 2 million rands ($297,000) per year. The extra funds go toward hiring more teachers, buying new materials, and maintaining facilities.
If fees are an unofficial barrier, language is a real one. For decades, policy dictated that only the Afrikaans language could be used in schools. Now, schools can choose from 11 official languages as the medium of instruction. But in rural areas, learners may have to choose between studying in an unfamiliar language or not attending school at all.
In the trilingual Cape Town region, English now dominates as the lingua franca. At Groenberg, 150 of its 1,400 students are ethnically Xhosa. Although students may take Xhosa as a language elective, the native Xhosa speakers must take math, history, and science courses in Afrikaans.