Fixing Gauteng’s education system is vital to South Africa’s success - Daily Maverick

7 June 2018 - Instead of doing the hard work of fixing South Africa’s education system, the political leadership in Gauteng focuses on sideshows to capture headlines. Getting hands dirty and building a foundation for the future of South Africa’s children may not get headlines, but it will put the province and country on to a path of sustainable prosperity.

Marius Roodt 
Gauteng is the Shining City on the Hill in the eyes of millions, not just in South Africa, but across the continent and indeed the world.

Since George Walker stumbled across what would prove to be the richest gold deposit on Earth, Johannesburg has attracted people looking to make their fortune, or just seeking a better life. The mining village grew to became one of the greatest cities in Africa, with matching renown well beyond the continent.

Today, Johannesburg is the heart of Gauteng, our richest province. It is also the richest city in Africa, and accounts for 15% of South Africa’s economic output. Combined with the contributions of the executive capital, Pretoria (Tshwane), and South Africa’s workshop, Ekurhuleni (East Rand), Gauteng accounts for over a third of total South African economic output.

It is no wonder, then, that the province is a magnet for people not only from South Africa and the rest of the continent, but also the world.

The glitter is tarnished in one key respect, however; despite its riches, Gauteng performs dismally in education. Pupils in the province lag behind others on the continent, and infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

Only a third of Gauteng’s schools have a laboratory and less than half have a stocked library. Over a fifth also do not have any sports facility.

This stands in stark contrast to Gauteng’s economic potency. If the province were to stand alone, an independent Gauteng would have the sixth-largest economy in Africa, behind Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Angola, and Morocco. On a per capita basis, it would rank as the fourth-richest country in Africa, with only Seychelles, Mauritius and Equatorial Guinea boasting per-capita rates higher than South Africa’s smallest province.

Despite being – by far – the smallest province by area, a quarter of South Africa’s population (14-million people) live in Gauteng, up from less than 20% in 1996, making it the most populous province, and this despite having the lowest birth rate of any province. It also is home to world-class universities, competitive sports teams, and tourist attractions that other regions can only dream of.

Little wonder, then, that people are flocking to Gauteng from around the country and the continent.

Yet, despite these assets, increasing numbers of parents in Gauteng are choosing to send their children to private schools, rather than take their chances in the state system.

Enrolment in independent schools in Gauteng between 2000 and 2016 grew from 117,521 to 278,026, or by 137% – in contrast to the 43% growth in the number of pupils in government schools. Over roughly the same period, Gauteng’s overall population grew by about 50%.

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of independent schools in Gauteng exactly doubled (this is not counting unregistered schools). The number of state schools grew by only 9.3% over this period (although off a much higher base). The only provinces which saw greater growth than Gauteng in the number of independent schools were the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

Despite being the richest province, Gauteng’s students lagged behind some of their counterparts in other provinces when it came to average achievement in reading and literacy. According to an international study, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Gauteng’s Grade 4s were third in South Africa for their comprehension skills in reading, behind the Western Cape and the Free State. Gauteng’s reading score was 343 (500 is considered the international average), slightly higher than South Africa’s score of 320. The only other African countries in the PIRLS study were Morocco and Egypt, scoring 358 and 330 respectively. Gauteng has a per capita income nearly three times that of both these countries, yet the literacy scores of the children tested in these three jurisdictions are roughly the same.

Something similar is observed when we look at an international test which looks at how well pupils do in maths and science, known as TIMMS. Where the international average was again 500, Gauteng scored 420, outscored by only the Western Cape at 441. South Africa’s overall score was 376. The only other African country in the study was Morocco, scoring 377.

This would make one think that Gauteng did fairly well in comparison to our North African rival. At face value, this would seem to be true but Gauteng had a very high variation in pupil scores. About 11% of pupils scored above 550 points, with 3% scoring above 625 (indicating that they were advanced achievers). At the same time, a quarter of pupils scored less than 350. This would imply that Gauteng has something of a “two-speed” education system (not unlike the rest of the country), with a handful of schools providing excellent education, and the vast majority failing our children.

Gauteng is a rich province and it should be doing much better. Its success is also vital to South Africa’s, as the country will not succeed with a failed Gauteng. An excellent education system is a vital ingredient in ensuring a successful province.

However, instead of tackling the real issues children in the province face, such as failing schools and hostile unions, and doing the hard work of fixing our education system, the political leadership in Gauteng focuses on sideshows to capture headlines.

Getting hands dirty and building a foundation for the future of South Africa’s children may not get headlines, but it will put the province and country on to a path of sustainable prosperity. DM

Marius Roodt is a Campaign Manager at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). For more details of the IRR’s campaign, go to