The State of Our Education System and Principles for Improvement
by Jamie-Lee Dormehl


South Africa’s education system has long been troubled by challenges. Many suggest that it is in crisis. Despite the celebration of school leaving results in recent years, many researchers have suggested that those quantified outcomes (higher numbers of matriculants, higher pass rates, and greater numbers of university entrants) obscure the poor quality of the education which they correlate with the alarming youth unemployment rates. Jamie-Lee Dormehl, a research associate at ASRI, outlines how international benchmark assessments reveal a more nuanced understanding of South Africa’s basic education system, and how those assessments and the growing body of qualitative research they are informing may hold valuable insights for those interested in and committed to improving the quality of the country’s education.

Jamie-Lee Dormehl

Jamie is currently completing her Masters Degree in Research Psychology at North-West University, Potchefstroom. Having completed her course work in 2017, her dissertation is focused on positive psychology interventions in schools. She holds an Honours Degree in Applied Psychology cum laude from UNISA, which she completed whilst teaching English in South Korea. Her undergrad at Rhodes University majored in Psychology and Journalism. Having joined ASRI as a Research Intern, Jamie is a curious individual intrigued by human behaviour and experiences and the complex, interrelated demographic, social, economic, psychological and biological factors that contribute towards it. Jamie aspires to assist in the creation of change through skilled knowledge and knowledge through skilled research. Her biggest dream is to contribute to the improvement of South Africa’s education system. Being actively involved with individuals, communities and organisations, she aspires to work towards identifying challenges and striving towards a solution-based society by co-developing and co-implementing culturally and linguistically nuanced and informed interventions and programmes. Aware of the unique issues we are faced with in South Africa, Jamie strives for continuous personal and career development because knowledge is the justice of our people and the freedom of tomorrow.

Old Times, New Perspectives: Afrocentric teaching of the SouthAfrican War at the University of Limpopo,
By Lebogang Legodi


During and after the student protests across South African campuses in 2015 and 2016, there were several calls for the ‘decolonisation’ and ‘Africanisation’ of university curricula and syllabi. This was not a new development on some, particularly historically black campuses, but this was the first time that the issue was given such public prominence in the media. What followed these events and their coverage was a scholarly response. At one HBU, the University of Limpopo, the teaching of history has attempted to respond to this call for transformation. This paper focuses on the ongoing attempts to teach history from an Afrocentric perspective by assessing the way in which the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) is taught. The paper concludes that much more needs to be done to give students the substantial benefits of learning Afrocentric historiography.

Lebogang Legodi

Lebogang Tiego Legodi is a former Research Associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute. She is currently completing her Masters in International Politics at the University of Limpopo, writing her dissertation on China’s foreign policy towards Sudan. Lebogang holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Political Science from the University of Limpopo (2017) and a Bachelor of Social Science in Political Science and International Relations (2016) from the North-West University. She has presented papers at conferences hosted by the South African Association of Political Studies, and she remains interested in the decolonisation and Africanisation of curricula at South African universities.

Critical literacy, citizenship, and the value of education in contemporary South Africa
by Angelo Fick


Critically literate citizens are essential for sustaining and maintaining democratic institutions and the freedoms they engender. Education, therefore, should be conceived beyond mere utility, its value for industry. Human beings should be thought of as more than productive units, their complex lives reduced, their status defined as homo economicus. To this end it is crucial to imagine the function of educating young people differently, and to assess the success of education beyond pass rates, passing through school and higher education. To sustain democracy, the success of education should also be reckoned by the longer-term positive outcomes, which include but are not limited to giving citizens of a democratic society the means to make their lives differently and with greater freedom, not just in service of economic goals and outcomes, and beyond individual profit towards the larger goal.

Angelo Fick

Angelo Fick is the Director of Research at ASRI. He taught at universities in South Africa and Europe for twenty years, in various fields from English literary studies and Sociology through philosophy of science. His work remains vested in critical race theory, feminism, post-structuralism, and postcolonial theory. He worked in broadcast television for almost half a decade, doing both production and research, as well as on air analysis of South Africa’s postmillennial post-apartheid political economy. Though no longer employed as a full-time academic, he continues to present lectures on colonial discourse and postcolonial culture in South Africa at a university in Gauteng. Mostly he spends his days reading.



“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. Gauteng is a rich province and it should be doing much better. Its success is also vital to the success of South Africa. The country will not succeed with a failed Gauteng. An excellent education system is a vital ingredient in ensuring a successful Province. The first change that could be made is that there could be increased parental involvement in schools. There is research evidence that suggests that greater parental and community involvement leads to better educational outcomes. A further way of perhaps looking to improve the educational outcomes of schools is looking into implementing a charter school system. Third, existing Schools that perform well, such as Afrikaans schools, should be strengthened in the Province, rather than undermined. These interventions at cultural and policy level, will ensure a focus on improved educational outcomes rather than the headline grabbing “politicking” around education that we have witnessed from political leaders.”

Marius Roodt

Marius Roodt is Head of Campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations. His research interests include South African and African politics and development issues. He holds degrees from the former Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Life of Steve Bantu Biko
by South African History Online


The article is a biography and tribute to Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko who although was not alone in forging the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM); was nevertheless its most prominent leader, who with others guided the movement of student discontent into a political force unprecedented in the history of South Africa. Biko and his peers were responding to developments that emerged in the high phase of apartheid, when the Nationalist Party (NP), in power for almost two decades, was restructuring the country to conform to its policies of separate development. The NP went about untangling what little pockets of integration and proximity there were between White, Black, Coloured and Indian people, by creating new residential areas, new parallel institutions such as schools, universities and administrative bodies, and indeed, new ‘countries’, the tribal homelands. The students that launched the South Africa Students Organisation (SASO) belonged to a generation that resisted the process of strengthening apartheid, in any manner they could. Biko’s rise to prominence is inextricably tied to the development of the BCM.

South African History Online

This article was published on South African History Online.
South African History online (SAHO) is a non-partisan people’s history institution. It was established in June 2000 as a non-profit Section 21 organisation, to address the biased way in which South Africa’s history and heritage, as well as the history and heritage of Africa is represented in educational and cultural institutions.



South Africa’s constitution is hailed as ‘liberal and egalitarian’ because ‘it values human dignity and frames human rights at its heart’ But the country’s public education is ‘a national disaster’ that is ‘essentially dysfunctional’. In this paper I sketch this ‘essential dysfuctionality’. I appeal to the notions of ‘redesigning’ and ‘reengineering’. Employed sensibly ‘redesigning’ and ‘reengineering’ can generate dramatic improvements in critical performance measures such as cost, quality, service and speed. I argue that ‘redesigning’ and ‘reengineering’ can enable South Africa’s public education to efficiently deliver ‘education for all’ to the majority blacks who were previously disadvantaged by apartheid policies.


Dr Moeketsi Letseka is Acting Director of UNISA Press, on secondment from the Department of Educational Foundations, College of Education. He holds a Doctor of Education in Philosophy of Education obtained from the University of South Africa (UNISA). Dr Letseka was Senior Research Specialist in Higher Education at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) during 2002-2008 where he led multi-year; multi-institutional and external donor-funded research projects. Among external donor funders that supported his research are the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations. Dr Letseka serves on the Advisory/Editorial Boards of the scholarly journals; is Editor-in-Chief of Africa Education Review; Associate Editor of Mevlana International Journal of Education; Member of the Editorial Advisory Board, International Journal of Education; and Consultant Editor: South African Journal of Higher Education.



For every 100 learners who enter the South African schooling system in Grade 1, only 48 will make it to Matric. Of the 48 who make it to Matric, only 22 will take Maths as a subject. Of the 22 who take Maths, only 10 will pass. And of the 10 who pass, only 4 will pass with a mark greater than 50 per cent. As a result, we are not producing the doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers etc. needed to build South Africa into a thriving and stable civil society. In this opinion piece, Andrew discusses the roles of teachers and technology in South African maths education, arguing that while technology can be beneficial, the long term solution lies in the recruitment and training of our teachers. He concludes the piece with several policy proposals that he believes would greatly aid our progress toward rebuilding maths education in South Africa. The proposals include, include: the development of a stronger recruitment strategy for a Bachelor of Education and Post-Graduate Certificate in Education programs; introducing board exams for final year maths teachers in training; and lastly to place a heavy emphasis on the recruitment, and a appropriate remuneration, of quality lecturers in the teacher-training space.


Andrew grew up in Johannesburg, completed a degree in Physics at Harvard, and returned to South Africa in 2007 to work as an investment analyst at Allan Gray. In 2011, he founded Numeric, a non-profit company whose mission is to help young South Africans excel in mathematics and to train high quality maths teachers. Today Numeric runs afterschool programs for children in 45 partners schools across Soweto, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni and Mitchells Plain. They have also launched a small teaching academy that aims to recruit talented young South Africans into the teaching profession and provide them with the training they need to become world-class maths teachers.



The advancement of women’s rights in democratic South Africa since the fall of apartheid has witnessed robust debates and strong political rhetoric. However, in practice we have seen stuttering, fragmented, and largely failed policy initiatives that have not helped transform the everyday lives of women. This paper will look at these failures from the perspective of feminine hygiene in schools and attempt to illuminate the dismal shortcomings of policy, government, and the private sector in ensuring all girl learners have access to hygiene, health, dignity, and education.


Samuel Shapiro is currently the senior researcher at Equal Education. Previously, he was the national organiser at Equal Education, where he organised training and development of young members around the country, and supported these members in organising communities and campaign for quality in education. Shapiro was also a community organiser at Equal Education between 2012 and 2013, a sports coach at St Andrews Prep School between 2008 and 2012, and the previous chairperson of the African Drum Society in 2010.



The democratisation process of higher education in South Africa commenced in 1994, with the refrains of ‘widening access, broadening participation’ and ‘the doors of education and culture shall be opened’. The deep structural and systemic deficits in the apartheid education system restricted access to higher education based on race, while simultaneously deepening inequalities in the schooling system.
Education reform as the transition to democracy commenced, required seismic policy and systemic shifts widely described as an agenda to transform the higher education system. Thus equity of access and success reverberate in the policy documents and reforms undertaken by the government. The focus of this paper is on a 16 year time-span from 1994–2010, tracing the journey of policy reforms and analysing the quantitative data at the national level of the higher education system.
Dr. Menon sought to understand the enormity of the education system problems, while taking into account that changing the course for the country is a major task which would require deep transformation that would not be feasible in a short period.


Dr Menon is the Director of Academic Planning at the University of Johannesburg and a Research Associate in the Faculty of Education. In 2013, she resigned from her position as Registrar of the University of the Witwatersrand to complete her PhD. Prior to this she was the Acting Deputy Director General in the Department of Higher Education and Training, and a Chief Director: Higher Education Planning and Management at the Department of Education. She worked for the Council on Higher Education between 1999 and 2008, and has also served on several national task teams. Dr Menon continues to enjoy writing on higher education in South Africa.