Quality Education for all is the Unsung Hero of Freedom

Quality Education for all is the Unsung Hero of Freedom
Dorcas Dube-Londt

2024 marks 30 years since the first democratic elections held in 1994, which symbolised the end of apartheid and arguably the beginning of a new era of freedom, equality and democracy in the country. The correlation between Freedom Day and education in South Africa holds great significance because of the pivotal role education has historically affected and continues to affect the nation’s pursuit of freedom and equality. Under apartheid, the education system was vastly divided, with access to quality education severely influenced by race. Education was utilised to maintain racial disparities and stifle the rights and ambitions of the majority of South Africans.

There is no doubt that children in South Africa have improved access to schooling since 1994, however, quality education for disadvantaged learners in public schools remains a challenge. Sadly, high education enrolment and attendance rates have not translated into high-quality education. While the unjust education policies of the past may have been eradicated, the bimodal schooling system created remains.

According to the World Bank, of the 13 million learners who attend public schools in South Africa, over 95% do so in poorly performing schools and UNESCO confirms that 723 879 children are out of school thus illustrating extensive ripples of disadvantage. Schools that students attend, teaching and learning environments experienced, results attained, and opportunities that arise after school are distinctly unequal.

The Soweto uprising in 1976 when school children took up arms against the apartheid state’s racially biased education policy reflects the historical nature of the struggles in South Africa’s education sector. The consequences of apartheid include that school leadership is a challenge in many of the South African public schools. Despite the high levels of public spending on education, South Africa is confronted with a recurrent education problem that manifests in several ways, such as leadership incompetence among public school principals, regardless of the huge budget apportioned to education. One of the main issues cited for the failure of the public schooling system is the absence of leadership capabilities in principals. Even though public-school principals are required to fulfil several complex obligations, most do not assume any formal training to obtain the leadership capabilities required to accomplish these duties viably and proficiently.

Capacitating public school principals with leadership competences will lead to change in a school as the school principal is a fundamental agent of transformation and contributes a vital role in changing the school. Effective leadership is critical to the success of any school and enhancing leadership capabilities for public school principals has the potential to curb the ongoing education crisis in South Africa characterised by 83% of grade 4s can’t read for comprehension as stated in the latest PIRLS report.

Notably, the lack of leadership capabilities in public school principals has been a persistent problem for over a quarter of a century. It is time to hone the necessary leadership capabilities needed to capacitate public schools principals for the future of our learners and South Africa.

Freedom Day serves as a reminder and an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in education since the end of apartheid and to recommit to freedom, equality and social justice through quality education for all. It underscores the need for continued efforts to improve the quality of education, address disparities, and ensure that every child in South Africa has access to quality education. May Freedom Day encourage ongoing dialogue and action to overcome the challenges facing the education system in order to build a brighter future for all.

About the Author

Dorcas Dube-Londt serves as the National Marketing and Communications Manager at Citizen Leader Lab. She is a seasoned researcher and scholar known for her dedication to social justice, education and leadership earning numerous accolades and recognition over the years. Dorcas is a PhD candidate at the University of Johannesburg.