Increased Crime: the cost of failing at school in South Africa

This article argues that poor performance by South Africa’s (SA) state run schools adds a dangerously negative ingredient to the country’s social and economic prospects for growth. Evidence of this negative ingredient can be found locked away in South Africa’s prisons.

SA scholars, supporting this view, have criticized the government for failing to support growth by maintaining “low quality education as a poverty trap”. The argument is not new. Lack of upward mobility in the society has been linked to the prevalence of crime before; and researchers have voiced the concern that people who perceive their poverty as unchangeable may be driven by hostile impulses rather than rational pursuit of their interests (Blau & Blau, 1982, p. 119). 

In 2011 UNESCO published a comparable study by its Office on Drugs and Crime highlighting the prevalence of homicides in areas of high unemployment in South Africa. In January 2012, the South African cities of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth featured in a list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world published by Mexican think tank The Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. 

In a country where less than 50% of students graduate from secondary school with a Matriculation Certificate and where more than 50% of the population is under the age of 25 years old, the Math is not hard to follow. Close to a third of South Africa’s grossly over crowded prison population are teenagers. 

There are a number of agencies and organisations working to address this challenge in SA, but the rate at which the problem is multiplying requires more resources than grass roots organisations have to offer. It is a wicked problem compounded drug and alcohol abuse, by the increased risks to HIV/AIDS and by poverty that has been structurally embedded in society by the evils of Apartheid.

Poor education is a precondition to low employability. High unemployment has long been identified as a predisposing condition for the spread of crime. With SA prisons now more than 150% overcrowded the challenge facing government and society is to holistically addressing the education deficit or build additional prisons to house its failure to do so.


Blau, Judith R., and Peter M. Blau. 1982. The Cost of Inequality: Metropolitan Structure and Violent Crime. American Sociological Review, Volume 47, Issue 1, 114-129. 



1 thought on “Increased Crime: the cost of failing at school in South Africa

  1. Pingback: The State of ICT in South Africa’s Education System | Manfred McKenzie

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