13 years since the South African Department of Education released its strategy for ICT in Education, the quality of education in state schools remains questionable. Private schools in the country have benefitted from ICT integration since 1998 and there is evidence that they continue to do so. Meanwhile, state run schools, particularly those in rural areas continue to under perform. Interrogating the education landscape in South Africa raises the following questions amongst many others: Does technology discriminate? Why are state schools not reaping the rewards promised by computer labs and IT lessons like their private counterparts? Who is accountable for the depressing state of rural schools in South Africa? And what are the implications of providing the technology without implementation support or quality assurances?
Important to consider are the structural challenges to ICT integration in state schools. The implementation of ICT projects in South African schools was “driven by the inclination to give education access to all” (Ndlovu and Lawrence, 2012). This inclination was previously and legally excluded from non-White South Africans under the ‘Apartheid’ government. ‘Apartheid’ education policy has left a legacy of inequality. There remains a shortage of qualified teachers in South Africa, especially in the subject areas of science and mathematics. Most rural schools remain under-resourced and over-crowded. South Africa’s legacy of ‘Apartheid’ represents an example of how inequality can become structurally embedded in societies where institutional arrangements are made to strengthen unequal relationships (Bebbington et al, 2008). The consequences of ‘Apartheid’ continue to play out in education as a testimony to how patterns of institutionalized inequality are able to survive and reproduce long after the oppressive policies have been made illegal. The foundational causes leading to poor quality education in South Africa are well known. A lack of firm commitment to address these has resulted in what Van Wyk describes as an education system “so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system?” (Van Wyk, 2013). ICT can only form part of the solution to education in South Africa if it is integrated with consideration to socio-economic context, supported with pedagogical knowledge and receives assured political will.
The failings of South African education provisions are counter-productive to the country’s economic growth objectives. They perpetuate inequality, which in turn sustains poverty. South African scholars, supporting this view, have criticized the government for failing to support growth by maintaining “low quality education as a poverty trap” (van Der Berg et al, 2011). Despite the fact that much has been done since the dismantling of ‘Apartheid,’ progress in the education sector has struggled to keep pace with ICT developments in commercial and industrial sectors. The consequences of this lack of progress compound the existing social problems facing South Africa today. Poor education is a precondition to low employability; low employment is linked to crime (associated with drug, alcohol abuse and violence). The call is to South African leaders in every context and to civil society from the grassroots upwards, to recall their childhood journeys through education and to re-double their efforts to ensure that today’s youth gain access to quality education.
Education is recognised as a human right by the United Nations and the African Union. It is critical to the survival of South Africa’s future that this legislative theory be put into action by those implementing education policies. As important are the measurement and accountability criteria attached to such action. There are consequences for those on the receiving end of poor quality education. It is my view that there should be consequences at both ends.