Equity: A Price Too High to Pay?

  • Nic SpaullEmail author
Part of the Policy Implications of Research in Education book series (PIRE, volume 10)


This chapter frames the discussion of inequality in South African schooling by providing an overview of key features of the country’s education system. Documenting the differences in educational outcomes across five different datasets and multiple dimensions of inequality (race, fees, school-status, province and quintile) illustrates that educational opportunity in South Africa is primarily a function of the colour of a child’s skin, the province of their birth, and the wealth of their parents. The chapter highlights the strategic ways that the minority of fee-charging schools exclude children who cannot pay fees, notably by using feeder zones, language policies and discriminatory admissions interviews. While there have been some important improvements in educational outcomes (primarily between 2003 and 2011), systematic declines in real per-learner expenditure since 2011 have undermined progress subsequently. The distinction between the need for more ‘business as usual’ resources and more ‘targeted’ resources is foregrounded. The chapter concludes that South Africa’s current trajectory is not the only path out of stubbornly high and problematically patterned inequality. A more equitable system will have to address the development and distribution of teachers in no-fee schools, and who has access to the functional fee-charging part of the schooling system.


South African schooling Inequality Cross-national assessments Matric Racial inequality Trends in learning outcomes Equity 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsStellenbosch UniversityCape TownSouth Africa

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