Skip to content

Reflections on South Africa’s educational system

Following the “Identity in Context: Examination of South Africa” study abroad course, Ph.D. student Melissa Castro Del Valle reflects on the current educational system of South Africa and how apartheid has impacted educational attainment.

Recently, I joined a group of students from various colleges and universities that are partnered with TCS Education System for a study abroad course in South Africa. The course was intended to explore the cultural identity of South Africans in the post-apartheid era and took us to the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town. A first impression of the country revealed inequalities in the educational system limiting the economic potential of the country, despite the efforts of South Africans to achieve reconciliation.  

Johannesburg, one of the largest cities in South Africa, emanates a working city atmosphere, nurtured by commerce and opportunities. Reminiscent of Mexico City, Johannesburg is characterized by hectic working days and entertaining folkloric nights.

Just a few miles away from downtown is the popular township of Soweto. With a population of more than 1.3 million, Soweto is an urban settlement that was intended for black South Africans under the racial segregation system of the past. It is a district peculiar for its “matchbox” houses and for being the home of renowned activists such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

The Soweto streets evoke a feeling of sorrow and heartache. The warm welcome of the children soliciting in the streets. and the Soweto Uprising Memorial that honors the children who protested against education inequalities, reminded me of the injustices caused by discriminations and its impact on children’s education.



Educational attainment and workforce

During this study abroad program, we visited diverse schools in a cultural exchange collaboration with the Leap Science and Math school program. This program offers free education to bright students from high-need communities, such as Soweto, and guides them toward success. The Leap Science and Math schools are partnered with more privileged schools that allows for resource collaboration.

At first glance, I noticed a racial disproportion: the privileged schools had a mostly white population and disadvantaged schools a predominantly black population. I also noticed that privileged schools had a higher quantity and quality of resources and different teaching methods than township schools. It reminded me that the students attending disadvantaged schools rarely have the opportunity to pursue higher education and struggle to integrate into the workforce.

The relationship of workforce and level of education has been measured through wage statistics, and a quick analysis of recent statistics reveals that the U.S. has higher wages and lower unemployment rates than South Africa. Having a population of 325 million and an unemployment rate of 4 percent, the U.S. current median salary is $56,516 (787,609.83 ZAR); contrastively, South Africa has a population of 56 million, an unemployment rate of 21 percent, and a median salary of $8,700 (60,613 ZAR). These statistics reveal an overall lower educational level in the South African population when compared to the U.S.

However, despite the higher overall educational level in the U.S., a recent report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission disclosed the existence of deeply segregated neighborhood schools and lack of equitable funding, problems similar to those faced in South Africa. This gap in education is a result of numerous factors that affect the education of children, such as a shortage of resources, outdated teaching methods, discrimination, and lack of funds.

U.S. public schools are partly funded by state taxes, which creates a funding inequity problem. To address this situation the commission recommends incentivizing states to adopt equitable school financial systems, provide supplemental federal funding to schools under financial distress, and monitor school spending data.

Alternatives like these should be considered by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (DBE) to increase the workforce median salary over the long term. The current efforts of the DBE fall behind as demonstrated by the numerous schools with poor infrastructures and unqualified teachers.


Higher education and social justice

Throughout history, economic advancement and the progress of civilizations have been related to higher education attainment. When people acquire knowledge, they become more aware of the realities of life and the environment around them. Education plays a major role in developing awareness and consciousness among people and promoting a higher quality of life.

In a conference at the Cornerstone Institute during our visit to Cape Town, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, founder of the Agang South Africa political party, introduced the concept of “reimagining your nation” to stimulate abstract thinking and to recognize the fundamental law of nature that there is only one human race. In this conference held at a higher education institution, all the ethnicities of the South African community were represented. However, this equal representation does not resemble the true population of the country.

Prime establishments seem to have a mostly white consumer population, meanwhile the employee population is predominantly black. This inequality raises the question: Are the social justice and freedom fighters too small of a group to truly make a difference in the population?

The afflicting journey of the victims of apartheid is undoubtedly seen in the streets of South Africa. To believe that South Africans have conquered adversity and oppression is to neglect the current needs of the underprivileged. Improving the overall educational attainment of the South African population by incentivizing higher education could be key to promoting awareness in the population and equal opportunity for a restored quality of life.

New Study Abroad Registration NOW OPEN

You can now apply for The Chicago School’s next study abroad course, “Balance in Context–Examination of Hong Kong” by visiting the TCS International Website here

About the author

Melissa Castro Del ValleMelissa Castro Del Valle is experienced in construction management, business management, process improvement, and organizational leadership. She is currently enrolled in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Ph.D. in Business Psychology program and is researching the applications of Psychological Capital (PsyCap) to various domains. You can visit here website at

If you would like to learn more about The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, request more information by filling out the form below.


Melissa Castro Del Valle


Looking for updates, press releases, and general news from The Chicago School?



For questions or comments on our news stories or releases, or if you are a reporter who would like to speak with an expert, please contact:

Victor Abalos, Director of Communications
(213)615-7270 (office)
(818)321-5371 (mobile)
[email protected]
Lisa Riley, Communications Manager, Chicago
(312) 410-8963 (office)
(312) 646-9130 (mobile)
[email protected]