Changes To Be Made To The South African Education System, As Seen By A South African Learner
August 27, 2019 | By Mpumi Ngwenyama
Research shows that South Africa has the worst education system compared to other countries (Ngozo & Mtantato, 2018). This may come as a surprise to many readers, recognizing South Africa as one of the more politically and economically stable countries on the continent, with such metropolitan hubs such as Johannesburg and Capetown. However, there is an staunch difference in the quality of education that these city centers offer compared to that of the majority of the country in the rural countryside (Carelse, 2018). As a South African high school learner, attending secondary school in the Nkomazi region of the Mpumalanga province, I think there are changes that should be made to the South African education system. Such changes would be increasing teacher’s salaries, providing better resources and facilities in schools, and changing teaching styles. The information compiled below is a combination of outside research and data collected from students and teachers in the region of Nkomazi.
Change #1: Increase in Teacher Salaries
Current Status
Teachers in South Africa are underpaid compared to other countries, their monthly average income is around 16,000ZAR a month (around 1,000USD). Due to the low salaries of public school teachers, those that get hired usually come without the necessary qualifications needed to be effective teachers. As a result, and proven by research, countries who have a high teacher salary, such as Finland, are more likely to have better education systems, and countries who have low teacher salaries have weaker education systems (Ripley, 2014; The Wide Class, 2019). With that in mind, it is no surprise that South African education is suffering.
As a result of this current status, students end up dreading school, some quitting before their matriculation because of the space and culture that is created. For instance, researchers from South Africa’s Financial and Fiscal Commission had this to say about South African education:
“After five years of schooling, about 50% of South African pupils cannot do basic calculations, such as dividing 24 by three. This is hardly surprising when 60% of maths teachers, teaching from grades one to six, failed to pass tests for maths at the grade level.”
New Change
In order to increase the standard of South African education, the following steps could be taken:
• Teachers should have their monthly income increased to a minimum of 30,000ZAR to help with the costs of personal expenses, care and support their families, and have less stress.
• Increasing teacher content knowledge and teaching skills through teacher training institutes (which have been closed since 1994)
• Prioritize teacher applicants with higher education qualifications
• Having high standards for teachers is something that the countries with top-ranked education systems encourage. For instance, Finland teachers are expected to acquire a master’s degree in the subject they teach (Ripley, 2014).
Results Of New Change
Our regional schools would have teachers who are well-trained and more able to enjoy the rigor of their jobs. Teachers will commit themselves and improve their performance in all South African school subjects. There would be an improvement in student wellbeing and performance, as students would be able to engage more with classroom material and teachers would be better trained with facilitating meaningful student-teacher relationships. This would also assist in reducing student absenteeism.
Change #2: Better Resources and Facilities
Current Status
A lot of our schools in rural South Africa lack proper resources and facilities. Our schools are not built to hold the capacity of students that currently attend them, equaling little space inside our classrooms. There are no currently spaces for libraries, sports grounds, computer centers, or art spaces. Due to the lack of these spaces, there are no recreational offerings that would help students to explore their passions. As the results of this current status, most students get distracted while in classes. Maybe the roof is leaking or the broken windows can’t keep out the cold of the winter months (that’s if you have windows at all). The lack of resources such as libraries, sports grounds, computer centers, and art spaces deprives students of meaningful passion-building and extracurricular activities. With no outlets for involvement in after-school programs, many students are easily swept into larger social issues that run rampant in Nkomazi. This would include teenage pregnancy and substance abuse. Research shows that “girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old account for 11% of births worldwide… of this 11%, almost all the births… are in low to middle-income countries, South Africa included.” Similarly, research also shows that in South Africa, substance abuse is extremely serious, with drug usage being twice the world norm. Over 15% of the population suffers from a drug problem. Drug abuse is also highly linked to crime, seeing that drug abuse accounts for 60% of all crime in the country (Tshitangano & Tosin, 2016).
Our inability to host meaningful extracurriculars comes from our lack of adequate resources. The question I have is “how would we have a reading club if we have no library”? Not developing the skills and mindset to properly utilize resources also sets up students for failure in university when they suddenly become dependent on materials they never even had access to before, such as books, libraries, and technology. Research also shows that technology is “driving communication and connection like never before, and it’s a powerful resource for educators”, yet many of our schools are missing out on its proven benefits (Meador, 2018).
New Change
• Having our schools repaired with high-quality materials
• Building libraries, sports grounds, and art spaces
• School clubs to be introduced
• Schools to promote technology by increasing access to computers and training staff in their usage
• Expanding school spaces and hiring more teachers to allow for lower student-to-teacher ratios per classroom
Results Of New Change
The results would be obvious. Students would be able to concentrate and learn better when their classroom is not leaking on their work. Having better facilities in our classrooms like technology will make it easier for us students to explore different learning styles. Rural students would struggle less when they get to university, since they would have been exposed to technology while in high school. The number of teenage pregnancy and intake of substance abuse would decrease in schools with safer, more meaningful offerings for students.
Change #3: More Diverse Teaching Styles
Current Status
The South African norms of teaching and how to teach are very outdated and ineffective. The traditional style of teaching one finds in rural secondary schools in South Africa can be described by the following:
  • A teacher standing in front of the class for over 50 minutes lecturing, there is usually no opportunities for questions, much less discussion
  • Classroom culture is based on academic work and competition
  • Students are expected to work alone, collaboration is not encouraged
  • Teachers will pay attention to students with higher marks
  • No breaks between classes, students sit within the same classroom for over 4 hours at a time
  • Students are taught for the purpose of acing exams, not for mastery of knowledge
  • There are no habits around giving or reviewing teacher feedback
  • Students are not encouraged to find passion and connection with subjects, there is no sense of love in schooling
Education in South Africa can be described as being overly focused on quantity, not quality. As a result of this lot of our students end up giving up on their studies since being considered a slow learner instantly gets you pushed aside in class. No collaboration and communication skills are promoted and as a result, our students end up missing out on valuable life skills. Also, when there is no variety in teaching style. As believed in the Japanese school system, “if you teach what you learn, you will remember about 90 percent.

If teachers stand at the board and just lecture, through mere listening, the students will retain far less — say, 40 percent” (Mandrapa, 2015).
New Change
  • Promoting collaboration in our schools so that students are able to interact and help each other
  • Promoting project-based learning and student centred learning, where students discover new ideas on their own. One South African teacher said that it is more difficult for students to forget what they found out on their own
  • Teachers to be trained to teach both to high-achieving and low-achieving students
  • There should be breaks between classes, for example after a 40-minute class, students should take a 5-minute break
  • Students should be given feedback by teachers regularly on where they could improve
Results Of New Change
School would become a haven for student learning, not a pressure cooker for overall mediocre results. At some point, we would see the same results experienced around the world in countries that have adapted to more advanced, student-focused, and diverse teaching styles. These may include a stronger sense of belonging in school, higher rates of student attention in class, overall greater happiness, greater involvement in extra-classes and available co-curricular activities, higher academic performance, and overall greater happiness (Mandrapa, 2015).

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Carelse, E. (2018). Rural Schools Face the Toughest Challenges. Retrieved 28 July 2019, from

Ladlas, J. (2019). Teen pregnancy a rising concern. Retrieved 16 July 2019, from

Mandrapa, N. (2015). Interesting Facts about Japanese School System. Retrieved 21 July 2019, from

Meador, Derrick. “Basic Classroom Technology Every Teacher Needs.” ThoughtCo, Oct. 19, 2018,

Ngozo, T., & Mtantato, S. (2018). Basic education is failing the economy. Retrieved from

Ripley, A. (2014). The Smartest Kids in the World. New York: Simon & Schuster.

The Wide Class. (2019) Country with Best Higher Education System. Retrieved 21 July 2019, from

Tshitangano, T. G., & Tosin, O. H. (2016). Substance use amongst secondary school students in a rural setting in South Africa: Prevalence and possible contributing factors. African journal of primary health care & family medicine, 8(2), e1–e6. doi:10.4102/phcfm.v8i2.934

About Imagine Scholar

Imagine Scholar is a non-profit organization based in the rural region of Nkomazi in South Africa. Our aim is to empower talented, action-oriented youth through meaningful after-school programming that emphasizes student-centered learning and meta-learning practices. We hope to foster a community of young learners that encourages critical thinking, gratitude, and curiosity, but more so empowers students to be different and extraordinary in their own ways. It is our goal to produce great 30-year olds in this program, believing that by promoting more change-makers in our society, we can create ripples that empower communities or all types and sizes. Our program will soon be coming up on our 10-year anniversary.

About Mpumi Ngwenyama

Mpumi is a current Grade 9 student at Sidlamafa Senior Secondary School in Kamhlushwa, Nkomazi, a rural region of the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. Mpumi is a diligent and hard-working young woman with a curious mind. With disarming charm, Mpumi balances her natural shyness with an inclination towards adventure and unfamiliar territory. Mpumi is an extraordinary Maths student and, in her free time, is attempting to build a better understanding of the origins and creation of mathematics as we know it today. Alongside being involved with clubs focused on the environment and coding, Mpumi enjoys reading and drawing. Mpumi hopes to pursue a career in marine biology in the future.