Fifteen years after the fall of apartheid, South African schools are flatly failing as vehicles of social mobility; many black schools are plagued by teacher absenteeism (despite the highest teacher unionization rate in the world), scant accountability, even less authority in the hands of principals, and achievement scores that rank below poorer African peers. A system that once swung way too far in one bad direction has now swung all the way in the other, seemingly incorporating the worst of the old U.S. system (no accountability, vast inequality, political cronyism) with the worst of the new (urban challenges, union tension, powerless school leaders). To remedy the situation, South African President Jacob Zuma is considering giving the Education Ministry more control over principal selection and giving principals more control over their schools. Critics fret that this move toward better management might result in authoritarian control. Sounds just like some of the very same issues we’ve dealt with within our own shores--halfway around the world.
“Eager Students Fall Prey to Apartheid’s Legacy,” by Celia W. Dugger, New York Times, September 19, 2009