in South Africa, inequalities widen at school

When Portia Mamba told her friends that she had just landed a teaching job at a school in Alexandra, they looked at her, taken aback: “Do you think you’re going to hold on? Aren’t you afraid to be stripped? ” The first day, passing men sleeping off the alcohol from the day before on the way to school littered with garbage, Miss Mamba doubted. And then she discovered the Kgololo Academy, the only private school in Alexandra with its garden which “Smells of mint and lavender”.

A motorway jet from Sandton, Johannesburg’s fanciest district with its Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLaren dealers, its over 1 million euro houses and flashy towers, Alexandra is one of the poorest townships and the most populous in Johannesburg. Various estimates put the unemployment rate at around 60% before the pandemic – it is now 34.9% nationally, 46.6% including those no longer looking for work.

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The proximity of Sandton and Alexandra is often used to summarize the statistic that makes South Africa the most unequal country in the world: the richest 10% of the population capture 66% of national income while the top 50% poor share just 5.3% of the total, according to the 2022 Global Inequalities Laboratory report. Worse, inequalities have increased since the end of apartheid: between 1993 and 2019, the pre-tax incomes of the richest 1% jumped by 50% while those of the poorest half of the population fell by ‘a third.

“No time to take care of the students”

The South African education system reflects these inequalities. In free public schools, only 20% of students reach the minimum level in mathematics and science in 3e, according to the study “Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences” carried out in 2015. In private schools, about 80% have mastered at least these bases. Likewise, 80% of students who pass the equivalent of the bac with honors come from the top 200 schools in the country, the most prestigious of which cost more than 200,000 rand (around 110,600 euros) per year.

At Kgololo Academy, students defy all statistics: at 10 years old, 75% can read a text while understanding it. In South Africa, at their age, 80% cannot

Miss Mamba’s little brother is educated in public education. At 14, he has just repeated the equivalent of the 5e and he struggles with reading. She would like to send it to Kgololo. Here, the pupils defy all the statistics: at 10 years old, 75% can read a text while understanding it. In South Africa, at their age, 80% cannot.

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