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Socio-economic factors that challenge SA’s education system

While South Africa is rich in minerals, it is still facing many socio-economic challenges such as; high unemployment rates, poverty, social inequality, and inadequate public service access. To date, those challenges continue to grip South Africans and affect their quality of life. While it is a developing country, education needs to be a top priority to improve development within the country. Quality education can help ensure an improvement in human conditions and help contribute to the economy. However, while education is a key factor and plays a role in economic development, it also comes with its challenges. 

This article will look at the challenges facing South Africa’s education system and what the DBSA’s role is. 

Poor Infrastructure

Many students in South Africa attend schools with weak or poor infrastructure, which directly impacts a learner’s academic performance. Many students in previously disadvantaged urban areas attend schools without quality libraries and study areas, dilapidated classrooms, and overcrowding. However, it gets worse for rural areas as students have to deal with an overcrowded classroom, classrooms needing maintenance, no libraries, lack of electricity, and pit toilets that put learners’ health and safety at risk. This type of infrastructure is a health risk for students and makes it difficult for students to focus and excel in school as they don’t have the correct infrastructure. This is why adequate infrastructure should be a priority in any school. 

Overworked and underqualified teachers

To ensure quality education, qualified teachers should be made a priority. Teachers in South Africa have the necessary skills; however, they find themselves overworked due to the poor conditions in South African schools. This prevents learners from getting quality education from their teachers. On top of teachers being overworked, they teach in overcrowded classrooms, which also negatively impacts the teaching process. This puts children who need additional help or more attention at a disadvantage as there is more disruption in the class. It is no wonder that teachers struggle to manage 50-plus students while also giving each child their undivided attention. Some teachers also find themselves teaching more than one grade, and in some cases, teachers aren’t qualified to instruct those grades. But due to the demand and the teacher to student ratio, they find themselves being overworked and not giving their best to students. Not only does this lead to children delaying in school, but students who progress tend to have gaps in knowledge due to the poor teaching conditions. 

Lack of learning material

Adequate learning material is vital in education. For students to progress in their education, they need the latest textbooks and the funds to purchase workbooks, exercise books, readers, and core learning materials. These study aids all require money, which many students do not have, and with the lack of funding in the education system, many students cannot rely on the school to provide the necessary materials. And with the recent pandemic, we have seen the importance of adequate digital learning material and adapting to change. The impact of COVID-19 on socio-economic development issues in South Africa, such as the quality of education, proved that many South African students don’t have the necessary material to get an education that prepares them for contributing to the economy. This continues to put students at a disadvantage and widens the gap between the wealthy and the poor, which will later have a domino effect on the economy as they enter the labour market without the adequate skills to encourage economic growth. 

DBSA’s role in education

The Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) focuses on helping with the development and financing of infrastructure projects that play a crucial role in South Africa's economic growth. Apart from our core sectors, we also work in the social sector of health and education. Our role is to help support the South African government with financing and accelerating the implementation of infrastructure programmes within education. We have an integrated approach to development through planning, where we provide long-term pre-financing support and services to under-resourced municipalities. We also provide a range of financing solutions that can assist in driving development for schools in an under-resourced municipality. Lastly, we also assist in the maintenance support for infrastructure projects which is vital for economic growth.

Final thoughts

Socio-economic issues in South African schools continues to be an issue. Education is the key driver for an active economy, improved health care system, lower unemployment and poverty. This is why private and public investors need to see the importance of education development to alleviate the challenges it faces.