Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Black Parents and Education in South African Schools

The dismantling of apartheid in 1994 brought an array of democratic changes in South Africa, including changes in curriculum and educational policies. One of the most momentous changes was the desegregation of public schools. While this was significant in South African education politics, it presented some educational challenges, especially to Black and poor children in the township neighborhoods. This article examines Black parents’ perceptions of two major challenges that threaten education transformation in this new democracy: racism in formerly White-only schools and insufficient resources in township schools. It draws on an in-depth qualitative study with the parents of Black students, examining their “common sense” about the desegregated public schools. Based on the findings, I make a claim that parents have clear and informed opinions about the education of their children. They are aware of the lack of resources in township schools and of racism in formerly White-only schools. They make different choices for their children and articulate the reasons for their choice; they articulate a nuanced grasp of the complexities affecting their choice as they respond to these opposing educational problems.

Most previous studies of parents have shown that upper and upper middle-class parents often get better educational opportunities for their children because of their cultural capital and abilities to relate to or negotiate social structures, including schools (for example, Ball (2003); Ball, Bowe, and Gewirtz (1994); Bourdieu (1984); Ciabattari (2010); Gillborn and Youdell (2000); Lareau (1989); Lauder and Hughes (1999)). Most of these studies have suggested that wealthy parents are most likely to understand the intricacies of their children’s education. I believe these are insightful and significant studies, with which I also agree. However, this study shows that working class parents are also sophisticated about these issues. My sample was a mix of working-class and middle-class parents and all were aware of the minute practices of racism and the details of educational resources. Both middle and working class parents seem to know that all policies have hidden effects and have been able to read the current situation very well. None of these parents are unaware of the continuing educational inequalities in post-apartheid South Africa.

This article can be accessed at

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