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McKinley, Dale T & de Villiers, Fiona  ( 2005) Behind Closed Doors: The State, Civil Society and the Crisis of Basic Services in South Africa’s Educational System. CCS Grant Report : 1-61.

This report describes the impact of the crisis of basic services in South Africa’s education system on eight schools situated in South Africa’s two poorest and most underdeveloped provinces, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

In section one, the report positions this education crisis within the context of massive and increasing socio-economic inequality and as a direct consequence of the South African government’s adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic policy which has, since 1996, focused on, inter alia, fiscal austerity and the privatisation or corporatisation of state assets and basic services delivery.

The report argues that government’s neo-liberal approach to transformation and development has, more specifically, been directed at the reform of the education system, encapsulated in the 1996 South African Schools Act (SASA). The impact of this piece of legislation has been principally to slash provincial education budgets and to render the delivery of education onto an under-capacitated local municipalities, a disinterested and inconsistent private sector, an under-funded civil society and communities themselves. The real burden of responsibility however, has fallen on those communities that are too poor to take up the challenge. Essentially, poor communities are the victims of a decentralised approach to education.

Section 2 of the report details the ramifications of national economic and education policies for four primary and four secondary semi-rural and rural schools in the Duncan Village, Embekweni, Mt Frere and Qumbu districts of the Eastern Cape and four primary and four secondary rural schools in the wider Lenyenye district of Limpopo.

Through interviews with principals, educators, learners, school governing body members, parents and questionnaires completed by community members, this section of the report tells the stories of school communities who, despite widespread unemployment and poverty, are obliged to pay for all kinds of educational ‘necessities’ such as transport, teaching and learning materials, school uniforms and fees. These interviews also highlight the impact of limited, or no, access to basic education infrastructure like classrooms, water, sanitation and electricity on schooling on a daily basis in all eight schools. The report concludes with the view that thousands of learners across the country are not able to realise their basic human right to free quality education. There is every indication that the crisis is deepening as disparities between former ‘Model C’ schools and township and rural schools grow. This feeling of abandonment, leads to widespread hopelessness in schools and their surrounding communities, and concomitant behaviour such as school drop-outs, as learners at poor schools realise that their future is not likely to include employment or qualification.

It is suggested that ways forward out of the crisis include; massive and immediate unbundling of the bureaucracy in the education department, an urgent ‘think tank’ regarding education policy, and a thorough overhaul of those schools in the system still suffering the effects of apartheid neglect in terms of basic services. Furthermore, government must rethink its relationships with civil society groups who are genuinely concerned to assist with the transformation of education in South Africa. And, most importantly, before conferring institutional autonomy on impoverished communities, government has a democratic and ethical duty to deliver basic services and authentically empower and capacitate poor communities.

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