The Globalization of Education Policy and Practice in South Africa

By Vally, Salim; Spreen, Carol Anne | Our Schools, Our Selves, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

The Globalization of Education Policy and Practice in South Africa


Vally, Salim, Spreen, Carol Anne, Our Schools, Our Selves


Four years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, the Deputy Minister of Education (after quoting extensively from World Bank documents), implored South African educationists to "...go outside the classroom and engage ... about macroeconomic policies and strategies so that our curricula should, like good African soldiers, march in quick step with national economic imperatives" (Mkhatshwa 1999). The incongruity of Father Mkhatshwa's martial metaphor was matched by the South African state's embrace of neo-liberalism. The latter has severed continuity with the social justice ideals of South Africa's vibrant anti-apartheid education social movements and has not dramatically reduced inequality in the country's education system (for details of the "People's Education" movement under apartheid see Motala and Vally 2002).

Education policies over the last decade in South Africa have embraced three major perspectives: a demand for social justice, the need to be internationally competitive (with emphasis on science and technology to develop requisite "productive" skills) and the imperative of fiscal restraint (expressed as cost-containment measures and the increasing marketisation of education). The first perspective is dramatically at odds with the latter two, both of which are inspired by Human Capital Theory and South Africa's homegrown structural adjustment policy entitled Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). These two latter perspectives have resulted in an individualized educational culture where only the "fittest" survive, where knowledge is commodified for the market, and where subjects without a market niche are being phased out. They have also lead to major inequalities in South Africa's schools, reflecting the dramatic increase in inequality across the society as a whole since the adoption of the GEAR macroeconomic strategy.1

Encouragingly, in response to the impact of these policies, new and independent social movements have formed. They have established continuity with past movements and have exposed the hollowness of electoral promises around social delivery and corruption. They have also taken the lead in resisting neo-liberalism in all spheres of life.

The lack of service delivery around education, housing, health (particularly the HIV/AIDS pandemic), electricity, sanitation and water has once again made townships and informal settlements into "hotbeds of activism"; the Minister of Safety and security recorded 5,800 citizen's protests in 2005 (Bond 2006). Out of these sustained protests, mass organizations such as the Landless People's Movement, the AntiPrivatisation Forum, Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Treatment Action Campaign and the Abahlali Base Mjondolo (Shack-dwellers movement) have arisen. These new social movements have increasingly allied themselves with local education resistance. The praxis of South Africa's Education Rights Project, discussed later in this chapter, is based on the struggles of these community organizations as well as on teacher unions, student organizations and poor parent bodies.

In examining the impact of the government's neo-liberalism in education and the rise of popular resistance to it, we want to focus on a number of specific policies: the National Qualification Framework, Curriculum 2005, the Further Education and Training (FET) policy, the Skills Development Strategy and the "downsizing" of teachers. We then want to explore responses to globalization by social movements and their efforts at restoring social justice in education. First, though, we want to try to understand what globalisation means. Is it, as some have argued, all "globaloney" - merely colonialism writ large - or are we in an epoch where the nation-state and national economies are fast becoming irrelevant and meaningless?

GLOBALISATION AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE

While there is no doubt that the conditions imposed by the IMF/World Bank impact on the sovereignty of many developing nation states, international neo-liberal ideology itself takes place through the agency of the state. …

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