Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa

By van der Westhuizen, Gert J. | African Studies Review, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa


van der Westhuizen, Gert J., African Studies Review


E. B. Fiske and H. F. Ladd. Elusive Equity: Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004. Bibliography. Index. Cloth. $32.95.

This text comes at a time when those with a stake in the answers are asking questions about the transformation of education a decade after the end of apartheid. Quite rightly, the title underscores the key point that equity goals are not so easy to attain, especially in the "new" South Africa where significant change is a historical imperative. The authors are a husband-and-wife team based in the United States: Fiske is an educational journalist and Ladd a policy studies specialist. They spent the first six months of 2002 in South Africa, and to judge by the list of references, they consulted with a wide range of political figures, educationists, and local resources on education. Although they acknowledge that they cannot claim the same insights as those who specialize in educational reform and who have had direct experience of the education system in South Africa, their account of the struggle for equity offers the independent viewpoint and objectivity of informed outsiders, and it is evident that they have the skills to do justice to the complex story.

Elusive Equity begins with two background chapters describing the context and analytical framework and providing a brief history of the racial policies and practices of apartheid South Africa. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the role of education in first maintaining and then dismantling apartheid, along with the political aspirations that led to changes. Chapters 5 through 9 constitute the core of the book. They measure recent reform efforts in terms of progress toward equity goals, looking at issues of governance, finance, public and private resource allocations, and curriculum. Chapter 10 offers an analysis of reform in higher education and is followed by a conclusion summarizing the authors' findings.

Equity is a key educational goal in South Africa. The text defines this goal in terms of what the authors call "standards of racial equity": equal treatment, equal educational opportunity, and educational adequacy. The concept of equity may of course be defined in other terms and in other languages. For example, the Sotho equivalent for the word equity is tekatekano, meaning "almost equalized." The notion of fluidity is embedded in tekatekano, recognizing that the state of perfect equality can be wished for but in practice will always be a hit-or-miss proposition-hence the meaning of "almost" equal (M. G. Mahlomaholo, personal communication, 2005). The Afrikaans word gelykheid, on the other hand, denotes equivalence in size, form, or level. The interpretations of the concept of equity offered by Fiske and Ladd do not reflect these nuances, and yet notions such as "fluidity" (for example, in equity processes) and "sameness" (for example in resource allocation) are indicative of the systemic complexity of equity as a policy goal. …

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