The South African Constitution mandates the radical transformation of the public basic education system. To that end, the Constitution, read with the South African Schools Act, entrenches a right of equal access to quality basic education for all. The substantive approach to equality, rooted in the transformative ideology of the Constitution, necessitates an acknowledgment and overcoming of the past patterns of disadvantage, based primarily on the grounds of race and socio-economic class. Locating her analysis in ‘quality education’ in the United Nations Report, ‘Normative action for quality education’, the author finds that the definition of ‘quality education’ involves a holistic approach which encompasses learners’ level of academic achievement, the provision of an adequate school infrastructure, a well-qualified teaching profession, and schools that embrace a substantive form of democracy. In examining each of these indicators, the emergence of a pattern is clear: for black and/or poor South African learners in the public school domain, disadvantage manifests in an unequal access to quality education.

Download full text