Apartheid Education

Apartheid was a system of government in South Africa, abolished in 1994, which systematically separated groups on the basis of race classification. The Apartheid system of racial segregation was made law in South Africa in 1948, when the country was officially divided into four racial groups, White, Black, Indian and Coloureds (or people of mixed race, or non-Whites who did not fit into the other non-White categories). ‘Homelands’ were created for Blacks, and when they lived outside of the homelands with Whites, non-Whites could not vote and had separate schools and hospitals, and even beaches where they could swim or park benches they could sit on.

It was a criminal offence for a White person to have sexual relations with a person of another race, but the person of the other race, not the White, would be prosecuted as a result. The system of Apartheid came to an end when President Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994

A classroom in Crossroads, a squatter township in South Africa, 1979. ] ‘Apartheid’ means ‘being apart’ in Dutch and Afrikaans, a variation of Dutch spoken by the Dutch settlers of South Africa.

‘I just want to remind the Honourable Members of Parliament that if the native in South Africa is being taught to expect that he will lead his adult life under the policy of equal rights, he is making a big mistake. The native must not be subject to a school system which draws him away from his own community, and misleads him by showing him the green pastures of European society in which he is not allowed to graze.’

With these notorious words, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd introduced Bantu Education to Parliament in 1953. This began the era of apartheid education. In 1959 universities were segregated. In 1963 a separate education system was set up for the ‘coloureds.’ Indian education followed in 1964. And an Education Act for whites was passed in 1967 …

The 37 million people who live in South Africa [in 1990, just before the end of Apartheid] … are … officially divided into four ‘population groups’: ‘African’ (about 75%—of whom some 45% are under the age of 15), ‘Whites’ (13%), ‘Coloureds’ (9%) and ‘Indians’ (3%). Apart from a few ‘mixed’ ‘private’ schools, there are separate schools for the four ‘population groups’; it is illegal for a person to attend a state school designated for a ‘population group’ other than that to which she has officially been assigned, or for a school to admit as a pupil someone from the ‘wrong population group’.

Along almost any dimension of comparison, there have been, and are glaring inequalities between the four schooling systems in South Africa. This applies to teacher qualifications, teacher-pupil ratios, per capita funding, buildings, equipment, facilities, books, stationery … and also to ‘results’ measured in terms of the proportions and levels of certificates awarded. Along these dimensions, “White’ schools are far better off than any of the others, and ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ schools are better off than those for ‘Africans’. Schooling is compulsory for ‘Whites’, ‘Indians’ and ‘Coloureds’ but not for ‘Africans’.


When the apartheid government came to power in 1948, it saw the schooling system as the major vehicle for the propagation of its beliefs. For the period of its duration, schools were one of the system’s most stark symbols. Today, as a new and democratic government seeks to repair and reconstruct the fabric of South Africa’s ravaged past, it is to the schooling system that much of its attention has turned.

The structure for education was marked by the central principle of apartheid, namely separate schooling infrastructure for separate groups. In terms of the apartheid principle, nineteen education departments were established. Each designated ethnic group had its own education infrastructure.

Curriculum development in South African education during the period of apartheid was controlled tightly from the center. While theoretically, at least, each separate department had its own curriculum development and protocols, in reality curriculum formation in South Africa was dominated by committees attached to the white House of Assembly … So prescriptive was this system, abetted on the one hand by a network of inspectors and subject advisors and on the other by several generations of poorly qualified teachers, that authoritarianism, rote learning, and corporal punishment were the rule. These conditions were exacerbated in the impoverished environments of schools for children of color. Examination criteria and procedures were instrumental in promoting the political perspectives of those in power and allowed teachers very little latitude to determine standards or to interpret the work of their students.


Morrow, Walter Eugene. 1990. ‘Aims of Education in South Africa.’ International Review of Education/Internationale Zeitschrift fur Erziehunswissenschaft/Revue Internationale de l’Education 36:171–181. p. 174.

Gilmore, David, Crain Soudien and David Donald. 1999. ‘Post-Apartheid Policy and Practice: Educational Reform in South Africa.’ Pp. 341–350 in Education in a Global Society: A Comparative Perspective, edited by Mazurek Kas, Margaret Winzer and Czeslaw Czeslaw Majorek. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. pp. 341–343. || Amazon || WorldCat


Previous || Chapter 5: Directory || Next