Rupturing or reinforcing inequality?: the role of education in South Africa today
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This paper contributes to debates about the complexity of the multi-directional relationships between education, poverty, and inequality in South Africa today, by engaging with findings from an important body of research including from economists working on education within South Africa, from the World Bank, and from researchers within or linked to the Department of Basic Education. The findings of this research clearly demonstrate the relationship between inequality of educational outcomes and poverty, and between poor educational outcomes and labour market inequality. Its policy recommendations, however, call for focusing on in-school factors in order to improve educational outcomes, with the assumption that improved educational outcomes will in turn improve the chances of poor people in the labour market. We argue that this policy focus mis-diagnoses the underlying causes of both inequality of educational outcomes and income inequality, and over-emphasises the possibility of substantially improving learning outcomes by changing in-school factors, as well as the role of education in changing economic outcomes. Because widespread poverty underpins the vastly disparate education and labour markets outcomes, these outcomes will not change without changing wide-spread poverty and the broader conditions that underpin it. Moreover, even if the knowledge and skills of the workforce and potential workforce were radically improved, there is no evidence that this additional supply of skilled workers would create its own demand for their labour, and therefore improve income inequality.
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