From 1948 to 1994 South Africa's educational system provided a convenient vehicle to enforce the rules of apartheid. Discrepancies existed at every level of the system—in teacher/student ratios, infrastructure, availability of books and required attendance.
The situation was unintentionally exacerbated by the “liberation now, education later” stance taken during the years of anti-apartheid struggle. The culture of learning and reading became stigmatized, and schools became grounds for protest only. Currently, only 14% of South Africa’s black students finish high school, as compared to 65% of their white peers.
In 1995, the newly-elected government under President Mandela initiated a number of policies to improve overall access to education and address the issues of school caliber and racial equality. A few years later, the Minister of Education, authorized a "Call to Action" to ameliorate the poor quality of education by re-distributing teachers among poor-performing schools and instituting an outcome-based curriculum.
Although the program was a moderate success, it had the inadvertent consequence of lowering teaching quality in many schools, and was generally unsuccessful in effecting any widespread change in the quality of primary education.
Access to resources is also a consistent problem in South Africa, with 80% of all state-run schools lacking a library. Rural schools in particular suffer from overcrowding, poor infrastructure such as collapsed ceilings and broken windows, and lack of non-textbook reading material.
Diversity of language adds another layer to South Africa’s already complex educational system, with the country recognizing 11 official languages.