Poverty, inequality and mathematics performance: the case of South Africa’s post-apartheid context
ZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education
Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
South Africa’s recent history of apartheid, its resultant high levels of poverty and extreme social and economic distance between rich and poor continue to play-out in education in complex ways. The country provides a somewhat different context for exploring the relationship between SES and education than other countries. The apartheid era only ended in 1994, after which education became the vehicle for transforming society and a political rhetoric of equity and quality education for all was prioritized. Thus education focused on redressing inequalities; and major curriculum change, with on-going revisions, was attempted. In this sense engagement with SES and education became foregrounded in policy, political discourse and research literature. Yet for all the political will and rhetoric little has been achieved and indicators are that inequality has worsened in mathematics education, where it is particularly pronounced. This paper proposes that continued research confirming poverty–underachievement links, which suggest an inevitability of positive correlations, is unhelpful. Instead we should explore issues of disempowerment and agency, constraints and possibilities, and the complex interplay of factors that create these widely established national statistics while simultaneously defying them in particular local contexts. Such research could shift the focus from a discourse of deficit and helplessness towards a discourse of possibilities in the struggle for equity and quality education for all. © 2013, FIZ Karlsruhe.
DST, Department of Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa