Despite South Africa’s position as the continent’s largest economy, its public education system is in a dire state.
Alapha Secondary School in Limpopo province shows just how dire the education system is. At the end of the 2012 school year not one of Alapha’s 20 pupils sitting their final high school exams passed.
The school compound reflects the poor grades. Stray donkeys roam between two classroom blocks. Windows are broken and the stench emanating from the pit latrines hangs thick in the air. There is little shade or air conditioning to offer respite from the brutal heat.
Like many rural schools across the country, Alapha magnifies the failings of the country’s public education system, which has been ranked among the worst in the world.
Despite education receiving the largest share of the national budget – 232.5 billion rand ($23.4 billion) for education, sport and culture this year – Alapha has no library and no lab equipment to teach subjects like physics, chemistry or biology.
Mismanagement also plays its role in the lack of teaching aids.
Limpopo was the province most severely hit by the government’s recent failure to supply textbooks for an entire academic year.
“We just listen and visualise,” said Desiree Mathekga, one of the 30 learners tackling her final exams this year.
“It is hard, but this is all we have, we just have to study hard with what we have.”
Limpopo education department spokesman Pat Kgomo admits Alapha’s situation is “cause for concern, but not unique”.
Four other schools in the province also saw a zero-percent pass rate in 2012.
The government blames part of the problem on its inability to attract teachers, despite a 25-percent unemployment rate.
“Schools in rural areas tend to perform badly because few teachers are willing to work in far-flung areas,” said Kgomo.
School principal Jonas Ramapuputla said teachers who are there are overworked.
“Even myself I have very little time to manage the school, I have to roll up my sleeves and teach,” he said.
All this takes its toll.
The World Economic Forum recently ranked South Africa second from last in the world for math and science education, just ahead of Yemen.