Reserve Bank governor on diversity in South African schools

South African schools that were reserved for white pupils during apartheid should recruit more black educators, teach more African languages and change admissions criteria, according to the country’s central bank governor.

Lesetja Kganyago’s comments add to a growing debate about integrating more black South Africans into one of the world’s most-unequal societies, where racial inequalities persist more than a quarter century after the end of white-minority rule.

He joined a group of parents in an anti-racism protest at Cornwall Hill College, a private school attended by his daughter near Pretoria, the capital.

“The school has got to consciously go out and look for black teachers to give our children pride to actually look and know that there are black people who are excelling in the education sphere,” Kganyago told broadcaster eNCA on Monday while at the protest.

Reports of a lack of transformation at the school have spurred protests, as have allegations by black students that they experienced discrimination. In a May 26 statement, the school said it was revisiting its hair policy, diversity training and the structure of its board.

While schools and cities haven’t officially been divided by race since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, disparities in wealth and an apartheid strategy of placing so-called townships, where many blacks were compelled to live, on the periphery of cities, has meant that inequities persist.

That has resulted in student bodies that don’t reflect the country’s demographics. Apartheid laws meant that blacks and other racial groups that were discriminated against were given an inferior education and barred from certain professions. That has resulted in unequal access to post-school training and contributed to the slow pace of transformation in workplaces ranging from schools to banks.

In recent years, anti-racism protests at schools have been driven by non-inclusive dress-code rules about natural hair, the wearing of religious symbols. Last year reports emerged that invitations to a private gathering for a Cape-Town school’s final-year students had mainly been extended to white pupils.

Cornwall Hill College charges annual fees of as much as R93,550 ($6,793), putting it out of the reach of most South Africans. In 2015 employed White South Africans on average earned three times more than blacks with jobs.

South Africa spends about 14% of its budget on primary and secondary education at government schools, more than on any other expenditure item. However, the persistent poor-quality of education in historically disadvantaged communities that serve the majority of its children continues to weigh on outcomes in a country where almost a third of the workforce is unemployed.

Its quality of schooling was ranked 114th out of 137 countries by the World Economic Forum in 2017, the last time the organization published the measure in its Global Competitiveness Index.

The school system is held back by a lack of knowledge among educators, an uneven availability of textbooks and labor unions that “fervently resist any policy to monitor teachers by blocking accountability reforms,” the International Monetary Fund said in a 2019 report.

Black staff at the historically-white South African Reserve Bank made up 76% of its total workforce in 2020, compared with about 65% six years earlier, according to central bank data, when Kganyago was appointed governor.

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Reserve Bank governor on diversity in South African schools