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Education and Social Transformation: Problems and Dilemmas

Heinemann International Literature and Textbooks
a division of Heinemann Educational Books Ltd
Halley Court, Jordan Hill, Oxford OX2 SEJ

Heinemann Educational Books Inc 361 Hanover Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 03801, USA
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© Thozamile Botha, Elaine Unterhalter, Harold Wolpe 1991
First published by Heinemann International Literature and Textbooks 1991


Cover design by Simon Stafford

Typeset by Saxon Printing Ltd, Derby
Printed and bound by Clay Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk.

91 92 93 94 95 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


List of abbreviations

  1. Education and social transformation: problems and dilemmas - Harold Wolpe
  2. Democratising education policy research for social transformation - Saleem Badat
  3. Post-fordism and a future education and training system for South Africa - Andre Kraak
  4. Can education overcome women's subordinate position in the occupation structure? - Elaine Unterhalter
  5. Towards an empowering worker education - Thozamile Botha
  6. Financing educational transformation in South Africa - Pundy Pillay
  7. Democratic language planning and the transformation of education in post-apartheid South Africa - Zubeida Desai
  8. Transformation and the universities: the experience of the University of the Western Cape - Jakes Gerwel
  9. Issues in the reform of the system of certification in South Africa- Derrick Swartz
  10. Some problems with empowering literacy in South Africa: a comparative discussion of the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade - Robert van Niekerk
  11. Private schooling: problems of elitism and democracy in education - John Pampallis
  12. Transforming teacher provision and teacher training for a post-apartheid South Africa - David Johnson 
  13. Transforming teaching in primary education: a project for development and democracy - Melanie Walker
  14. South African farms and their schools: possibilities for change in a new dispensation - Johan Graaff

Notes on contributors


This book arose out of two workshops on the democratic transformation of apartheid education organised by the Research on Education in South Africa (Resa) project in London in May 1990. We would like to thank all those who participated in the workshops for their thoughtful contributions. We would also like to acknowledge the continued funding of the Resa project by Sarec (Swedish Agency for Research in Co-operation with Developing Countries) through the Ruth First Memorial Trust and the University of Essex. Without this financial support the organisational and editorial work on this book would not have been possible.

We are grateful to Philip Balie for his assistance in the initial stages of co-ordinating contact with authors. We are particularly indebted to Mary Beale, our editorial assistant, for all her work in organising the production of the manuscript. She, together with Heather de Wet and Giulietta Fafak, worked long hours typing the book with meticulous care. We acknowledge all this assistance with thanks.

Elaine Unterhalter, Harold Wolpe, Thozamile Botha


The essays collected in this volume are the product of a series of informal workshops organised in 1990 by the Research on Education in South Africa (Resa) project in London. The workshops looked at some of the key issues which were likely to be confronted in the process of the transformation of education in South Africa. Their purpose was to discuss, in a preliminary way, some of the questions which are bound to be posed as new education policies are formulated. Such questions will arise whether new policies aim to reform the apartheid education system or to reconstruct it radically. The participants in the workshops were South African educationalists or researchers in education who were activists in the African National Congress or in the Mass Democratic Movement. They were all working at the time in Britain. Their specific interests and expertise in the field of education dictated the agenda of the workshops. The common concern was to develop an analysis of specific policies which might be relevant to restructuring education in South Africa.

The workshops were a response to the important changes that had taken place in South Africa after the unbanning of the mass-based anti-apartheid organisations on 2 February 1990. The focus of these workshops on specific education policies was in striking contrast with all previous discussions on education within the democratic movement. Then the predominant theme had been opposition to apartheid education. This had been accompanied by the restatement of very general goals for education in a post-apartheid society, such as those embodied in the Freedom Charter and the Declaration on People's Education. The way in which these concerns were dealt with prior to the Resa workshops is reflected in the book that emerged from the Resa conference of 1989 -Apartheid

The context for this stress on opposition is evident from the nature of the education struggle in South Africa in the 1980s. This was characterised by two main features. Firstly, it presented itself predominantly as a straightforward contest between, on the one hand, conservative forces organised around the government, intent on preserving bantu education as a significant reproductive mechanism of the apartheid system; and, on the other hand, the democratic movement, fighting to displace bantu education with people's education - regarded as an essential component of the national liberation struggle.

Secondly, the political contest between these opposing forces was marked by a high degree of conflict. The apartheid regime relied on the repressive apparatuses of the state, particularly the police and the army, to maintain control of education. The democratic movement struggled to transform education through direct political action; in particular, mass demonstrations and school boycotts.

In these circumstances there was little room for dialogue or debate between conservative and democratic forces on alternative education policies. Moreover, within the democratic movement there was neither the space nor the climate for policy research. Thus the regime and corporate capital formulated and implemented changes in bantu education ignoring the views of the democratic movement. For its part the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) and other organisations elaborated the concept of People's Education; they organised politically around its emancipatory slogans largely outside the institutional framework of apartheid education. The one attempt of the NECC, in 1.986,.to introduce people's education into Department of Education and Training (DET) schools using new textbooks and curricula was suppressed by special decrees under the State of Emergency. These were enforced by the police and army.

These features of the education struggle began to change after 2 February 1990. President De Klerk's announcement of the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations initiated a process of restructuring in which political confrontation, backed by coercion and armed intervention, gradually began to be displaced by dialogue and negotiation. In this dramatically changed situation, new possibilities of social transformation in the society as a whole presented themselves. While the political and socio-economic objectives pursued by the regime and the democratic movement remain which enables debate and negotiation between them to take place. The demolition of apartheid appears to be the common goal, whatever other differences persist. Consequently the argument has tended to focus on specific policies in every sphere of social, political and economic life than can effect this. This in turn has imposed on the contending social forces the need to redefine, and to specify more closely and more concretely, the policies to be pursued to achieve their respective objectives.

For the ruling National Party and the interests organised around it, the central goal is no longer the maintenance of the racially ordered apartheid system. Yet in abolishing that system they wish to preserve the racial imbalances which it served to create. As a consequence, highly contradictory policies are being promoted. These aim, simultaneously, to reduce racial inequalities, while leaving intact the unequal society which has been produced by apartheid. A striking example of this is the regime's abandonment of its commitment to school segregation, coupled with a devolution " of choice in these matters to parents and governing bodies. This has meant, in .effect, that school segregation, with its concomitant inequalities, has remained virtually unchanged.

The inherent contradiction in the regime's policy highlights the key question confronting the democratic opposition. What are the policies that should be pursued to construct a social order in which race, class and gender inequalities will be progressively overcome? How are the effects of apartheid to be eroded?

These questions raise a host of issues which require research, consultation and discussion. For all the constituencies concerned with education and for the researchers linked to them the new situation has opened up uncharted areas which have to be explored. A number of major initiatives have been launched to investigate policies to reconstruct the entire education system. These are to be found both at an international level and within South Africa. For example, studies carried out by the World Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United Nations and UNESCO aim at assisting these organisations in developing policy to change apartheid education. Internally, one of the principal initiatives in this area has been that of the regime which directed the Committee of Heads of Education Departments (CHED) to produce the Education Renewal Strategy (ERS) in 1991. Other significant investigations have been those undertaken by corporate capital using the research capacity of the Urban Foundation, and that initiated by the ANC and the National Education Co-ordinating Council (NECC). This later research programme,which began at the end of 1990, drew a wide range of democratic academics into a number of interconnected research groups to carry out a National Education Policy Investigation (NEPI).

While there are points of convergence between all these projects, there are also broad differences. One important difference relates to the extent of consultation with mass-based political and community organisations and the trade unions in arriving at the questions to be posed about the future policies. The ERS, for example, is entirely the product of experts in the civil service. The NEPI project, by contrast, aims to incorporate a high degree of consultation with different constituencies at all stages of the research it is conducting.

Furthermore, there are major differences in the way in which the various policies under discussion propose to tackle the imbalances produced by apartheid and the extent to which they aim to bring about a restructuring which will allow advances to greater equality. The ERS states that its objective, is to remove past .and .present inequalities in education but, at the same .time, it proposes, a decentralised education system which would be dependent on local, community resources for its development. Given racial residential segregation and the unequal distribution of wealth, the inevitable result will be the reproduction of racial inequalities NEPI by. contrast,.insists that the alternative education strategies it is investigating must be judged against their capacity to erode racial and gender inequalities,  promote education,  redress historical imbalances and produce a unitary education system. .

As with the NEPI project, many of the essays in this book consider how alternative proposals in specific areas of education policy would contribute to the erosion of race, gender and class inequalities in education and in the society. The essays dealing with the form of financing education in a post-apartheid society, the nature of components of the education system such as core or primary schooling, farm schools, adult and vocational education and the universities, and the role of private schools, all have this concern as a key focus. Those papers which consider language policy and alternative forms of teacher recruitment also look at the way in which different policies in these areas might contribute to social transformation.

A number of the essays highlight a linked theme: that educational changes are intrinsically related to changes in the institutional order and the process of equalisation in education cannot occur without similar developments in other spheres. This connection is explored particularly in the essays by Badat on policy research, by Wolpe on the relationship of educational change and political and economic development strategies, and by Unterhalter on women's education.

The question is also examined by Kraak looking at the transformation of the education and training system, by van Neikerk analysing the lessons of the Nicaraguan literacy campaign for South Africa, and by Swartz examining different systems of certification. Graaf, commenting on possible changes in farm schools, and Desai, looking at language policy, both emphasise the point that changes in these particular areas cannot be divorced from wider socio-economic change.

The limitation of transformation through education, as stressed in these essays, points to the need to broaden any analysis of education for a future South Africa, so that the policy issues are not considered simply in relation to education alone. Rather, they need to be situated in relation to the changing political and economic structures of the society. This task is central to the work of the NEPI project and the papers in this collection are thus a contribution to that investigation.'

Elaine Unterhalter and Harold Wolpe London and Cape Town September 1991

1. Education and social transformation: problems and dilemmas

Harold Wolpe

This paper focuses on questions about the role of education and training in the construction of a post-apartheid South Africa. While it is not claimed that the issues discussed are exhaustive, nonetheless, no coherent, transformative, education policy can be arrived at unless the issues posed here are confronted by the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies in the course of the struggle for a new South Africa.

The argument of this paper is that education (and other) policies have to be framed explicitly in relation to political and economic development strategies based on the Freedom Charter if they are to contribute to the construction of a new South Africa. The formulation of these strategies and of the policies which are intended to implement them is problematic they must take into account the contradictions, possibilities and constraints of the conjunctural and structural conditions they are designed to overcome.

The changed conjunctural conditions which were initiated by De Klerk's actions of 2 February 1990, rendered inadequate the strategies adopted hitherto by the liberation movement, which were more or less purely oppositional in character. In the new situation, as is widely recognised, opposition is not enough what is required is the translation of the goals of the Freedom Charter into concrete economic and political development strategies to which specific policies in the different spheres of education, housing, local government and so forth can be linked. Thus far, these strategies have not been fully elaborated and, as a consequence, specific taken on a largely ad hoc, reformist character. If met, these demands are as likely to contribute to the reproduction of a reformed capitalism as to the creation of a society as envisaged in the Freedom Charter.

What makes the problem of the relationship between concrete policies and development strategies so critical is the character of the transitional period which began in February 1990.

The transitional conjuncture

The structural conditions of the 1980s and the political struggles which took place within them resulted in a relatively static, unstable equilibrium of power in South Africa. Decisive changes, whether in die direction of the development of the capitalist economy and the limited reform of the political system and the economy, or in the direction of a national democratic revolution and some degree of socialisation of the economy in line with the Freedom Charter, depended, in the first instance, on a clear-cut shift in the balance of power towards either the regime and the corporate sector or towards the national liberation movement.

In the event, the new political strategy announced by the De Klerk regime on 2 February 1990 signalled the incapacity of the regime to maintain the existing equilibrium or to alter decisively the balance of power in its favour by intensifying repression. If this new strategy indicated a shift in favour of the national liberation movement, it is clear that that shift was far from decisive.

In a rudimentary yet vital way, certain aspects of the apartheid political system have been altered. These include the legalisation of the ANC and other organisations, the resumption of open political work by these organisations, the release of political prisoners and the strengthening of the civic organisations. These political changes, which fall considerably short of a fundamental democratic transformation, nevertheless entail a major restructuring of the political terrain which alters the terms of political contestation. But it is of paramount importance to define the limits of this restructuring.

Under the new conditions, possibilities have opened up for the ANC and its allies to participate in the contested process of creating the institutional and other instruments which might enable the transformation of the apartheid economic, social and political order to begin. But in essence, what has been effected is the partial reconstilution of the political terrain without any conclusive alteration in the unstable equilibrium of power.

2 February signalled the incapacity of the ruling bloc to continue to 'rule in the old way' but it did not amount, by any means, to the overthrow of the dominant forces and the seizure of state power by the national liberation movement. Instead, the present transitional phase has been constituted as the result of defensive actions taken by the regime which enable it and its class constituencies to continue to hold state and economic power. The present stage, therefore, is not characterised by a transfer of state power to social forces able to 'smash' the old institutional and economic order. The democratic forces are thus unable rapidly to replace the apartheid order with a new, non-racial, democratic and, in some sense, socialised order. :

The struggle to win state and economic power is thus taking place without a fundamental change in the balance of political power. Nonetheless it is taking place in a new form predominantly I through negotiations between the regime and its allies and the ANC and its allies. At the heart of the process of negotiation is precisely the question of state power. On the one hand, the regime and the social forces which cohere around it seek to establish reformed political institutions which will help guarantee the retention of effective state power in the hands of the existing dominant bloc expanded by the incorporation of segments of black classes and groupings. On the other hand, the struggle of the ANC and its allies is to establish the political instruments a constituent assembly and interim government which will facilitate the transfer of state power to the democratic forces and which, once attained, can be utilised to institute a process of radical social transformation.

Negotiations, reform and transformation

The capacity to effect social transformation is not a function for the contending forces of state power alone but depends also on the social base of support and the established social structural and institutional conditions. Even if state power were to pass decisively to the social forces which cohere around the ANC, the new regime would be faced with historically produced, deep-rooted racial and class divisions and the racially structured institutional order which characterises the apartheid capitalist system. Although now partly eroded and driven by contradictions, the core structural conditions of apartheid remain in existence and, over a long period, will continue to place severe constraints on the pace and possibilities of any programme pursued by a new regime to reduce and overcome those conditions.

This is all the more the case where, as in the present conjuncture, state power remains in the hands of the old regime and the conditions historically produced by apartheid continue to exercise their leverage. In these circumstances the possibilities of overturning the apartheid-produced conditions obviously become still more restricted. What is more, when these circumstances are coupled with a politics of negotiation, the very terms in which the demands for change come to be expressed may easily tend to reflect, rather than to challenge, the restricted possibilities of transformation.

Prior to 2 February 1990, the liberation movement focused largely on the struggle against apartheid and/or the general goals of the national democratic revolution. Then, the elaboration of policies about the 'internal' transformation of specific spheres of social, political and economic life was not a realistic priority, since the extensive exclusion of the democratic opposition from the political and economic institutions ensured that, by and large, the struggle took place 'at a distance' from these institutions. The seizure of state power, through some type of insurrectionary movement, presented itself as the necessary precondition for the reconstruction of particular spheres of social life.

It is true that in some fields for example, in industrial relations and in education after the formation of the National Education Crisis Committee (NECC, National Education Coordinating Committee after 1989) the struggle for internal reform of the existing institutions and their mode of operation became an integral component of the political opposition of the opposition organisations. Nonetheless, as the struggle in education shows, in the 1980s the rejection of bantu education was cast in terms of the principles on which a future education system was to be based nonracial, nonsexist and democratic (as outlined in the Freedom Charter or the Declaration on People's Education) and of general demands for universal literacy and numeracy and skilling (see NECC, 1989; Cosatu, 1987 and 1989; ANC, 1989).

Negotiation has become the principal mode of politics since 2 February 1990. The democratic opposition has participated in struggles over the functioning of particular parts of the social regulate and routinise political conflict through a network of working parties, comprised of government and ANC representatives, charged with the task of finding agreement on a range of issues in a variety of areas release of prisoners, education, housing, local government, the economy and others.

Negotiations are not, and could not be, about the replacement at a stroke of the entire, existing order by a new system. The necessary, if not sufficient, precondition for that to be achieved is the control of state power. Instead, the preoccupation of the negotiation process is with the revision or even radical reform of particular institutions of, and conditions generated by, apartheid. This may be illustrated by one example among many. In 1990, the Department of Education and Training (DET) invited the NECC to advise it on how an additional sum of R800 million should be used to improve the conditions of education for black people. In a sense, the question which the NECC had to confront was how to use the funds to offset the adverse effects of apartheid in education. It was being called on to specify how to use expanded resources to reform bantu education from within.

The transition from a politics of confrontation to the politics of negotiation thus appears to have the effect of shifting the primary focus from the general goals of the national democratic revolution to the reform or possible transformation of specific spheres of the society.

In the case of education, there is a further factor which tends to lead to the formulation of immediate demands without reference to longer term strategic goals. As the prospect of a post-apartheid South Africa approaches, for the principal political actors the development of policy options to educate and to equip the people with skills to participate in the management of the economy and the political system an aspect virtually neglected in the original formulations of people's education has become a matter of particular urgency. This leads to a preoccupation with human resource development outside the context of political and economic development strategies. The central question is how should the relationship between short-term demands and the still embryonic development strategies which embody the transformative goals of the Freedom Charter be understood?

The dilemmas of educational transformation

Three themes, in one form or another, have recurred in the struggles against bantu education — first, the claim that education is a basic human right; second, that education should be polyvalent, combining science with the humanities, theory with practice and third, that education is deeply political and should be an agent,of social transformation.

These themes were expressed programmatically in the ANC Statement of Education Principles (1978) but, perhaps, found their fullest, if still incomplete, expression in the notion of people's education adopted at the second National Education Crisis conference in March 1986. The primary concern of the National Education Crisis Committee, which was established by the Conference, was the role of education in the political struggle for the national democratic revolution. Hence the discussion of the themes concentrated overwhelmingly on the political and ideological dimensions of education.

The state of emergency imposed by the regime from 1985 onwards radically reduced the openings available to the NECC to continue to link educational struggles with the general political struggle. One effect of this was that the political content of people's education was progressively reduced. The corollary was that the notion that people's education was equivalent to providing conventional education and training became prominent. This shift has been accentuated in the present conjuncture.

These two tendencies — one emphasising educational rights and the political role of education, the other emphasising education as the acquisition of skills appear, in the contemporary period, as contradictory and mutually exclusive. In so far as these categories are irreconcilable, they present the democratic movement with intractable dilemmas of policy. The question which poses itself is how far is it possible to reconcile these contradictory conceptions of the provision and functions of education?

Education as a basic human right

The right to education has been, and remains, a powerful claim in South Africa and nowhere is this claim stated more explicitly than in the Freedom Charter:

The doors of learning and culture shall be opened!
Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children.
Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all bs ' means of state allowances and scholarships awarded or. the basis of merit.
Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan. Suuner and Cronin, 1986:265)

Similar generalised views stem from the people's education movement with its emphasis, echoing the Freedom Charter, on the right of people to have access to education and training. For example, a resolution at the 1989 NECC conference, set out the following beliefs:

Education is a basic human right. Schooling should be free and compulsory for all children. Privatisation does not serve the interests of education for all. All schools should be open to children of all races. All people should have the right to attend schools of their choice and all teachers should have the right to teach all children. (NECC, 1989)

A resolution on literacy had a similar tone. The conference agreed that:

Apartheid has made literacy and numeracy beyond the reach of large sections of the oppressed and exploited. It is the responsibility of the state to provide basic education for all South Africans. Literacy and numeracy are pre-requisites to full democratic participation in society. (NECC, 1989)

There is no shortage in the literature and documents of a range of organisations of propositions, written at this level of generality, which emphasise the global need for, or right to, education, training and skills upgrading. And in this literature, virtually no explicit attempt is made to propose which educational needs should be given priority. Perhaps this is because arguments based on education as a basic human right do not lend themselves easily to a hierarchical ordering since, presumably, all such rights must rank equally.

It seems clear, however, that the economic and other resources which would be required to redress the effects of the apartheid system in all spheres of education and training are not immediately available and are extremely unlikely to be available, except in the very long term. This is not least because enormous calls will be made on limited resources to meet not only education needs but other basic human needs such as housing, health and welfare services.

This makes choices inevitable. Different bodies have begun to propose specific priorities in education and training development. Thus, for example, Cosatu (Erwin, 1990), Numsa (Bird, 1990) and the ANC (1989) stress the great importance of upgrading the technical skills of productive workers, administrators and managers. The NECC stresses the priority of extra funding to reduce student-teacher ratios in the schools (New Nation, 15 February 1991). Many bursary organisations associated with the democratic movement contend that the teaching of applied subjects as opposed to academic, general subjects should take precedence and that the natural and physical sciences should be developed rather than the social sciences (see Jeffreson, 1991).

However, taken together, these and other proposals emanating from different constituencies cover the entire range of education needs as generally expressed in the Freedom Charter. Thus, even though it may be that no single body advances an education and training programme which encompasses in full the comprehensive claims of the Freedom Charter, nevertheless the composite of the demands of each constituency amounts to such a total programme. The question of priorities and, hence, of the distribution of scarce resources between the different proposals, therefore remains. But that problem can only be resolved on the basis of coherent economic, political and social development strategies which give priority to certain claims in the distribution of resources. So far, however, overall economic and political development strategies have not been elaborated to the extent, and in a manner, that they can inform the formulation of policies for education and training and thus contribute to transformation.

One reason for this is that, under the impact of the 'logic' of negotiations, most of the workshops, meetings and seminars organised to discuss policies for the future have focused on discrete areas such as local government, housing, public administration and education. The relationship between these different sectors, how they should service one another, and how competing demands between them for scarce resources should be resolved in terms of a scale of priorities, is extremely weakly developed.

Only in relation to the development of the economy has the attempt been made to sketch out a strategy which both links different facets of the economy like production in different sectors, and consumption and suggests how the economy links with other elements including planning structures, training and community-based organisations. Yet, here too the links between economy and other structures remain shadowy, in part because the economic development strategy is itself not sufficiently elaborated.

The most worked out document on the South African economy for example, the ANC's The Economy Beyond Apartheid, sketches a cogent view of the possible contours for the future, but it does nc more than indicate the direction in which, it argues, the economy should move (New Nation, 15 June 1990).

In opposing the notion of a 'free market' economy, the document argues, among other things, for a state-led, democratically planned economy which will grow through meeting the basic needs of the people and through the building of an export oriented, competitive industrial manufacturing base. This, the document contends, gives rise to certain labour needs:

  • Restructuring industry would require a major set of policies with respect to technology, skills training and labour process reorganisation.
  • A democratic state would initiate a comprehensive training programme to remove racial inequalities and to improve the productivity of labour. In particular the democratic state would intervene to ensure that the content of all education and training at technikons, universities, schools and other training institutions is appropriate for changing labour market needs and consistent with national industrial strategy.
  •   It would also set up non-exploitative youth training schemes for unskilled and underskilled youth.
  • The state would encourage trade unions and employers at industry level to develop and co-manage training schemes. Linked to this, private corporations would be required to direct resources to training schemes. (New Nation, 15 June 1990)

The document does not provide, and could not be expected to provide, any indication of how training schemes should be distributed between different branches of the economy and between different skills. Nor does it pose the question of the consequences of the education and training policies proposed for the mounting of programmes in adult literacy, mass schooling and tertiary education.

In Issues in Education and Training in South Africa' (Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990:46-52), reference was made to other more established bodies which echoed the ANC's concerns about educational and training needs. Thus, for example, the President of the Institute of Personnel Management of South Africa, Theo Pagel, in June 1990 suggested that:

The government should make education a number one priority and it should improve the quality of education for every child ... The future aspirations and the ne%v political dispensation. (New Nation, 29 June 1990)

The National Manpower Commission has adopted a similar position advocating:

enhancing the growth potential and actual growth achievement of the South African economy in a manner that will at the same time provide equal opportunities for all and will create many more jobs in order to ensure that the benefits of growth are, to the greatest possible degree, passed on to all individuals. (National Manpower Commission, 1989:27)

But these provide even less guidance to concrete policies than The Economy Beyond Apartheid. The consequence of this sort of position is illustrated in the contemporary debate about whether higher or primary education should be targeted for major development. This debate can only be 'resolved' by arbitrary assertions in the absence of relevant development strategies against which the arguments can be judged (see Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990).

Technical or vocational education and academic education

As in other countries, two broad approaches have emerged in the debates on the relationship between education and training, and jobs. On the one hand, it is argued that education and training in the schools must serve directly to produce the technical skills required by the labour market. This vocational view of education has been advanced from a range of political positions. For example, Gerrit Viljoen, then Minister of Education, stated that syllabuses must be revised to be made more 'relevant to the job market and economy' (Leadership, June 1989). But similar arguments have been advanced by Cosatu, the NECC and the ANC in relation to their demands for the opening of skilled occupations to black people (Erwin, 1990; Kraak and Van Holdt, 1990; ANC, 1989; Jeffreson, 1991).

The assumption in these proposals is that vocational education provides the best possible basis for training in occupational skills. This view has been attacked, however, on the grounds that 'high quality general academic skills (literacy, numeracy, basic science) are the essential basis on which vocational skills must be developed' and that technical job skills cannot properly be taught in formal training contexts (Bennell and Swainson, 1990). Similarly, Education With Production has propagated a polytechnical education combining academic and vocational subjects (NECC, 1989; Setai, 1990).

Implicit in both these views is the contention that the problem with vocational education is that it produces narrow, rigid skills, which are not easily transferable to new tasks as changes occur in the labour process. In an era of 'flexible specialisation' with frequent changes occurring in the process of production, academic training is essential. A further criticism of the vocational approach is based on the observation that the vocational or academic distinction invariably carries with it invidious status differences since vocational education becomes socially denned as inferior to academic education.

The problem with all of these different positions is that, once again, they are elaborated in isolation from the concrete conditions of the society and the development strategies which may be appropriate to transform those conditions. It may well be the case that, in the long run, the separation of vocational from academic education should not be maintained, because of the negative effects on training and the social status consequences of the different types of education. But should the abolition of this distinction and its replacement by some mode of polyvalent education be accepted as a universal principle to be applied under all circumstances?

It could be argued that under present conditions the need to redress the occupational inequalities generated by apartheid is more urgent than the provision of a rounded education. Narrowly conceived education and training programmes which can more rapidly produce large numbers of skilled black employees would, as a result, need to take precedence at least for a large cohort of people. From this standpoint, the virtual exclusion of black people from skilled occupations makes access to those occupations more urgent than the status distinctions entailed in the vocational or academic differentiation.

This, of course, is to address the problem in terms of the basic rights argument which asserts the need to abolish racial, gender and class inequalities in the sphere of education and in the occupational structure. But a similar argument in favour of narrowly tailored, short-term training schemes also follows from the fact that there is a need to educate and train large numbers of people in a range of areas. Some of these are in administrative skills in local and central government and community-based organisations in order to ensure the orderly progression of a democratic political and administrative system, as paramedics to meet the health needs of the population, as mining surveyors, as financial managers and as teachers, to name a few (Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990:E9).

Specified in this way there is again a consensus, ranging across a wide political spectrum from the ANC, Cosatu and the NECC to the Urban Foundation, that there is a need for technical and vocational training narrowly conceived. This consensus coheres around the notion of human resource development (see, for example, Jeffreson, 1991; EDT, 1989; Cross Times, June/July 1990).

Thus there is a contradiction: either vocational training is stressed or academic training is advocated. How can the contradiction between these two positions be eliminated? From the way the argument is presented, often implicitly, the contradiction between these two approaches can only be resolved by adopting, in toto, one approach and abolishing the other. The fact is, however, that it may be necessary to reconcile rather than abolish the contradiction by placing both approaches within overall development strategies. Here we need to distinguish between immediate needs in the transitional period and the long-term needs of the development of a post-apartheid society (Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990).

If it is accepted that the possibilities of a long-term transformation in the direction of the Freedom Charter depend, in the first instance, upon the strengthening of certain structures and the immediate training of people to assume political, economic and other responsibilities, then it follows that, in the short term, the balance between vocational and academic education must be tilted decisively in favour of the former. The argument can briefly be illustrated by reference to community-based organisations. A remarkable, distinctive feature of the contemporary situation in South Africa is the development of the organs of civil society. Civil society may be defined as comprising: 'the matrix of private organisations, standing outside of the state structures and political parties, which embody different, often opposing, special interests' (Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990).

The importance of these community-based organisations to the development of a deeply entrenched democratic system, both in the political as well as in the economic sphere, has been widely recognised. Their particular importance to democratic economic planning has been stressed. However, not only have many of these bodies been badly affected by the repression prior to 1990, but they sufferfrom a lack of trained personnel. As has been argues, the maitenance and strenghtening of civil depends on 'the institutional arrangements which sustain the autonomy and the capacity of these organisations to act in furtherance of their interests' (Unterhalter and Wolpe, 1990).

The Education Development Trust has recognised this point in relation to education and training programmes under the aegis of the National Education Coordinating Committee. It stated: 'people's organisations and other relevant institutions continue to experience an acute shortage of socially committed and technically competent personnel'(EDT, 1989).

It is no doubt the case that under circumstance the training provided fully changing conditions. But the demand for technically skilled people capable of efficiently carrying out organisational and administrative tasks is extremely urgent and, therefore, needs to be met as rapidly as possible. In this context, should narrowly focused, short-term skills courses not be given precedence, at least in these areas?

If, on the other hand, it is accepted that, in the long term, the concept of social transformation entails both the production of rounded, cultured citizens and flexible, analytically trained producers and other workers, then the balance would, under certain conditions, shift from vocational to academic or polyvalent education and training. Once again, however, it seems clear that such a shift in policy would have to be premised on the articulation of the appropriate development strategies.

Education for transformation: skills training versus people's education?

The discussion so far has focused on arguments about the function of education and training in providing people with the skills to perform roles in the occupational structure. It was suggested that the debate about the type of training which is appropriate can itself only be resolved in terms of an analysis of the existing social conditions and the development strategies advanced to transform those conditions.

There is, however, a second argument which needs to be addresses. This is implicit in the discussions about the role of education and training. The contention is made that both education and training may be transformative of the social order and. thus, the major instrument for achieving the goals of the Freedom Charter. In considering this, I leave aside the problem of the extent to which the attempt to transform the system of education and training can escape the constraints of the existing social, political and economic structures (Wolpe and Unterhalter, 1991). The issue on which 1 wish to concentrate is as follows. In so far as the primary focus is on how to expand the provision of education and training in order to educate and train, at least pro rata, black as well as white people, what are the likely effects on the restructuring of society?

There are two ways in which the expansion of education may be approached. In the first approach, by and large, training programmes designed to service the existing apartheid socio-economic order may simply be expanded to accommodate many more pupils and students. In this event, education and training are presented as 'neutral' processes. It is assumed that their content, scope and methods can serve, without fundamental modification, goals which are radically different to those they were established to help attain.

It is true, of course, that the expansion of education and training may well have the vitally important effect of changing the racial distribution of occupations. Nonetheless, this is far from meeting the goals of the Freedom Charter, since deracialisation is fully consistent with the reproduction of a reformed capitalist system. It has been argued that

The importance of this becomes all the clearer when it is borne in mind that a settlement arrived at through negotiation may well leave in place a powerful private sector of the economy and that the political and social institutional order will change more gradually and more unevenly than was envisaged before 2 February. Under these conditions, the preoccupation with the provision of education and skilling which fails, on the one hand, to link this with a programme of people's education and with the restructuring of the social and institutional order, and on the other hand, with a clear development strategy, threatens to allow education, by default, to be edged towards performing predominantly a reproductive rather than a transformatory role. (Wolpe and Unterhalter, 1991:15)

In the second approach, the component of education and training concerned with upgrading skills may be linked, as is proposed in the above passage, explicitly with the politics of transformation. Indeed, at the 1986 NECC National Consultative Conference, it was the linking of education and national democratic struggle which was stressed to the virtual exclusion of the concern with the upgrading of skills through education and training. People's education was defined as education which

  1. enables the oppressed to understand the evils of the apartheid system and prepares them for participation in a nonracial. democratic system;
  2. eliminates capitalist norms of competition, individualism, and stunted intellectual development and one that encourages collective input and active participation by all. as well as stimulating critical thinking and analysis;
  3. eliminates illiteracy, ignorance and exploitation of any person by another;
  4. equips and trains all sectors of our people to participate actively and creatively in the struggle to attain people's power in order to establish a nonracial democratic South Africa;
  5. allows students, parents, teachers and workers to be mobilised into appropriate organisational structures which enable them to enhance the struggle for people's power and to participate actively in the management of people's education in all its forms;
  6. enables workers to resist exploitation and oppression in their work place. (Nkomo, 1990:425)

It is obvious from this quotation that, overwhelmingly, the concern of people's education is with the role of education in equipping people to participate in the struggle for social transformation as political agents. There is virtually nothing about skills and training.

People's education as defined in the mid-1980s neglected the questions of training people for occupations in the economy and in the political institutional system and concentrated on educational rights and on the contribution of education to the production of the 'new person'. In the present situation these concerns have given way to notions of human resource development. In expressing the urgency of the need for upgrading skills, a highly technicist vision of education and training which pays scant attention to the transformative values of people's education has become the predominant, if not the exclusive, preoccupation of the democratic movement (Jeffreson, 1991).

But the question remains, even if the concerns of people's education are merged into the education and training programmes to inject a conception of the use of skills in the construction of a transformed society, could this, on its own, convert education and training into an instrument of social transformation? One can only answer in the affirmative if, once again, the education and training system as such is accorded undue weight. But the role of education and training can only be assessed if 'the extra-educational conditions which may either facilitate or block the effects of the educational system or which may simultaneously favour or inhibit them' (Wolpe and Unterhalter, 1991:3) are taken into account.

Education and training policies, which are coupled with the ingredients of people's education, must, therefore, be formulated together with the construction of a new institutional and organisational order. In this sense, the possibility of education and training serving as instruments of social transformation requires that they are inserted as part of an overall development strategy and not considered in isolation.


My central concern has been to highlight the fact that, in different ways, in the absence of coherent development strategies, there is a strong tendency for ad hoc education and training policies to be advanced. A consequence of this is that education and training programmes may contribute only to a highly limited degree to a process of social transformation and, indeed, may serve to help reproduce powerfully entrenched structures generated by apartheid. What is needed is the preparation of democratically reached development strategies and, within these, appropriate policies of education and training.