Can private schools save education in SA?


Is the private school system in South Africa segregated and elitist? Salim Vally, associate professor and director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), certainly thinks so.

“The private school system is elitist; creating segregation along class lines which, in a South African context, also means that the division is according to race,” Vally said at a recent panel discussion on the privatisation of schools held at UJ.

Vally believes the privatisation of education nullifies public education and leaves teaching to corporations that are mainly concerned with profits. Private education cannot be the solution to poor public education, he said, because private education is not affordable for everyone.

Private schools account 9% of 25 000 schools in South Africa.This includes for-profit schools, non-profit religious schools and unregistered fly-by-night schools.

PONTSHO PILANE asked Jo’burgers what they thought of the private or public school debate.

Calisile SangweniCalisile Sangweni, 43, Johannesburg CBD, security guard
Private schools are better than public schools. My children currently go to a private school, but I can barely afford it. In the near future I may have to take them to a public school and that worries me a lot because I do not trust public schools. The teachers in public schools cannot teach and the children don’t have a bright future. The children in public schools generally don’t do well and I want to give my children the best education I can get them.

Latoya SelekaneLatoya Selekane, 18, Braamfontein, learner
The public school system is better than private school because the teachers are more hands on in the public schools. In private schools teachers are there to facilitate more than they are there to actually teach. I go to a semi-public high school; some of our teachers are sponsored or they are paid directly by the school. Although I think the quality of private school education is better, it is only for rich kids. [At my school] there is no social pressure to have the latest gadgets or clothes and we are more sensitive to each other’s realities at home. In public schools you don’t feel socially inferior in any way.

Karl Van WykKarl Van Wyk, Johannesburg, PhD candidate
I went to two high schools; one private and one public, in that order. And because of my experience I prefer private education more than I do public education. The public school system in this country is mismanaged but it is a very complex issue. If our government invested more in the public school system, I would have more faith in it, but in its current state I choose private schools.


Noah MbuyiNoah Mbuyi, Johannesburg, MA student
Private schools in South Africa are obviously better. The onus is on the government to invest in quality primary education. Look at the Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan; they are developing because they have invested in every child’seducation – private and public. What makes private school better is the quality of teaching and the right allocation of funds. This is unfortunate because this means that poor people are excluded from quality education by the virtue of being poor.

Rishaladza NdlveRishaladza Ndleve, 22, Giyani, student
I would take my children to a public school only if I am around Johannesburg. These former Model C schools do a really good job. However, given where I am from, private school is my only option. Private schools are good and well run [but] they are a form of disincentive for government to actually take public education seriously and raise the bar. I believe that every government official must be forced to take their children to public schools, that way it aligns their interests and they will want to change the current situation. Our leaders are distanced from the problem so it does not matter to them because they are making decisions for people at the bottom.



  1. I’ve always been interested in the Finnish education model – they have almost no private schools (the few that exist aren’t allowed to charge tuition fees), focus more on equality for all than excellence for a few, and score at or near the top in various standardised international tests.

    However, I don’t see this being a viable option here in SA currently for a variety of factors: lack of political will; lack of capacity among teachers; and the inevitable outcry that would be kicked up if we abolished private schools…

  2. Theresa, It took the Finnish 60 years to get their education system to be what it is today, so we can still achieve it. And while it is good to aspire to their excellence – we cannot just copy and paste. There is a bigger issue at play here, which is the role the state plays in the education has been illegitimised. While it is partially their own fault, this has to be reversed to ensure that education does not become another segregatory factor in South Africa.


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