Educational Outcomes in Post-apartheid South Africa: Signs of Progress Despite Great Inequality

  • Servaas van der BergEmail author
  • Martin Gustafsson
Part of the Policy Implications of Research in Education book series (PIRE, volume 10)


This chapter examines grade attainment, assessment and examinations data to detect changes in South Africa’s educational inequality over an extended period. The available data permit long-range trends with respect to attainment, and here inequalities have declined substantially. Data on learning outcomes cover a shorter period, but indicate that since around 2002, inequalities have declined. TIMSS Grade 9 data are clearly the easiest to interpret, but SACMEQ and PIRLS data point to similar trends. Moreover, Grade 12 examinations data point to the number of black African youths attaining results which would allow them enter into mathematically-oriented university programmes increasing by 65% between 2002 and 2016. Yet in 2016 white youths were still seven times more likely to achieve this status than black African youths. Reductions in inequality have occurred while average performance has improved markedly according to TIMSS, though the data suggest improvements have slowed down since around 2011. Standard measures of inequality with respect to learning outcomes indicate that inequality in South Africa is as high as that in other developing countries with similarly weak performance averages. However, South Africa’s inequality is driven to an exceptionally large degree by below-expectation performance in around half of all schools.


International assessments TIMSS PILRS SACMEQ educational inequality performance trends social gradients 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ResepUniversity of StellenboschStellenboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Basic Education and ResepUniversity of StellenboschStellenboschSouth Africa

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