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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .


Elusive Equity, Education Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa
Fiske, Edward B. and Ladd, Helen F.

Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 2004,
288 pp 24.00 HB ISBN: 0815728409


Under the apartheid regime almost all aspects of education in South Africa were run in ways which supported blatant state-sponsored inequity. By contrast, the post-1994 constitution guarantees equity for all South Africans in all areas of life. It is difficult to overestimate the central importance of educational equity to the future of South Africa, for as Fiske and Ladd point out:

?Just as a racially delimited educational system had been central to the maintenance of apartheid, a completely new education system that eliminated all vestiges of racial inequality would be essential for the creation and functioning of a democratic South Africa.? (p. 3)

This book explores the development of this crucial dimension of transition in post- apartheid South Africa. It begins with a clear historical contextualisation and moves on to examine the current realities. Salient challenges (governance and access to schools, finance, balancing public and private resources, outcomes based education, educational outcomes and equity in higher education) are identified and explored in a book which allows the voices of those involved with key facets of education to be heard and draws upon a wealth of statistical data. The crucial role of teacher education is discussed inter alia but might usefully inform more of the work, perhaps meriting inclusion as a separate chapter.

Fiske and Ladd conclude that whilst remarkable progress has been made in reducing inequity in many areas of life, equity in education has proved to be elusive thus far. They suggest that the reform of education in South Africa offers some key insights which might inform change in other countries. In particular, they advocate ?aggressive actions? (p.248) to tackle the practical complexities of issues related to resources and implementation. The legacy of South Africa?s unique historical context will continue to ensure that ?equal treatment is not sufficient as a guiding principle of equity? (p.248).


Linda Clarke, Lecturer in Education, University of Ulster



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