South African Child Gauge 2008/2009:
Meaningful access to basic education
By Lori Lake and Charmaine Smith

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The fourth issue of the CI’s flagship publication – the South African Child Gauge – will be released in June. This year, the Gauge focuses on the theme of ‘meaningful access to basic education’. The annual publication aims to track South Africa’s progress towards realising children’s rights. Aside from the themed section, it includes an update on important legislative developments affecting children, and datasets on key socio-economic indicators.

 The context

Since 1994, South Africa has made significant strides in improving access to education. Over 96% of children of school-going age attended some form of educational facility in 2007. Yet, concerns about quality remain. South Africa ’s learners are falling behind internationally and local research indicates that the problem has its roots in the Foundation Phase, where grade 3 learners achieved an average of 36% for literacy and 35% for numeracy in the 2007 national assessment.

Teaching capacity is under threat: According to a 2008 presentation by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, 20,000 teachers are lost to the system each year, and the number of teacher graduates has fallen from 70,000 in 1994 to 6,000 in 2006.

Infrastructure is also a problem: The 2007 National Education Infrastructure Management System assessment noted that 12% of schools were without water, 16% without electricity, 36% without adequate sanitation, 60% without laboratories, 68% without computers and 80% without libraries.

This suggests that a great deal of work still needs to be done to address the current crisis and to ensure meaningful access to education.

A chain of voices

In October 2008, the Children’s Institute brought together a small but diverse group of academics, researchers, government and civil society representatives to explore some of the challenges facing the public schooling system. This education roundtable helped shape the theme for the themed section of the Gauge, which draws on a number of contributions from experts in the education field, alongside essays by CI staff. The essays look at:

  • What is meant by the right to basic education.
  • What is needed to make access to basic education meaningful.
  • What resources are needed to realise children’s right to education.
  • What is the impact of no-fee schools and school-fee exemptions.
  • What are the characteristics of children out of school.
  • What keeps children out of school – poverty and patterns of exclusion.
  • How schools and communities can build effective partnerships to ensure meaningful access.
  • How classroom practices impact on children’s ability to learn about numbers.
  • How to strengthen literacy in the Foundation Phase.

This year, the government will be given an opportunity to respond to the issues raised in the themed essays. This will be supplemented by a reflection on the theme by well-known education expert, Prof Jonathan Jansen.

The Children’s Institute believes it is time to move beyond a deficit discourse towards a more appreciative enquiry that recognises the inherent strengths of teachers, learners and communities, and then builds on this foundation. It is hoped that the essay collection will stimulate further debate and contribute towards an education system that allows all learners to reach their full potential.

The production of the Gauge is sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Elma Philanthropies.

The publication will be made available on For more information, or to order a copy, contact



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