OPINION: Who controls South Africa’s Basic Education with its dismal drop-out rate?

Mxolisi Ka Nkomonde: South Africa’s basic education is controlled by corporations that benefited from apartheid and questions their motives.

Who controls South Africa’s basic education?

South African education has for centuries been controlled by the state with a few private schools which controlled themselves.  Matriculation was under the Joint Examination Board from 1918 to 1989 but this changed when  private schools established the Independent Examination Board (IEB) [1] which regulates private schools. The issue of private education evokes an intense and controversial debate which raises issues of exclusivity and elitism. The IEB regulates the education of children of upper middle class and wealthy whites with a few Blacks who could afford private education under Apartheid.

In 1992 the Joint Education Trust now called JET Education Services(JET) was setup as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with the sole purpose of “reforming” the public education system. The founders of JET include Anglo American, First National Bank (now First Rand), Sanlam, Gencor (now BHP Billiton) and other corporations which benefited greatly from Apartheid’s ‘slave labour’ policies largely driven by Native Education later Bantu Education after 1953.

Some of the partners in JET include African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Inkatha Freedom Party and Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO) together with labour formations including the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) [2].

JET had little influence on South Africa’s public education until 1996 when the education budget was reduced significantly leading to closures of technical collages, teachers colleges, nursing colleges and the merging of higher education institutions for “efficiency”[3].

NGOs and private companies took over the education system through outsourcing and partnerships since the state had little resources in building internal capacity for curriculum development, teacher training and efficient administration.

The main input in any education system is the curriculum since it influences both the teacher and the learner hence it can be described as the genome of education.  Effectively, whoever drives the curriculum controls the minds of learners and teachers and the society at large. The weakening of state capacity in developing curriculum and teacher training in South Africa has led to a situation where multinational companies such as Pearson run the education system through outsourcing and textbook publishing – which was its main business until recently when it added “education services”  as part of its services to different governments including SA’s Department of Basic Education [4].

Countries such as the United States of America [5] and United Kingdom[6] have raised the alarm  over this phenomenon of companies like Pearson, running their education systems through the outsourcing of critical state functions.

Statistics South Africa’s latest report on unemployment in September states that youth unemployment is 65.6% and the question that must be asked is why young people arent finding ways of utilising the collaboration between government, multinationals such as Pearson and NGOs such as JET, which is funded by major corporations in SA, to gain employment?

Why are the biggest beneficiaries of Apartheid heavily involved in the public education system? Is there a deliberate dumbing-down of the education of Black children who are heavily dependent on public education as a way of creating a pool of low skilled workers who can be paid low wages? Why are parents not worried about corporate influence on public education?


[1] http://www.ieb.co.za/AboutUs/backgroundhistory.php

[2] http://www.jet.org.za/about-jet/history

[3] Report on the National Review of Academic and Professional Programmes in Education,August

2010,Council on Higher Education,Page (9 to 14)

[4] https://za.pearson.com/textbooks/grade-r-12.html

[5] http://thecrucialvoice.com/2016/10/16/foreign-influence-americas-choice/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jul/16/pearson-multinational-influence-education policy

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  1. This was such a great article and very true.

    In conjunction with the comments made by Sizwe above I would like to add how true the contents of his comments are. My brother and I started an NGO last year centered around youth development & education mainly for the township of Umlazi in KZN. Our very first project was a career expo for high school students in one of its main high schools in the township (Ogwini High School) and we had a fantastic turnout. We had asked many of our friends and their friends – who are working professionals – to come and talk about their careers, and our main aim was to try and bring “non-typical”careers that are constantly pushed down our throats. We wanted to expose these future leaders to alternative career paths that they had never heard of or considered. But unfortunately most students gravitated towards the careers that would “make them rich”, they disregarded an Export and Import Specialist in the Maritime field, they thought Law only involved going to court, they disregarded the journalists etc. And this is the reality in the township schools. Push for CA(SA) and commerce studies and disregard everything else. It is very disconcerting, as it is the education system that these future leaders are exposed to. This article has opened up my eyes as to what is really going on. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Jabulile for reading and sharing your experience. Keep up the good work that you are doing.



  2. Most importantly the contradictions in the education system itself as reflection of society’s contradictions will in every generation produce critical and consequently rebellious learners and students.

  3. No problem, Pinky. The topic needs more in depth analysis, though. E.g. the fact that in spite of the neo-liberal interventions in education systems critical thinking is produced just the same. Also due to good teachers and more and more learners coming from poor as well as conscious working class backgrounds.

  4. The subjection of basic, even more of tertiary education to private industry and business interests is a worldwide trend since the triumphal procession of neo-liberalism around the globe. Capitalists are interested in a workforce who are qualified in content, ways and modes so as to maximise their profits. Gone are the days when primary and secondary schools existed to give children and young people a good educational background / solid general education as well as the capability for critical thinking. Specialisation came with tertiary education.
    Today the Humanities (social studies, languages, philosophy etc.) tend to be rated lower whereas subjects connected with business admin as well as IT and/or engineering etc. are rated higher.
    Capital seeks to influence their prefered kind of employee much earlier, possibly already in the primary school phase. They are not interested in people with socially critical minds.
    The 19th century German liberal economist Friedrich List once wrote that raising/breeding pigs is seen as a productive economic activity whereas raising children is seen as economically un-productive. Indeed, in capitalism everything that cannot be marketed to maximise profit is seen as un-productive. Hence there is a tendency that professions connected with the care for people and their surroundings, including e.g. children, senior citizens, the physically and mentally challenged, and even cleaning/gardening, are seen as un-productive. Hence jobs in these fields are very badly paid.

    1. What an interesting take Sizwe. With your permission, no just joking, I will post this in our main news section.



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