Affirmative action as a mechanism for education reform in South Africa
Tsotetsi, Stephen Morena
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The aim of the study was to investigate affirmative action as a mechanism for education reform in South Africa. This investigation was prompted by political changes, which took place after the democratic elections of April 1994, impacting on the provisioning of education in South Africa. The South African education system and its institutions were confronted by many new laws and policies, including affirmative action programmes that had to be implemented. Structural changes like a unified and racially integrated education system came into being. Through literature and empirical studies it was found that race and gender discrimination was observable in all the education institutions in the RSA. Literature study revealed that neither arguments for, nor arguments against affirmative action should be overemphasized at the expense of the other. Both approaches supplemented and enriched each other. Applied correctly and managed well, the disadvantages of affirmative action can be overcome in the main. In this manner most of the injustices of the past can be corrected. It was established through literature study that, like in the USA, affirmative action in the RSA seems to be an option to eradicate the imbalances of the past in terms of race and gender. In the USA success was achieved by affirmative action programmes: The American population became more representative in terms of race and gender. On the other hand it was also established that the previously disadvantaged groups were over-represented. This led to the claim of reverse discrimination. The empirical method, namely using questionnaires, was successful in obtaining information about how education participants, especially at school level, were affected by the implementation of affirmative action policies. It also established how education participants felt and thought about their experiences and perceptions about the affirmative action mechanism for education reform. The study established that factors aimed at the equality of opportunity (also known as the soft approach) enjoyed preference to factors aimed at the equality of result (also known as the hard approach). In order to bring about the smooth education transformation it also established that for observable and radical changes to occur in the education system, factors aimed at the equality of result (the hard approach) should enjoy more attention than factors aimed at the equality of opportunity. Thus it was concluded that both the soft and the hard approaches were necessary to understand the controversial nature of affirmative action. A number of recommendations were made with regard to the research findings for stakeholders and officials to note.
- Education