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Schooling Inequality in South Africa: Productive Capacities and the Epistemological Divide

Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78743-766-1, eISBN: 978-1-78743-765-4

ISSN: 1479-3679

Publication date: 5 February 2018


Post-apartheid South Africa has some of the highest educational and economic disparities in the world. Taylor Salisbury’s (2016) analysis of the National Income Dynamics Study reveals that South Africa’s unequal distributions of income and wealth by race are likely to worsen over time, with Africans the most disenfranchised by low-quality education and low monthly earnings. What is missing from Salisbury’s discussion is that definitions of quality education are analogous to Western democracy, epistemologies, and curriculum. Township schools where most African children and youth attend do not draw upon African epistemologies, values, and languages to support the development of Africans’ productive capacities. Increasingly, capacities are only considered “productive” if they align with modernity and values of the labor market. In this chapter, I argue that South Africa is schooling inequality through the exclusion of African epistemological traditions and the inclusion of mainly Western liberal principles. The notion of divided (epistemological) space – separate, distinct, and apportioned – is examined from the research data I collected with African (in this case Xhosa) primary and secondary students, teachers, and principals in South Africa’s longest-standing township. The intent is to orient the field of comparative and international education to critically problematize discourse that identifies equality as central to social change but that ignores indigenous constructions of democracy informed by different epistemological traditions. This work builds on the growing argument about the need for comparative educators to learn from indigenous perspectives (Freeman, 2004), indigenous knowledge systems (Kubow, 2007), and different educational traditions for comparative study (Assié-Lumumba, 2017).



Kubow, P.K. (2018), "Schooling Inequality in South Africa: Productive Capacities and the Epistemological Divide", Wiseman, A.W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2017 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 161-185.



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