Closing the gap: driving education home

In the last 20 years huge strides have been made to uplift and empower women. Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga said in her International Women’s Day speech earlier this year: “Indeed, South Africa has received international recognition for these efforts and is currently ranked 16th in the world by the Global Gender Gap Index – a framework used by the World Economic Forum to capture the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities among countries in the areas of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.”


But this was not always the case. Historically, a large segment of South Africa’s female population was excluded from obtaining a quality education, and therefore denied the opportunity to meaningfully and equally contribute in the workplace. In modern times girls are included in the educational system but in many ways they are still subject to unacceptable levels of inequality.

Children live in a society where gender-based violence is widespread, where basic health services such as flushing toilets and running water might be lacking and resources are a constant struggle.  This is especially true in instances where girls are in part, or wholly, responsible for taking care of households where parents work away from home – often caring for younger siblings. It becomes increasingly obvious that our children, and particularly girls, are still to a greater or lesser extent trapped in a hangover from bygone years.

Because it’s the case that a good-quality education unlocks entrance to tertiary institutions and career opportunities, it is one of the only ways to ensure that underprivileged girls in difficult circumstances can escape the cycle of poverty.

Educating for equality: the NDP and education

The National Development Plan (NDP) recognises that education is a core element in eliminating poverty and producing an equal society¹.

In accordance with the NDP’s vision, all South Africans (boys and girls) have the right to a quality education – where no one is excluded and those living in poverty or with disabilities are given special consideration. Recent statistics reveal that 39% of children in South Africa live only with their mothers, and in 2013 there were 96 000 child headed-households in the country – with Kwa-Zulu Natal having the highest number of the total group.

While the aim of the NDP is to educate all South Africans, girls are in a position to reap the largest benefit from a good quality education. Research evidence points to the fact that girls are increasingly benefitting from a solid education, with the amount of girls who have a matric growing by about 12% in recent years, versus a 3% increase for boys²

 According to UNESCO, educating girls will have a huge positive impact on society, which means that achieving the NDP’s objectives will ultimately help South Africa’s girls³.  How will achieving the NDP’s education objectives help South Africa’s girls? UNESCO lists the following among the factors that will be mitigated as a result of education:

  • Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth;
  • Education of girls can lead to fewer child deaths;
  • Educating moms improves their children’s nutrition;
  • Girls with higher levels of education are less likely to become pregnant under the age of 17;
  • Education is the key to lower birth rates;
  • Combatting child marriages: educated girls are less likely to marry at a young age;
  • Education narrows the pay gaps between men and women;
  • Educated girls are more likely to find work.


It is clear that in order to effect meaningful societal change that is characterised by gender equality, we have to educate our girls. Minister Motshekga further asserts that, “A key role in building women’s capacity is good-quality education that encourages independent, critical thought, fosters self-confidence, and provides young girls with a vision of their future.”

What is not immediately apparent is the extent to which education continues at home, beyond the classroom. Education at school is only half the battle won, without guidance at home girls are less likely to have the tools to persevere through life’s challenges.

While the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) works to deliver the NDP’s promises and transform education in schools, education at home remains one of its biggest challenges.

Beyond access to education

In today’s democratic South Africa, girls face bigger challenges than access to education: we need to ensure that girls are psychologically and socially nurtured. It is important that we create an enabling environment, where girls have the guidance they need to thrive. This is where parents, caregivers and communities have a vital role to play. Moreover a new generation of holistically well educated women will play an increasing part in reforming education going forward.

In a response these challenges, the NECT seeks to mobilise communities and parents to take a more active role in education. As the home front is largely populated by women (as primary caregivers) they have the greatest potential to contribute the most to a culture of active parenting and home education.

Charlene Deacon, JET Education Services Senior Manager says, “Women can broaden the way in which society understands education. Many parents have absconded from their role in the education of their kids and women (being the majority of teachers and caregivers) are in the best position to point this out and make the case that parenting does not rely on literacy.”

By being available to girls who need guidance, or even just helping with school work, they will create an environment where girls are better equipped to manage everyday challenges.

Mary Metcalfe, Managing Director of PILO observes, “Young people are struggling with new challenges which are often quite alien to the previous generations: they grapple with sexuality, petty criminality, drugs and alcohol abuse, the digital divide, and high levels of hopelessness brought forward by the prospect of youth unemployment and the cycle of poverty.”

If education takes root in home life from their parents or caregivers, girls will be better able to navigate these struggles.

As the majority of our student body and teaching force is female – women taking up the NECT’s call for active parenting and social mobilisation, will be in an excellent position to effect societal change beyond the classroom.

What remains is for women to realise their power to transform not only education, but society at large. When women step up in aid of other women, they will, as a consequence, uplift society.

The minister concluded, in her speech: “Let us grab opportunities and shine… We carry with us the burden of millions of other women out there who do not have the opportunities we have. Therefore, if you can rise, bring someone with you.”


© 2019 National Education Collaboration Trust