Broken schools breed South Africa's "lost generation"

Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:23am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Laventure

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The first blow to Martha Netshiozwe's future came when her parents died of AIDS. The second came when she ran out of money and had to drop out of a South African high school.

Netshiozwe, 23, is a product of the first post-apartheid generation who entered a new and aspiring education system which aimed to heal the economic divisions created by the white-minority government. But like many, she left without the skills to qualify for anything other than manual labor.

Despite pouring billions of dollars into education, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has little to show for its money except for public primary schools regarded as among the worst in the world and millions of students destined for a life in the underclass.

"If you don't have an education, you don't have a chance in life," said Netshiozwe, who is unemployed with little prospect of finding regular work. She and her HIV-infected aunt live together and scrape by on about $100 a month in welfare benefits.

Nearly half of South Africa's 18 to 24 year olds -- the first generation educated after apartheid ended in 1994 -- are not in the education system and do not have a job, according to government data.

Academics have called this group the "lost generation" and worry it will grow larger unless the government fixes a system riddled with failing schools, unskilled educators and corruption that stops funding from reaching its intended destinations.

"This is an appalling waste of human potential and a potential source of serious social instability," the Ministry of Higher Education said this month when it unveiled sweeping plans

for boosting university enrollment and improving vocational colleges.   Continued...

<p>A student is pictured at a school in Khutsong Township, 74 km (46 miles) west of Johannesburg August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko</p>