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The challenges of education in Rural Schools

Updated: May 7, 2021

Many historically disadvantaged rural schools in South Africa have found educational changes to be more challenging than affluent schools and have also struggled to maintain such changes (Msila, 2010). This contributes to the perceived concerns that South Africa's rural areas are marginalised and under-resourced (African National Congress [ANC], 1995).

The South African Schools Act (Republic of South Africa, 1996a) (hereafter The Schools Act) added another dimension to the problem for rural schools by decentralising education to communities. The Schools Act prescribes that School Governing Bodies (SGBs) should ensure that learners are provided with quality education through effective and efficient governance.

The SGB comprises the principal, teachers, non‑teaching staff, parents, and learners of secondary schools. However, the majority of members on the SGB should be parents. To deal with the complex financial issues and tasks brought on by decentralised school governance and management, SGB members should develop a wide range of knowledge, skills, and capacity. In the case of rural schools, governance structures usually comprise of people who have limited knowledge and skills to effectively govern schools (Polischuk, 2002).

Public schools in rural areas are categorised by various factors that negatively impact on the provision of quality education. Rural areas are generally remote and relatively underdeveloped. As a result, many schools lack the necessary physical resources and basic infrastructure for sanitation (Mulford & Johns, 2004; Peters & Le Cornu, 2004), water, roads, transport, electricity, and information and communication technology. The deprived socio-economic status of parents in rural areas places learners at a disadvantage.

Due to financial constraints, provincial governments are unable to provide rural schools with the necessary financial support to contribute to learners being provided with quality education. Moreover, educational authorities cannot provide schools with much needed physical and human resources, which places a severe burden on parents who are required to supply their children with necessities such as stationery and cleaning materials. Parents in rural South Africa mostly do menial work, have a lower level of education, and usually do not attach much value to schooling. As such, these parents cannot afford additional items that teachers require, which impacts negatively on teaching and learning in these schools.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Republic of South Africa, 1996b), the South African Schools Act (Republic of South Africa, 1996a), and related regulations and policies on equity indicate that every South African learner should have access to learning and teaching, similar facilities, and equal educational opportunities. This is sadly not the case. Poverty and unemployment that result in the problems mentioned above, directly influence the roles of teachers and the quality of education available to learners in these circumstances.

In most instances, teachers in rural schools are subjected to multi-grade teaching where they are required to teach different subjects and different grades in one class. Undoubtedly, this has serious repercussions for teachers in terms of planning lessons for each day and each period, balancing their time to teach different grades, conducting assessment tasks for learners, and maintaining discipline. Teachers usually resort to teaching abridged curricula and rarely adapt the curriculum, use contextual examples, or link the curriculum to local needs (Aziz, 2011; Eppley, 2009; Taylor & Mulhall, 2001).

Teachers in rural schools experience numerous serious challenges. Most of the children don't attend school regularly as they are forced to work on farms, and they are not encouraged to attend school. Learners who do attend school often find the curriculum not relevant to their lives and find that their learning is not supported at home. The economic constraints of governments to provide free basic education to all its citizens and the low socio-economic status of parents are serious barriers preventing children from receiving a high standard of education and experiencing quality of life.

This is particularly true in South Africa and other developing countries around the world, where the majority of people live in poverty and do not have access to quality education. Although the government is increasingly concerned with issues of teacher development, the focus is often more on urban schools, resulting in rural schools being neglected.

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