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Gauteng's geography of education

Under the apartheid government, education was racially segregated and schools were differentially funded and governed on the basis of population group. This created significant and intentional spatial variation in the quality of education. Despite a unified Department of Education instituted in 1994, these inequalities persist, and are deeply embedded in the unequal geography of towns and cities in South Africa, including the GCR.

The current admissions policy to schools in Gauteng is based on geographically determined feeder zones, defaulting to a 5km radius around the home or work address of parents. These feeder zones are intended to be walkable, and enable creation of a school-neighbourhood community. However, many learners decide to travel beyond these zones to access education in other parts of the province. While there are both perceived and actual benefits to this travel, it is not without costs – financially, in terms of time spent commuting, safety and security while travelling, and even social and emotional challenges. The geographic determination of a feeder zone was intended to be objective, but in the context of severe spatial inequality in South African cities, it is argued to perpetuate inequality. A Constitutional Court judgement in 2016 required the Gauteng Department of Education to revise their approach to the determination of feeder zones – a process which is now underway.

This project examines the geography of education in Gauteng to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the problem and better understand the policy directions that would make universal access to equitable education a closer reality than it is today. The complexity of the problem is influenced by the inherent complexity in choosing a school, but also by factors such urban form and transport accessibility, the governance of education in Gauteng, school capacity, affordability, perceived and actual differences in the quality of education between schools, competition among schools for learners, the interaction between school and community cultures, and languages of instruction in schools (and the perceived benefits to these).

With a broad objective of understanding the different dimensions of inequality within and between schools in the GCR, and the implications of this for both residents, and the nature and form of the city itself, this project provides the opportunity to engage with a range of related questions, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Some examples include:

1. What shapes school choices, from both a structural and individual perspective?
2. What does the idea of a neighbourhood or community school mean in the context of the GCR? What is the feasibility of pursuing a model of neighbourhood schools in the GCR, and what would be the benefits and drawbacks associated with this model?
3. What are the experiences of learners and parents who attend schools outside their immediate residential area?
4. What is the influence of a school’s culture or language of tuition on the accessibility of a school?
5. What is the potential impact of increased school choice on the form and function of a city-region, particularly in the intersection with housing and transport?
6. What are the implications of increasing levels of private schooling (and homeschooling) in the GCR for the broader schooling system, and for the nature of the region more broadly?
7. To what extent are the issues/ difficulties exacerbated by the complex structures of urban governance?

These are all potential research projects in their own right. However, in the short term, we will focus on the questions around school choice. A longer-term study may examine the impact of the new feeder zone policy as it is implemented over the next few years.

Share your school story with us

As part of this new research project, we would like to hear from you. What are the reasons why you have chosen your particular school? Has your child been able to attend the best school possible? What has been your experience of attending a school outside of your immediate neighbourhood or community? How do you cope with long commutes as a parent or learner? All stories are of interest to us whether current or from the past. Please send us your messages or voice notes via WhatsApp to this number 078 047 7272. All stories will remain anonymous but will help us to understand your personal experiences. These stories may be quoted in research related publications in the future.


Map of the Month

DeKadt, J., Hamann, C. & Parker, A. (2018) The long and short of school commutes, GCRO Map of the Month, May 2018.


Christian Hamann, Alexandra Parker, Julia de Kadt (February 2018) 'Expanding school feeder zones: Universalism and spatial inequality'. African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference, Cape Town. 1 February 2018.

Last updated: 1 June 2018.


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