Original Research

Schooling, the underclass and intergenerational mobility: a dual education system dilemma

Tracey Morton McKay
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 11, No 1 | a34 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v11i1.34 | © 2015 Tracey Morton McKay | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 February 2016 | Published: 30 July 2015

About the author(s)

Tracey Morton McKay, Department of Environmental Science, University of South Africa, Science Campus, Corner Christiaan de Wet Rd and Pioneer Ave, Florida, Johannesburg, South Africa

Full Text:



School education in South Africa has seen much progressive change in the last 20 years. Yet educational outcomes are poor and many argue that a dual education system exists. Those with financial and socio-cultural capital access resourced schools, while poor South Africans are relegated to schools still suffering from apartheid resource neglect. This empirical study of high schools in Alexandra township, a poor black African residential area, demonstrates both the extent of the resource backlog and the consequences thereof. Secondary schools in Alexandra have an inadequate number, and standard, of toilets, libraries, computer facilities and science laboratories. They also have relatively high learner to teacher ratios and poor matriculation success rates. Enrolment in such schools means learners achieve a poor quality matriculation certificate or none at all, thus, trapping these learners into significant disadvantage. Meagre financial resources preclude Alexandra parents from selecting better resourced schools. Thus, for these learners, neither their legal rights with respect to school choice nor their geographical proximity to resourced schools has ensured redress from the apartheid past. The result is that intergenerational class mobility is limited. Thus, the dual nature of South Africa’s education system is creating a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty where young people cannot improve their living standards despite enrolment in secondary schooling.


South Africa schools; school funding; underclass; poor matriculation performance; inequality


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Crossref Citations

1. A divided schooling system: the spatial nature of secondary education in Ladybrand, Free State, South Africa
Phindile Mnguni, Tracey Jill Morton Mckay
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doi: 10.1080/03736245.2022.2035249