Education rights, education policies and inequality in South Africa

Carol Anne Spreen, Salim Vally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article we explore education policy changes in South Africa through a rights-based framework. We situate our analysis in the context of deepening poverty and inequality arguing that progress (or the lack thereof) in schools cannot be divorced from poverty and its consequences. We show that education reform in South Africa has been situated within a policy frame that results in a tension between cost recovery and redressing historical backlogs. We argue that the introduction of user fees and the burden of other costs have rendered abstract the idea of education as a 'right'. The definition of rights is extended to include the quality of education and educational opportunities. We question the constitutional and legislative romanticism surrounding a rights-based discourse and encourage a re-conceptualisation of human rights in education. Finally, we examine the resurgence of education social movements in relation to democratisation, educational transformation and human rights in South Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-362
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Cost of education
  • Education rights
  • Education social movements
  • Post-apartheid education policy
  • Poverty and education policy
  • Social justice and education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science

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