• Subject Name : Economics

Table of Contents


Education and health in South Africa.

Challenges in human capital development

Equal access, unequal opportunities.

Staff performance.


Unequal distribution of resources.

Leadership and management crisis.

Slow progress in restructuring the healthcare system..

Government policies.




Introduction to Education and Health: South Africa

For the last decade, one of the most dramatic changes in economic development theories is the shift from the emphasis on natural resources to human capital. Human capital is described as the skill sets, experience and knowledge that workers in an economy have (Dosunmu & Adeyemo, 2018). Such skills provide economic value since a skilled and knowledgeable workforce facilitates the enhancement of economic efficiency and productivity. Moreover, investment in the enhancement of human capital improves economic growth by improving the skills, knowledge and health of its people. According to Ogundari & Awokuse (2018), better education and healthcare facilities also yield savings in unemployment benefits and law enforcement and makes it an important part of public policy. This is one of the main reason nations contribute significant resources to the development of human capital through education and healthcare initiatives. This paper reflects on the education and health withing south Africa and challenges regarding the development of the same. In addition to this, the paper will also identify main government policies implemented for the growth of human capital in the country. Finally, the paper will conclude with a set of suggestions to address the challenges associated with such development from a development finance perspective.

Education and Health in South Africa

Even though South Africa has made a notable improvement in terms of developing its infrastructure and empowering its citizens it is still far from a sound economy, especially in the education sector. Nelson Mandela famously said; "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world", however, South Africa is failing its citizens when it comes to providing good quality education (Zajacova & Lawrence, 2018). The education system in South Africa is riddled with chronic underperformance and stark inequalities that have their roots in the legacy of apartheid, and that is not being effectively tackled by the government. According to a report by Amnesty International, 19% of South African schools have illegal pit latrines. 86% have no laboratories, 37 have not sanitation and 239 schools even lack electricity.

Amega (2018) mentioned that many communities and schools continue to serve economic decisions that were made during apartheid ere in which citizens were segregated based on their skin colour with "white" schools being properly resourced while the "black" ones were not. As a result, the modern educational environment of the nation is still influenced by factors like colour, wealth, birthplace while determining the learning experience of its population. While researchers acknowledge that the nation has made process since the end of apartheid, but the department of education is also repeatedly failing its targets in terms of facilities and infrastructure. Considering this, it is not surprising that more than three-quarters of children in the nation cannot read for meaning. Among 100 learners that begin school, 45-55 will make it to matric while only 14 will go to university (Sharma, 2016).

The healthcare situation in the country is relatively better with South Africa ranking 49th out of 89 countries in the 2019 global healthcare index. This is the highest rank among all African nations, and according to the figures provided by the government in 2018, the average life expectancy is 67.3 years for women and 61.1 years for men which is below the global averages of 71.1 years and 67 years respectively. Similarly, the infant mortality rate is 36.4 per 1000 births, which is above the global average of 29 per 1000 births (Omotso & Koch, 2018). Like the education system, the healthcare system in the nation is also segregated, but based on wealth. There is a two-tier healthcare arrangement in the country with a small yet high-quality private sector, and a large but subsidized public sector. With the best specialists and significant funding going to the private sector, there is a significant gap amid the private and public healthcare amenities in the country (Gamede, 2017). Therefore, while everyone can access the South African public healthcare, it mainly serves those who cannot afford to take private health insurance. South Africa spends around 8.8% of its GDP on healthcare and subsidizes it up to 40 per cent of the total cost, consequently, 82% of the population use public healthcare, while the rest of 18 per cent use private healthcare providers through around 200 private hospitals (Mamman, Kamoche, Zakaria & Agbebi, 2018).

Challenges in Human Capital Development

In terms of challenges in human capital development in respect of education, one of the main issues that the government has to deal with the below-mentioned issues.

Equal Access, Unequal Opportunities

Each of the South Africa provinces has reasonable autonomy concerning the way it implements national policies. This leads to differences in the application of same policies and although South African constitution includes the right to basic, secondary and adult education, equal access does not lead to equal opportunities (Ojewuyi & Alimi, 2019). According to UNESCO, students from poor communities in South Africa have equal rights to education but the efficacy and legitimacy of their schools are highly questionable. Numerous schools from low-income communities have failed to provide decent education which should be the area of focus for the government. This will also help to address the entrenched inequality in the south African society (Omotoso & Koch, 2018).

Staff Performance

Moreover, there are also issues related to staff performance in school. For instance, the South and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) reported that 60 per cent of math educators from 1st grade to 6th grade failed to pass grade-level tests for Math (Higgs, 2016). Also, South Africa has one of the uppermost rates of teacher absenteeism, 10 per cent in 2017/18 which significantly contributes to the poor performance of school children. There is also a challenge of gender disparities in the teaching profession with only 20% female principles (Heleta, 2016).


Only 59 per cent of South African schools meet the national infrastructure standards due to poor sanitation and a lack of electricity. National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS), in 2018 reported that 7,816 schools in the country are without piped water and 70 per cent do not have libraries. Such problems contribute to low matriculation and literacy rates in the country (Amega, 2018). Furthermore, the South African government also has to deal with the following challenges related to healthcare in the country:

Unequal Distribution of Resources

According to the Department of Health’s Ten Point Plan, the cost of insured people is 20 per cent in the private sector, as compared to 80 per cent uninsured South Africans in the public sector. Moreover, the 16 per cent population that belongs to the medical aid schemes, consumers more than 50 per cent of the total expenditure on healthcare, while the rest of the 84 per cent population depends on the poorly resourced public sector (Maddock & Maroun, 2018). The challenge is further exacerbated by the fact that around 80 per cent of South African medical specialists serve the same 16 per cent population. This also makes the problem of inequality even worse (Gamede, 2017).

Leadership and Management Crisis

Maddock & Maroun (2018) mentioned that public sector healthcare delivery in South Africa is a complete failure mainly due to inadequate management and poor leadership, which is reflected in the lack of a clear philosophy, lack of visions and improper goal setting. Furthermore, because of affiliation and nepotism rather than merit and skills, affirmative action policy in the county is also reported to have resulted in poor quality service delivery. The situation is further worsened by a lack of performance monitoring and management, tolerance of misconduct and ignorance of the law (Jooste, Frantz & Waggie, 2018).

Slow Progress in Restructuring the Healthcare System

There is also quite little which is done to re-allocate funds to the public healthcare sector, form the private one, which has led to delay in the enactment of national policies. Consequently, this makes the patient care process more complex, and in respect of the increasing demand for healthcare, the resources are shrinking even further (Jooste, Frantz & Waggie, 2018).

Government Policies

To address the aforementioned issues, the South African government is constantly revising outdated policies and is implementing new ones. For instance, the South African Schools Act (SASA) was implemented to ensure that south African population has access to quality education by making schooling compulsory for children between the age of 7 and 15 and that education is delivered without discrimination. The said act was amended by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005 to provide for responsibilities and functions of school principals and to declare school in poor community as no-fee schools (Rispel, 2016). Moreover, the Education White paper 6 on Inclusive education suggests inclusiveness in education at all level and to reduce barriers to education with the help of targeted support mechanisms and structures. The government also has an integrated national literacy and numeracy strategy to improve learner's performance in languages through reading campaigns and through partnerships with UNISA, AVBOB Foundation and Spell it SA (Omotoso & Koch, 2018).

Similarly, in the healthcare sector, the government is implementing policies like National Health Insurance (NHI) to ensure that irrespective of their economic and social status, South African population has access to good quality health facilities. The promulgation of National Health Amendment Act 2013 supported OHSC, the office of Health standards compliance as an independent regulator to promote and protect health and safety (Scott, Schaay, Schnieder & Sanders, 2017). Moreover, the national core standards were also reviewed and adapted to form a regulatory framework for both public and private healthcare facilities and also to deal with areas like user rights, clinical support services, general provisions such as waiting times and adverse events, clinical governance and human resources. Also, the current healthcare plan of the government is to provide universal health coverage by implementing NHI (Hangulu & Akintola, 2017).

Such policies are designed to address the challenges inhibiting the human resource development of the country which in turn limits its economic progress. For instance, the Secondary school improvement programme is implemented to provide better education with the help of inclusion and training of teachers (Hangulu & Akintola, 2017). Through this policy, learners in grade 12 received extra classes and it also helped 435 priority schools to attain provincial benchmarks. According to Maddock & Maroun, (2018), it has also led to a 15 per cent increase in average performance and contributed to narrow the gap in the performance of no-fee- and fee-paying schools. Moreover, the schools achieving less than 60 per cent passing rate dropped from 188 in 2009, to 19 in 2013.

Suggestions on Education and Health: South Africa

Based on the abovementioned challenges related to the development of human capital in South Africa, in addition to government policies, the paper suggests that the country can also take a development finance approach. Development finance refers to the efforts of the local community to catalyze, support and encourage expansion through private and public investment in redevelopment, physical development of industry and business (Oketch, 2016). Under this approach, the government and established industries support the education and healthcare by improving infrastructure which includes, roads, water facilities, schools, utilities etc. Moreover, redevelopment and development include public resource commitment towards rural and urban rejuvenation, brownfield development and other transformative projects. Small business and micro-enterprises can also be used to deliver the facilities, while entrepreneurs can support the development with effective management and leadership (Russino, 2018).

Conclusion on Education and Health: South Africa

In conclusion, investment in the enhancement of human capital contributes significant resources toward the development of human capital in the form of education and healthcare initiatives. Even though South Africa has made notable advancement in terms of developing its infrastructure and empowering its citizens it is still far from a sound economy especially in the education sector and healthcare sector. The main challenges that South Africa has to deal with in terms of providing better healthcare and education include equal access and unequal opportunities, infrastructure, staff performance, unequal distribution of resources, leadership and management and the slow progress of restructuring initiatives. The government has implemented numerous policies to address these issues such as Secondary school improvement programme and National health insurance, but it is recommended that it should also take a development finance perspective to improve the development of South Africa's human capital.

References for Education and Health: South Africa

Amega, K. (2018). Remittances, education and health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cogent Economics & Finance6(1), 1516488.

Dosunmu, A. G., & Adeyemo, K. S. (2018). Lifelong learning, human capital development and the career advancement of women in the telecommunications industry in South Africa. Industry and Higher Education32(3), 192-199.

Gamede, N. W. (2017). Human capital development in South Africa: perspectives on education in the post-apartheid era. Master of Commerce. The University of South Africa. Retrieved from http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/23383/dissertation_gamede_nw.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Hangulu, L., & Akintola, O. (2017). Perspectives of policy-makers and stakeholders about health care waste management in community-based care in South Africa: a qualitative study. BMC Health Services Research17(1), 1-13.

Heleta, S. (2016). Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa. Transformation in Higher Education1(1), 1-8.

Higgs, P. (2016). The African renaissance and the transformation of the higher education curriculum in South Africa. Africa Education Review13(1), 87-101.

Jooste, K., Frantz, J., & Waggie, F. (2018). Challenges of academic healthcare leaders in a higher education context in South Africa. Educational Management Administration & Leadership46(4), 692-708.

Maddock, L., & Maroun, W. (2018). Exploring the present state of South African education: Challenges and recommendations. South African Journal of Higher Education32(2), 192-214.

Mamman, A., Kamoche, K., Zakaria, H. B., & Agbebi, M. (2018). Developing human capital in Africa: Carving a role for human resource professionals and practitioners. Human Resource Development International21(5), 444-462.

Ogundari, K., & Awokuse, T. (2018). Human capital contribution to economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: does health status matter more than education?. Economic Analysis and Policy58, 131-140.

Ojewuyi, A. T., & Alimi, A. S. (2019). Age structure, human capital development and economic growth: Evidence from Nigeria and South Africa. EuroEconomica38(2).

Oketch, M. (2016). Financing higher education in sub-Saharan Africa: some reflections and implications for sustainable development. Higher Education72(4), 525-539.

Omotoso, K. O., & Koch, S. F. (2018). Assessing changes in social determinants of health inequalities in South Africa: a decomposition analysis. International Journal for Equity in Health17(1), 181.

Rispel, L. (2016). Analysing the progress and fault lines of health sector transformation in South Africa. South African Health Review2016(1), 17-23.

Russino, A. (2018). Financial development and intergenerational education mobility. Review of Development Finance8(1), 25-37.

Scott, V., Schaay, N., Schneider, H., & Sanders, D. (2017). Addressing the social determinants of health in South Africa: the journey continues. South African Health Review2017(1), 77-87.

Sharma, M. (2016). Theoretical foundations of health education and health promotion. US: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Zajacova, A., & Lawrence, E. M. (2018). The relationship between education and health: reducing disparities through a contextual approach. Annual Review of Public Health39, 273-289.

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