Scholar Podcasts: Basic Ed in southern Africa

At the Canon Collins Trust we believe that access to quality basic education is a fundamental human right and through our scholarship programmes we seek to support the development of high level expertise in the fields of teaching, educational research and national curriculum development across southern Africa.

Gaining access to quality education is a severe challenge for many communities in the region. In South Africa, more than two decades since the end of apartheid, educational opportunities remain severely unequal, with children attending “formerly white schools” in affluent suburbs achieving significantly better results and far more likely to go on to tertiary education than the rest of the population. Meanwhile, students in rural and disadvantaged areas are often taught by under-qualified and demotivated teachers, in dangerously dilapidated schools lacking electricity and sanitation facilitates. It’s hardly surprising that the country’s education system is in crisis, with 27% of learners who attend school for six years still unable to read, and only 14% of black South African learners progressing to tertiary education, compared to 57% of their white peers.

The situation is equally difficult in other countries in the region, with poor levels of educational attainment compounded by additional socio-economic factors. Some common challenges include a lack of scholar transport for students in rural areas, extremely high drop-out rates, and additional gender-based challenges for female students. In Malawi, just one in eight entrants to standard 1 will complete the seven years envisaged for a full course of primary education, with girls particularly affected by issues such as early marriage and pregnancy.  In Swaziland, where around 24% of children aged 0-17 years are orphans and 45% are either orphaned or vulnerable (OVC), absenteeism is a serious issue with 30% of secondary school children report missing a month or more of schooling each year.

In our latest series of scholar podcasts, we’ve been talking to Canon Collins scholars and alumni who are working towards strengthening basic education in southern Africa. From inclusive education in Swaziland, to gender mainstreaming in rural Namibian schools, scholars are engaging in pioneering research and advocacy aimed at building fairer and more effective education systems in the region.


Sibili Nsibande’s (PhD Education, University of the Witwatersrand) research is focused on inclusive education policies in Swaziland. She is passionate about issues pertaining to children, especially those who are stigmatised, marginalised and excluded by society.

Sibili highlights the unique set of challenges faced by orphans and vulnerable children (OVC’s) in the Swazi education system and outlines how her research aims to raise awareness, mobilise vital resources and influence inclusive education policies in Swaziland.

“Around 218,000 children in Swaziland are orphaned or vulnerable (OVC) as a result of losing one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Additionally high levels of unemployment mean that parents often have no choice but to leave their children alone and move away to seek employment.”

“OVC experience serious psycho-social issues but their problems are not visible like those of physically disabled children. They cannot afford to be children, and often suffer from anger, depression and low self-esteem as a result of stigmatisation. This impacts so much on their experience in the classroom… My research will raise awareness and help support policies to implement counselling, nutrition and alleviate the economic difficulties facing these young people.”


Marian Phillipus (MA Education Policy, Stellenbosch University) is pursuing independent research on comparative education with a specific focus on gender mainstreaming policies in rural Namibian schools. Upon completing her studies, Marian would like to work for the Namibian Ministry of Education, shaping policy at a national level.

We spoke to Marian about some of the challenges facing teachers and learners in Namibian schools, including stereotyping and discrimination based on children’s gender.

“Gender mainstreaming is an approach to advance gender equality. If you look at Namibia’s history you find that women and girls have been disadvantaged in the past. Whilst we have seen improvements in female enrolment in schools we need more programs and training to achieve full equality.”

“In our methods of teaching there exists a subconscious process whereby teachers are more willing to motivate boys because boys are more talkative and less shy. Encouragement for girls academically is still lacking. I plan to investigate Namibian school principals’ lived experiences to see if there is a gap between [gender mainstreaming] policy and practice.”


Dumisani Hompashe (PhD Commerce, Stellenbosch University) is a lecturer in Economics at the University of Fort Hare. Having previously worked as a school teacher in the Eastern Cape, he is passionate about education and is focusing his PhD research on issues of leadership in schools.

Dumisani lays out the plethora of issues facing learners and teachers in Eastern Cape schools, including crumbling infrastructure, student and teacher absenteeism, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation systems.

“The Eastern Cape is a rural province where many people are unemployed, with high poverty rates. Many younger people have relocated to the cities leaving an elderly population behind. In terms of education, we have problems of efficiency and time management in addition to a lack of accountability….There are [also] problems of leadership within schools and problems of internal accountability.”