Disability and education in South Africa (Jacqueline Moodley)

The Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg recently conducted a study on Poverty and Disability in South Africa (Graham, Moodley, Ismail, Munsaka, Ross and Schneider, 2014), which was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The overarching aim of the study was to understand how poverty and disability intersect to shape key capability outcomes for both people with disabilities and non-disabled people. To achieve this aim, the researchers undertook a secondary analysis of the National Income Dynamics Survey (SALDRU, 2008). One of the key outcomes explored in terms of capabilities was the analysis of the state of education between people with and without disabilities.

The main finding from the analysis was that non-disabled people, on average, had 2.7 more years of education than people with disabilities. In addition, significantly more people with disabilities had no schooling than non-disabled people, and non-disabled people were more likely to progress to secondary and post-secondary education than people with disabilities. It was clear that people with disabilities fair worse than non-disabled people in terms of educational attainment. But what can these differences be attributed to? The data revealed that the differences in educational attainment between people with and without disabilities were not solely due to disabilities. Given that people with disabilities were older (mean age of 47 years) than the non-disabled population (mean age of 34 years), and that the NIDS sample consisted of more African people than other race groups, one possible explanation for the differences in education between people with and without disabilities could be attributed to apartheid era policies on education. This was confirmed by a regression analysis which identified race as the most significant contributor to the differences in educational attainment.

In order to determine if this picture was changing over time, educational attainment was analysed over 10 year age cohorts. The data revealed that differences in educational attainment are leveling out for younger cohorts, as seen in the chart below. This is not to say that there are not still immense challenges in the education system, particularly with regard to quality and access to resources required for special needs education. What the data reveals is that we are beginning to see promising and positive changes in education for people with disabilities. This positive change in education is a vital step in unlocking further opportunities for employment and development of people with disabilities in South Africa.


The report is available at: http://www.uj.ac.za/EN/Faculties/humanities/Research/Research-Centres/csda/Documents/Poverty_Disability%20Report.pdf

Jacqueline Moodley is a Researcher at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg.


For further information contact Jacqueline Moodley at jmoodley@uj.ac.za