Title page for ETD etd-03302005-115949

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Gamede, Thobekile
URN etd-03302005-115949
Document Title The biography of "access" as an expression of human rights in South African education policies
Degree PhD (Education Management and Policy Studies)
Department Education Management and Policy Studies
Advisor Name Title
Prof J Jansen Committee Chair
  • Soweto Uprising
  • physical access
  • epistemological access
  • access to education
  • Sharpeville Massacre
Date 2005-01-04
Availability unrestricted
This study

In an attempt to promote equal access to education, we in South Africa, have adopted an instrumentalist approach to the debate of the right to education. In other words, we have provided an enabling legal framework and we simply assume that access to education has been granted to every one. We continue to pretend that we understand what exactly the concept of “access to education” means. We also assume that we all have a common understanding of what the Constitution means by the right to education.

On 26 June 1955 the historic Freedom Charter of the African National Congress (ANC) was adopted. This charter declared “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” Over the next four decades, the demand for open and equal access to education became central platform in the anti-apartheid struggles that brought an ANC-led government to power in 1994. Yet, ten years later (2004) the problem of access continues to preoccupy education planners and activists against the backdrop of some of the most progressive policy positions including a Constitution that recognizes education as a basic right. The intellectual puzzle that motivates this study is to explain, therefore, why despite its prominence, it continues to be regarded as an intractable problem.

The research strategy adopted in pursuit of this puzzle is to trace the changing meanings of the concept of “access to education” under and after apartheid, and its expression in the practices of two case study schools (comparative case studies).

Data was collected from different sources to trace the concept of access to education in education from the apartheid era to the policies and practices that affirm access to education as a basic human right today. This study hopes to contribute significantly to the dialogue of “access” as a realisation of the basic right to education.

For the conceptual framework Morrow’s distinction between epistemological access and physical access was used. Formal access to education refers to enrolment or registration at an education institution, in this case, a school, whereas epistemological access refers to access to knowledge and information that these education institutions hold. I expanded the conceptual framework to include dimensions of epistemological access such as how the topic is taught, who selected the topic, the value and political basis.

I undertook documentary analysis and a series of interviews with individuals who were involved in the struggle either through intellectual contributions in the NEC and NEPI processes or in the National Education Co-ordinating Committee. I also conducted two case studies of schools located in vastly different social and political contexts. At these schools, I collected data through classroom and school observations, semi-structured interviews with principals, history teachers and learners.


The first finding of this study is that the ways in which students experience access to knowledge (epistemological access) is strongly dependent on the history and politics of the school context and the institutional culture, rather than the formal prescriptions laid down in the school curriculum

The second finding of this study is that even when students enjoy physical access to schools, they have highly uneven, even unequal, access to knowledge within those schools.

The third finding is that despite the awareness and understanding of what good education entails, without physical access, it is difficult for individuals to entertain discussions about epistemological access.

The fourth finding is that despite claims that the policy promotes increased access to education, it was not possible to find reports that refer to any significant degree of quality outcomes as a result of the implementation of the principle of “equality of access” to education. Increased access to education has not resulted in quality output.

This dissertation contributes to knowledge by its nuanced exploration of the complexities of access to education as a human right. Most importantly it pushes the boundaries of knowledge pertaining to both physical and epistemological access at the time when each of these are crucial points in the education development agenda.

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