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Quality schools key to reducing inequalities

- By Wits University

A new study conducted in South African adolescents living in Johannesburg/Soweto suggests that neighbourhood, school and household inequalities still exist 20 years after the end of the Apartheid.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC)/Wits Developmental Pathway for Health Research Unit (DPHRU) and Loughborough University’s Centre for Global Health and Human Development in the UK conducted the study, elaborating on the major differences in the living conditions between population groups (Black African, White, Coloured and Indian/Asian) in South Africa in the Apartheid era, despite reforms that have been implemented to reduce poverty and inequalities since then.

The study analysed household, school and neighbourhood socio-economic data from 2000 participants from the Birth to Twenty Plus cohort (Bt20 ). Household data were collected from birth and so it is possible to look at how household wealth has changed throughout childhood and adolescence in the cohort.

Researchers assessed household, neighbourhood and school socio-economic environments reported by adolescents to determine whether geographic, demographic and population group differences exist.

Findings show the three strongest predictors of staying poor throughout childhood and adolescence at the household level relative to other participants were starting with less wealth, having a mother with low levels of education, and being an African Black adolescent compared to White.

Black African and Coloured adolescents also reported living in more deprived neighbourhoods and studying in less favourable school environments compared to White participants. Among Black Africans, those living in Soweto compared to metropolitan Johannesburg reported more deprived economic and school environments.

“We wanted to get adolescents’ perceptions of their environments as they are key stakeholders in the community and as such, they contribute to creating a favourable environment that ensures adequate development for themselves and for future generations.

“This is the first study to be able to assess inequality throughout the whole childhood period in South Africa and to incorporate adolescent perceptions of their environments in adolescence,” says Dr Paula Griffiths from the MRC/Wits DPHRU and Loughborough University’s Centre for Global Health and Human Development.

Rebecca Pradeilles, also from the MRC/Wits DPHRU and Loughborough University’s Centre for Global Health and Human Development explains further:  “Despite policies targeted at reducing inequalities, this study shows that reducing household and neighbourhood poverty, inequality and violence remains a challenge and a priority in the area of Johannesburg and Soweto. Initiatives targeted at reducing the economic differences between the different population groups are warranted.

“Taken together the findings from this research suggest that targeting high quality education through equal quality schools to the poorest neighbourhoods has excellent potential to be a long term successful strategy for reducing inequality for this and future generations of South Africans. Government incorporating the views of these adolescents when implementing policy is essential,” says Pradeilles.

Read here about the Birth to Twenty Plus cohort study