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Did Black Literacy Rise After Soweto?

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
For more content, see Comparative Sociology.

How political theorists think about State "strength" and central policy making is hampered in two ways. Analytic work in the West highlights how actors in or outside Government attempt to shape policy action, rather than assessing its local effects. And policy effects at the grassroots often are assumed to be uniform, rather than variable across distinct ethnic or gender groups. Within caste-like societies, such as South Africa, local ethnic and gender affiliations have historically shaped access to and quality of local institutions, particularly township schools. This paper examines the cross-generational effects of Pretoria's post-Soweto attempt to expand educational opportunities, aimed at boosting enrollment rates for young blacks and raising their literacy (1976-1993). We find that the central State was highly successful in encouraging more young Africans to attend school, but literacy rates increased just slightly, presumably due to low quality and high levels of political contention within schools. Importantly, literacy rose more for members of certain black ethnic groups and this effect interacted with gender. While illiteracy remains a deep public problem in South Africa, the constraints and social resources for addressing the problem appear to vary across ethnic groups and between young women and men.

Affiliations: 1: Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Gutman Library 450, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.


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