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Gauteng's geography of education (2021)

Under the apartheid government, education was racially segregated and schools were differentially funded and governed on the basis of population group. This created significant and intentional spatial variation in the quality of education. Despite a unified Department of Education instituted in 1994, these inequalities persist, and are deeply embedded in the unequal geography of towns and cities in South Africa, including the GCR.

The admissions policy to schools in Gauteng is based on geographically determined feeder zones. These initially defaulted to a 5km radius around the home or work address of parents, but have been updated to provide each school in Gauteng with a unique feeder zone. These feeder zones are intended to be walkable, and enable the creation of a school-neighbourhood community. However, many learners travel beyond these zones to access education in other parts of the province. While there are both perceived and actual benefits to this travel in terms of access to enhanced educational opportunity, it is not without costs – financially, in terms of time spent commuting, safety and security while travelling, and even social and emotional challenges. While geographically determined feeder zones appear to provide an objective and equitable way to allocate children to schools, in the context of severe spatial inequality in South African cities, it is argued to perpetuate inequality. A Constitutional Court judgement in 2016 required the Gauteng Department of Education to revise their approach to the determination of feeder zones. While this has now largely been implemented, its implications are not yet well understood.

This project examined the geography of education in Gauteng to gain a better understanding of the complex variations in the quality of education, and better understand how policy might enhance the provision of universal access to quality education. The complexity of the problem is influenced by the inherent challenges of choosing a school, but also by a range of factors including urban form, access to transport, the governance of education in Gauteng, school capacity, affordability, perceived and actual differences in the quality of education between schools, competition among schools for learners, the interaction between school and community cultures, and languages of instruction in schools (and the perceived benefits to these).

With a broad objective of understanding the different dimensions of inequality within and between schools in the GCR, and the implications of this for residents, and the nature and form of the city itself, this project provided an opportunity to engage with a range of related questions, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Government support

GCRO staff were invited to be part of the provincial government’s Feeder Zone Task team, and participated actively in its meetings since late 2016. We have additionally provided input towards education policy and summits. We hope to strengthen this partnership with the Department of Education for future research.


Journal article

Parker, A., Hamann, C. & de Kadt, J. Accessing Quality Education in Gauteng: Intersecting Scales of Geography, Educational Policy and Inequality. Urban Forum (2021).

Map of the Month

DeKadt, J., Hamann, C. & Parker, A. (2018) The long and short of school commutes, GCRO Map of the Month, May 2018.


Christian Hamann, Alexandra Parker, Julia de Kadt (February 2018) 'Expanding school feeder zones: Universalism and spatial inequality'. African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference, Cape Town. 1 February 2018.


Dr Julia de Kadt and the research on Gauteng's geography of education is cited in 'Boats, donkeys and their own two feet: How kids around the world get to school' by Jacqueline Howard on, 7 August 2018.

Alexandra Parker discussed the June 2018 Map of the Month 'The long and short of school commutes' on Radio 702 with Azania Mosaka on 2 July 2018 and SAfm with Bongi Gwala on 3 July 2018.

Alexandra Parker, Julia de Kadt & Christian Hamann wrote an article for The Conversation Africa 'The long and short of South African school commutes: a case study' published on 1 July 2018 and republished by eNCA on 2 July.

Last updated: 26 July 2021.


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