B. Blake, R. Mestry

University of Johannesburg (SOUTH AFRICA)
The crisis in the quality of South African education has resulted in a flight trend across all types of primary and secondary education. It is no secret that a huge divide exists between functional schools and dysfunctional ones. South African schools are split into two worlds, one on par with the best in the world, producing quality foundation learning and providing access to top tertiary education, the other making up the vast majority is perpetually constrained by incompetent/dishonest administrators, ineffectual teaching and industrial action by teacher trade unions.

Amidst this backdrop, there is a growing perception among South Africans that public schooling will not be able to enhance the educational outcomes and future of their children. Accordingly, South African parents are increasingly making decisions regarding where to send their children to school. Historically (pre-1994), the majority of South African parents were not actively involved in making choices regarding the schools their children would attend. Reason being, this was determined for them by legislation and children were enrolled in schools by residence, language and/or by colour. Democracy opened the door to many possibilities and post-1994 policy changes resulted in parents starting to formulate their own ideas and preferences of what they thought the ideal school should be and offer their children.

As a new body of knowledge that needs to be explored, a quantitative study was used to establish the perceptions of South African parents regarding the factors, anxieties, aspirations and strategies in making the best possible school-choice decision for their children’s future. Items to measure variables that emerged as important determinants or factors in decision-making with regards to exercising school choice, was constructed and compiled into a questionnaire.
The results of the research point to a number of factors complicating the school choice decision as often the decisions parents make in South Africa are unique and stem from consequences of apartheid policies and as such need to be understood in this specific context. Among others, the top five factors parents indicated as being important in school choice decision-making were, the academic curriculum and quality of discipline offered by the school, the training and experience of staff at the school as well as the quality of professional leadership, and the academic facilities offered by the school. School fees and oversubscription of functional schools were identified as the major obstacles parents experienced in decision-making. As South African parents increasingly value the importance of education for the life opportunities of their children so the weight and cost of school choice intensifies. This is the dilemma many parents face when choosing a school for their children.