Photography by:
  • GCRO

Gauteng's geography of education

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 current 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 subsequently 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 examines 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 provides the opportunity to engage with a range of related questions, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Some examples include:

  1. What shapes school choices, from both a structural and individual perspective?
  2. What does the idea of a neighbourhood or community school mean in the context of the GCR? What is the feasibility of pursuing a model of neighbourhood schools in the GCR, and what would be the benefits and drawbacks associated with this model?
  3. What are the experiences of learners and parents who attend schools outside their immediate residential area?
  4. What is the influence of school culture or language of tuition on accessibility and inclusivity?
  5. What is the potential impact of increased school choice on the form and function of a city-region, particularly in the intersection with housing and transport?
  6. What are the implications of increasing levels of private schooling (and homeschooling) in the GCR for the broader schooling system, and for the nature of the region more broadly?
  7. To what extent are the issues/ difficulties exacerbated by the complex structures of urban governance?

These are all potential research projects in their own right. However, in the short term, we are focusing on the questions around school choice. Initial work has been captured in a draft chapter of the Scale, belonging and exclusion in Gauteng project and will be submitted to Urban Forum as part of a special issue in the journal. A longer-term study may examine the impact of the new feeder zone policy as it is implemented over the next few years.

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.


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: 7 October 2020.


The GCRO sends out regular news to update subscribers on our research and events.