Botlhabelo is the high school serving the youth of Oukasie township. It is the school I taught at in 2003, and my first stop on my tour of South African schools. It has about 1300 students in grades 8-12, roughly the same size as Ithaca High School, although only about 30 teachers, which is about a third of the IHS faculty. Class sizes range from 40 to 50. There is a chronic shortage of text books and other materials. I will never forget my first day teaching there. All I wanted was for my students to do some problems from the text book so I could gauge their level. But none of them had books, many did not even have pencils, and when I went to write on the chalk board there was no chalk.
You might think that a school like this would be targeted for extra funding, but in fact schools in South Africa receive a flat rate from the provincial government, the rest is made up through local fees. Of course this has the effect of maintaining the economic status quo. White schools generally have access to a richer tax base. In Oukasie, where the majority of parents are unemployed, the school receives virtually no additional funding. If this seems crazy, keep in mind that it's pretty much the same system in the U.S., with much the same effect.
Not surprisingly, the drop-out rate is about 70% by grade 12. There is constant finger pointing between the district, the teachers, the community and the students, but the truth is the situation is simply unworkable. That being said, there is a surprising and inspiring degree of commitment on all sides. I visited during their week-long Easter break, and teachers were showing up on their own time, to work with students who came in for extra lessons.