Including hard data to back up arguments is an important skill for students to develop. Moreover, statistics are sometimes difficult to absorb meaningfully: as Josef Stalin famously said, “One death is a tragedy: a million, merely a statistic”. To help students memorise and reflect upon key statistics more effectively, encourage them to represent them visually.

Case study: Apartheid South Africa

The impact of apartheid on black South Africans is difficult to comprehend. So I provide students with some essential statistics about apartheid and then challenge them to convert them into an ‘infographic’ (for example, using an online tool like Piktochart, Canva or Infogr.am).

The statistics

  • Blacks were only given 13% of land – designated as “Homelands” – despite being 80% of the population.
  • According to the South African Council of Churches, between 1960 and 1985 an estimated 3.5 million black South Africans were forced to move to barren tribal reserves, called “homelands.”
  • There was very little arable farm land in the Homelands. For example, only 15% of the Ciskei was arable, 89% of Ciskei children suffered from malnutrition.
  • None of the Homelands had significant mineral resources.
  • A survey by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights found that 83% of all detainees held by South African government authorities had been physically abused.
  • The wages of Whites were 8X that of Blacks.
  • According to The Economist, on average 50,000 children died every year during apartheid from the effects of malnutrition, while South Africa exported over $1 billion worth of food annually.
  • The major cause of death for black children in South Africa was disease brought on by malnutrition: for white children the major cause of death was swimming pool accidents.
  • Only 3% of practicing doctors in South Africa were Bantu (black). Infant mortality among rural blacks was 282 per 1,000 births while among whites 12 per 1,000.
  • According to the South African Council of Churches, 3. 5 million Bantu were forcibly removed from “white” South Africa to the Homelands after 1960.
  • Families were frequently broken up with the men working in factories located in areas designated “white.” By law, 97% of black South African mine workers had to be migrant laborers, they were prohibited from bringing their families with them.
  • The government spent over seven times as much to educate a white child as it spent to educate a black child.
  • On average, there was one teacher in each white South African school for every 18 students. In black schools the ratio was one teacher for every 43 students.
  • If you were white in South Africa, you could expect to live 72.3 years. Bantu could expect to live 58.9 years. Coloreds lived an average of 56.1 years and Indians, 63.9 years.

Taking it further

The completed infographics can form the basis of an excellent classroom display. To make this more interactive, challenge students to match each infographic on display to the key statistic from the list which it represents (this is particularly effective if the infographics include no text, merely images).