Category Archives: Uncategorized

Start where you are, with what you have…

goal

This is perhaps the most important document to come out of the Department of Basic Education in a long time; Action Plan to 2019: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2030. Although we are regularly faced with much depressing information on the state of education in South Africa, reports like this give me hope that there are some excellent people working in the department, thinking strategically and working within the existing constraints. It is not delusional, the goals are (mostly) realistic, and it charts a clear path to get to where we want to go from where we are.

Education people far and wide – read this, quote it, refer to it and hold the Department to these plans!

“SADTU selling principals’ posts in exchange for cows, sheep and goats” (CityPress article)

I don’t usually repost articles on education but if these allegations are true – and Prof John Volmink’s report should identify if they are – then we really need decisive action from Motshekga or Zuma or someone who actually has power. This is a deal-breaker. You cannot have SADTU running provinces and calling the shots while children suffer as a result.

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“Pretoria – Rogue members of teachers’ union Sadtu have “captured” a key provincial education department, which officials in Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s office say is now on the “verge of collapse”.

Investigators appointed by Motshekga to probe the jobs-for-cash racket run by union officials, which City Press exposed last year, have found that Sadtu members have “infiltrated that department and run a complex patronage system” in KwaZulu-Natal.

An investigation commissioned by Motshekga’s office and headed by Professor John Volmink has found that not only is education in KwaZulu-Natal being run by rogue union members, but Sadtu members have been found to have violated the system in the provincial education departments of Gauteng, North West, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

On Monday, Motshekga met KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and senior officials in her department at OR Tambo International Airport to discuss the crisis.

A senior department official said the provincial department had “collapsed; there is no leadership”.

What investigators found

Other allegations Volmink’s team of 10 investigators uncovered around the country include:

. Evidence that a number of senior Sadtu members in the Eastern Cape have received cows, sheep and goats as payment for several principals’ positions throughout the province;

. That an applicant for a principal post at a Gauteng school approached his district director and showed him an SMS which proved Sadtu officials tried to extort R25 000 out of him in return for the job; and

. A Sadtu official in Limpopo’s Mopani district committed suicide after failing to secure two principal posts for teachers who had paid him R25 000 each. He killed himself after they demanded their money back.

In KwaZulu-Natal they found:

. Sadtu officials demanding that union members be appointed to 37 chief education specialist posts. Union officials insisted the department reduce the educational requirements for the posts from degrees to teaching diplomas;

. Sadtu officials have earmarked candidates to fill 15 senior managerial positions in the Ugu district in Port Shepstone;

. A Sadtu leader who is a junior teacher in the Ethekwini North region became the principal of a large school with two deputy principals in the Ilembe district after falsifying a letter of appointment;

. A senior Sadtu official in Ethekwini North illegally swapped positions with a principal of a large school in Ilembe. The “gentlemen’s deal” was struck because principals of large schools earn much more than those who run smaller schools; and

. Evidence that a school governing body member of a Pinetown school acted with Sadtu members to extort R30 000 from a teacher who had applied for the job of principal.

KZN on the verge of collapse

On Thursday, officials from the basic education department’s legal department were sent to Durban to meet senior provincial officials. Senior department sources with knowledge of the meeting said the lawyers “read the riot act to their provincial counterparts asking them to rein in Sadtu”.

Another official said: “They were very harsh on them, asking why they had not acted on Sadtu’s anarchy over the past two weeks.”

Over the past two weeks, pupils at 440 schools in the Ilembe region on the north coast and 485 schools in Ugu region on the south coast have received little teaching after regional union leaders ordered teachers to protest at district offices.

The teachers, who play loud music and disrupt work at the offices, aim to get rid of the directors.

The protest is set to intensify this week in the Ilembe region, where an unsigned notice from the office of the secretary of Sadtu’s Ethekwini North region – which was sent to members on Friday – states that all members should conduct sit-ins at district offices on Monday and shut down schools completely on Tuesday.

Three sources in the department told City Press that Ilembe district director Thembinkosi Vilakazi was visited by three Sadtu leaders from the Ethekwini North region in August last year. They demanded that she appoint them as chief education specialists in her three circuit offices in Stanger, Ndwedwe and KwaMaphumulo.

“They asked to talk to her and told her she was a comrade and should co-operate with them. They said they were prepared to support her and defend her from her enemies, but only if she gave them the positions. She told them things didn’t work like that and she couldn’t fix positions. She told them the fixing of positions was illegal and was corruption.”

He said the three told Vilakazi that if she did not agree to the deal, they would make her stay at the district miserable.

Vilakazi refused to comment.

Another senior KwaZulu-Natal official said that, while Sadtu had claimed Ugu district director Mfundo Sibiya was unfit to lead, what was at issue were the 15 senior positions advertised in the district.

“The department has endorsed interviewing panels given by Sadtu. Where have you ever seen that? Sadtu asked him to change certain people in the interviewing panels, but he refused,” said the official.

“One of the people they want, a Sadtu leader, is not even shortlisted.” Sibiya refused to comment.

Sadtu denies claims

Sadtu’s provincial secretary, Dolly Caluza, said the protests at Ilembe and Ugu had nothing to do with positions.

“There are issues our leaders are raising with the department and some of them date back to 2011. We are protesting about norms and standards and the allocation of teachers. Teachers are overworked and there is animosity because teachers are overworked,” she said.

Caluza accused Vilakazi of failing to attend meetings to resolve labour issues. She denied the protests were about positions.

Sadtu’s national secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said anyone with evidence of corruption should approach Volmink’s team with evidence.

“One district director in KwaZulu-Natal made allegations – we asked him to submit evidence and he still hasn’t. If they don’t, it will appear that they want to run away from their responsibilities, and use Sadtu’s name to do that. People should be exposed if they are corrupt,” said Maluleke.

Directors fight back

Eight of KwaZulu-Natal’s 12 district directors met in Pietermaritzburg last week and agreed to approach Nkonyeni and Premier Senzo Mchunu to protect them from being intimidated by Sadtu members and the union’s grip on the department.

Sources close to the meeting told City Press that if Nkonyeni and Mchunu did not respond, the directors would appeal to Motshekga and President Jacob Zuma.

One director, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Sadtu is running the department. We have resolved to take the fight to Sadtu. We want support from the premier and the MEC. We need support from the department of education; they must use their power to support us.

“Sadtu doesn’t give a f*** about our children’s education. Education is under siege; it is in the hands of syndicates. The ANC has to pronounce on this; we have reached the crossroads.”

Trouble brews over big jobs

Motshekga’s team’s visit comes as trouble brews over 37 chief education specialist posts.

Three senior officials close to the matter told City Press several provincial Sadtu leaders had publicly stated in meetings they had already allocated the positions to some of their members.

A senior official, who did not want to be named, said: “Sadtu wants the positions, saying they met with head of department Nkosinathi Sishi and persuaded him to advertise the positions.

“They said they would decide who was appointed. They have a list across the province.”

Three senior officials told City Press that when the positions were advertised in August last year, the prerequisite for candidates was a university degree.

But because most of Sadtu’s favoured candidates did not have degrees, the advertisement was withdrawn and the requirements were amended to a diploma.

The posts were re-advertised in March. Caluza denied the union had objected to district directors chairing interviewing panels of the 37 chief education specialist positions.

“We have not objected to directors chairing interviewing panels. We don’t decide who chairs panels, we only observe. Our role is to observe.”

KwaZulu-Natal education department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said the department was concerned about the disruption of classes at Ilembe and Ugu.

“We are engaging the leadership of Sadtu. We have already held three meetings with them. The engagements are so that the right of the child to learn can be protected. We have issued a circular that empowers principals to deal with teachers who are not at school.”

He said the province was confident that things would improve this week.”

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From here.

Open Stellenbosch: “Tackling language and exclusion at Stellenbosch University”

(The article below was written by the Open Stellenbosch collective and published in the City Press this Sunday the 26th of April 2015, and is also available on Daily Maverick). I’ve written about this topic myself and feel quite strongly that not enough is being done to diversify the staff and student bodies at Stellenbosch and particularly in changing the culture at the University, hence posting the article here.

“Tackling language and exclusion at Stellenbosch University”

– Open Stellenbosch

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“Many in South Africa are aware of the RhodesMustFall movement at UCT, and the problems of institutional racism it has highlighted. These problems are deeply entrenched at Stellenbosch University, where Open Stellenbosch was created to challenge the hegemony of white Afrikaans culture and the exclusion of black students and staff. Open Stellenbosch is a movement of predominantly black students and staff at the University who refuse to accept the current pace of transformation.

In 2013, only 3.5% of all professors at the University were black, while 86% were white. In fact, there are more professors named ‘Johan’ than there are black professors at our institution. Is this really what transformation looks like 20 years after Apartheid?

The fact that we as black students on campus have to take matters into our own hands to change the oppressive institutional culture at Stellenbosch is an indictment of the University management. We do not believe that those in the SRC, the Senate or the Council understand the weight of normalised oppression that we experience at this overtly white University.

Although our institution claims that “continuous transformation is part of the core being of the University”, this could not be further from our everyday reality at Stellenbosch. We are tired of empty promises and goals that are perpetually postponed. We have been having these conversations for over a decade now, and it is clear that the management at Stellenbosch has been operating in bad faith. Many promises, little action. There was the “Strategic Framework” of 1999, the “Vision 2012” document of 2000, the “Transformation Strategy” of 2008, the “Overarching Strategic Plan” of 2009, the “Quality Development Plan”, the “Employment Equity Plan”, the “Diversity Framework”, and so it goes on. These have all failed because of a wholesale lack of political will to implement them – both then and now.

Although there are many things that need to change at Stellenbosch University, as a matter of urgency we are calling for the following:

  1. No student should be forced to learn or communicate in Afrikaans and all classes must be available in English.
  2. The institutional culture at Stellenbosch University needs to change radically and rapidly to reflect diverse cultures and not only White Afrikaans culture.
  3. The University publically needs to acknowledge and actively remember the central role that Stellenbosch and its faculty played in the conceptualisation, implementation and maintenance of Apartheid.

Every day students and staff who do not understand Afrikaans are excluded from learning and participating at Stellenbosch University. As black students we are frequently asked, “Why do you come here if you can’t speak Afrikaans?” This question highlights the pervasive and problematic sense of ownership that some have over this University. Stellenbosch – like all universities – is a public institution. This is not an Afrikaans university. It is a South African university which offers instruction in Afrikaans and (to a lesser extent) English.

We have personally experienced countless instances of this institutional racism, including being forced to ask our Afrikaans-speaking peers to interpret what “Huiskomitee” members are saying in residence meetings. When we are allocated rooms, we are intentionally paired with other black students. Initiation at our residences involves explicit racism, homophobia and intimidation. It’s telling that we actively discourage our black school-leaving friends from considering Stellenbosch as a place to study. This is in an attempt to spare them the pain and humiliation of being silently subjugated by a passively hostile culture of white Afrikanerdom.

These exclusionary practices are not limited to students only. Some academics are forced to sit through meetings conducted in Afrikaans where they do not understand anything and yet are required to be there. These norms help explain why black faculty find Stellenbosch to be a hostile environment that privileges white Afrikaans culture. This privileging is most obviously reflected in the racial composition of teaching staff at the University (see graphic).

Is this what transformation looks like (3) (April 2015)

The University and its management will no doubt issue new statements, new speeches, new plans. This week we will read the latest reincarnation of a “Transformation Plan” with the Rector promising that this time it will be different. We are not interested in superficial gestures of goodwill. We want to see an end to Afrikaans-only classes. We want our University to represent our cultures as well. We want to be taught by more black faculty. After years of empty promises and hollow commitments, we no longer trust what you say. Speak to us with your actions because your words will fall on deaf ears, as ours have for over a decade.”

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Open Stellenbosch can be found on Twitter @OpenStellies and on Facebook at “Open Stellenbosch

An Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education (8-12 June)

numbers

An Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education

Stellenbosch University  |  8 – 12 June 2015

Overview

The aim of the “Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education” course is to provide educational researchers with basic quantitative skills needed to interact with large-scale datasets in education. Although South Africa participates in a number of cross-national studies of educational achievement, few South African researchers possess the requisite quantitative skills needed to use these datasets (or others) in meaningful ways. This is problematic given that it is now widely acknowledged, both locally and internationally, that there is a serious need for education research that combines both qualitative and quantitative insights. It is for this reason that the course is primarily aimed at faculty and graduate students in education departments at South African universities. Other education researchers (from NGOs, think-tanks, policy forums) are also welcome to apply[1].

The course is intended to provide participants with a conceptual understanding of basic statistical procedures for quantitatively exploring and understanding data using a range of real-world data sets. The course introduces participants to measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode), non-central tendency (percentiles, quartiles, deciles etc.), and distribution (variance, standard deviation, inter-quartile range). Participants will learn how to calculate these statistics in STATA and also how to create graphs and tables that describe education data. The aim is always to equip participants with the skills needed to create their own graphs, tables and statistics in STATA and to interpret them accurately for their own purposes. All lectures and practicals will use South African education data, including SACMEQ, PIRLS, TIMSS, ANA and matric, as well as some administrative data (EMIS).

The course will be from 9am to 4:30pm each day from 8-12 June 2015 and will be held at Stellenbosch University. Each day there will be two interactive lectures and one extended practical session in STATA. No prior knowledge of STATA is necessary and participants need not have their own STATA license. The course will be held at a computer lab at Stellenbosch University and all computers will have STATA installed on them. The lecturers for the course will be Nic Spaull and Servaas van der Berg assisted by other ReSEP researchers.

Aims

The aim of the course is to take participants that have a basic understanding about statistics (means, frequencies, percentages etc.) and to help them to answer the following questions:

  • What is a standard deviation and how does one use and interpret it?
  • What is a standard error and how does it relate to a confidence interval?
  • What is a median? a mode? a percentile?
  • How does one decide how large a sample needs to be?
  • What is the difference between correlation and causation?
  • When can we say that one thing causes something else?
  • How do you create and interpret graphs in STATA? Including histograms, line charts, stacked bar charts, scatterplots, boxplots and kernel densities?

By the end of the course participants should be familiar enough with STATA and the basic concepts of descriptive statistics that they can generate and interpret graphs and tables in STATA by themselves. They should also have a basic understanding of the major educational datasets in South Africa (PIRLS, TIMSS, SACMEQ) and be able to answer their own questions using these datasets.

Costs

All costs for the course (including the course-fee, course-materials, transport to Stellenbosch and accommodation in Stellenbosch) will be covered by the PSPPD programme.

Applications

To apply to attend the course, please send an email to carinebrunsdon@sun.ac.za with your CV and a brief motivation as to why you think the course will be beneficial to you and your research (maximum 1-page). Please make the subject line of your email “PSPPD Data Analysis course” and indicate if you will be requiring transport to, and accommodation in, Stellenbosch and which city you will be coming from. There are limited spaces available (approximately 30) and preference will be given to senior faculty and PhD students, although masters students are also encouraged to apply.

Accessibility

If there are any applicants with special learning needs please indicate this on your application and we will do our best to accommodate your needs. We encourage you to liaise with us and the Office for Students with Special Learning Needs (OSSN) at Stellenbosch University.

Deadline for applications: 30th April 2015.

[1] We will be running a separate, but similar, course for education policy makers later in the year. Any interested individuals should please contact us at carinebrunsdon@sun.ac.za.

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The PDF version of this call for applications can be downloaded here.

Developing an “access-to-learning” statistic: Combining access & quality in Sub-Saharan Africa

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I’m currently in Washington D.C. for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference of 2015. Although it was -17′ C when I landed the weather has actually been lovely and DC seems like a lovely city to live in.

On Monday I presented two papers that I co-authored with Stephen Taylor on creating a composite measure of access and quality for 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation was very well received by the other delegates and a number of them have since commented on the importance of this research given where we are at cusp of the next set of post-MDG goal-setting, the “Sustainable Development Goals.” Personally I believe this is the most important research I’ve done to date, and it’s also the research of which I am most proud.

For those who would like to read the two papers I have included links below, and the PowerPoint slides can be found here. Both Stephen and I are trying to disseminate this research so if you know of anyone who might be interested in it please do forward it along to them. As always, comments and questions welcome.

Spaull, N., & Taylor, S., (2015). Access to what? Creating a composite measure of educational quantity and educational quality for 11 African countries. Comparative Education Review. Vol. 58, No. 1. (WP here).

ABSTRACT

The aim of the current study is to create a composite statistic of educational quantity and educational quality by combining household data (Demographic and Health Survey) on grade completion and survey data (Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality) on cognitive outcomes for 11 African countries: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Doing so overcomes the limitations of earlier studies that fo- cused solely on either quantity or quality. We term the new statistic “access to literacy” and “access to numeracy” and report it by gender and wealth. This new measure combines both quantity and quality and consequently places educational outcomes at the center of the discourse.

Taylor, S., & Spaull, N., (2015) Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000. International Journal of Educational Development . Vol. 41 (March) pp47-59 (WP here).

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the extent to which increased access to primary schooling in ten Southern and East African countries between 2000 and 2007 was also accompanied by increased access to actual learning. We develop a measure of access to learning that combines data on education access and learning achievement to measure the proportions of children in the population (including those enrolled and not enrolled) that reach particular thresholds of literacy and numeracy. In all countries there was greater access to learning in 2007 than in 2000. These improvements in access to learning especially benefited girls and children from poor households.

“Some Children Are More Equal Than Others” [moving documentary on SA Educ]

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Today Stefan Gottfried released his short documentary on education in South Africa, aptly named “Some Children Are More Equal Than Others.” I came into contact with Stefan last year when he was working with the Legal Resources Centre. It happened to be at the same time I was visiting mud-schools in the Eastern Cape late last year (blog post here). The documentary was produced on a shoestring budget but clearly conveys the tragedy and anguish of hundreds of thousands of parents in South Africa. The motif that runs through much of the documentary is that the low quality of education offered to the majority of South Africa’s children becomes a poverty trap and prevents any form of social mobility. It reminded me of something I wrote 2 years ago:

“While the low-level equilibrium that South Africa finds itself in has its roots in the apartheid regime of institutionalised inequality, this fact does not absolve the current administration from its responsibility to provide a quality education to every South African child. After 19 years of democratic rule most black children continue to receive an education which condemns them to the underclass of South African society, where poverty and unemployment are the norm, not the exception. This substandard education does not develop their capabilities or expand their economic opportunities, but instead denies them dignified employment and undermines their own sense of self- worth. In short, poor school performance in South Africa reinforces social inequality and leads to a situation where children inherit the social station of their parents, irrespective of their motivation or ability. Until such a time as the Department of Basic Education and the ruling administration are willing to seriously address the underlying issues in South African education, at whatever political or economic cost, the existing patterns of underperformance and inequality will remain unabated” (from here).

Although I see the tragic education stats on a daily basis, it really hits home when you see the pain and anguish of black parents who see and understand that education is the route out of poverty for their kids and are trying their hardest to get their children into “good” schools but failing at every turn. Watch the documentary and ask yourself “What can I do to change this tragic, dangerous and deeply unfair situation?”

Curro private school assigns kids to classes based on race. WTF?!

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It would seem that as far as education is concerned 2015 is not off to a good start. First we had the MEC for education in KZN explaining that her “visions of an ideal education system” include 18th century pseudo-science, namely streaming 6 year old children based on the size and shape of their skulls (phrenology) and the style of their handwriting (graphology). She has subsequently apologized to “everyone who felt offended” but did not retract the statement. Now this week Eyewitness News reports that a private school in Pretoria – Curro Roodeplaat – is assigning children to classes based on race?! They report that a group of 30 parents have signed a petition demanding an explanation from the school and the company. The explanation given by the company (Curro is one of the few for-profit private school chains in the country) was equally dumb-founding.  Curro Holdings’ regional manager Andre Pollard explained their rationale as follows:

“It’s not because we would like to segregate the whites, it’s just because of friends. Children are able to make friends with children of their culture.”

This sounds like a social/friendship-based version of ‘separate development.’ Fifty-two years ago the Bantu Education Act was made into law, segregating children based on the colour of their skin. Still today we are dealing with the aftermath of that one piece of legislation. By conflating education and subjugation it transformed our schools from sites of learning to sites of activism and resistance. It destroyed the culture of teaching and learning and created a lingering fear of education as an instrument of political subjugation.

With a history such as ours how can a school possibly argue that separating children based on race or ‘culture’ is necessary?! The sheer nerve that their regional manager can justify this racial segregation saying that children find it easier to make friends with children of their own culture is astounding and shameful. This is not the first time I have heard about racial discrimination in Pretoria’s Curro schools, but it is the first time I have seen it reported in the media. Currently there are 43 Curro schools across the country raising revenue of over R400 million in 2014. The company recently invested R1,5 billion in expanding their facilities with an aim of reaching 80 schools by 2020.  Only 4% of South African students attend Independent (i.e. non-public) schools but the vast majority of those are not-for-profit schools with about 0,4% attending for-profit schools like Curro.

While we might be tempted to brush this off as an isolated instance at a single Curro school, we need to ask why this behaviour is seen as acceptable by their regional manager? Curro needs to unequivocally condemn these practices and ensure that they are not practiced at any of their other schools. Looking at the speeches and policies at the time of our transition one can clearly see that education was (and is) seen as one of the most promising channels of integration, nation-building and transformation. The actions of this school show utter contempt for the democratic project in South Africa. There are many amazing Independent schools in this country who offer high quality education in a socially inclusive and culturally sensitive way. It would seem that Curro Roodeplaat is not one of them.