Monthly Archives: February 2012

Links I liked…

Some more links I liked…
  • Creating a More Equal and Productive Britain” – A lecture by Professor James Heckman. ‘There is hard evidence on soft skills’. Based on a big research project titled “Personality, Psychology and Economics
  • Rethinking School – a Harvard Business Review article about American K-12 education. Explains the importance of good teachers and how Americans should use new technologies and teaching methods in their classrooms. Still wondering about the links with SA and whether technology can be used to leapfrog educational development steps in South Africa – if only…
  • Why is research higher status than teaching? An interesting article by a Canadian economist. The one quip I really liked was the following on peer review:

 “Some might say this is the best way to measure research productivity. After all, how can we, as outsiders, judge the rigor and relevance of research outside our own specialized discipline? Peer review is the sine qua non, the best and only test of research excellence. I have some sympathy for this view – although it must be confessed that, sometimes, peers are idiots.

And in other news…

Interesting education articles in the news…

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it — but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

 From Henry Miller on Writing, his 11 commandments:

Creative destruction?

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and  the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce…? The cuckoo clock.”

-Orson Welles

Makes you think…

Brilliant zoomable infographic – how big is the universe?

Click the picture and click “Start”

From here

How economists say I love you…


from here


Ogilvy on writing well…


Via Chris Blattman

Advice from David Ogilvy, the advertising executive and inspiration for the “Mad Men” of TV fame.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


From Letters of Note, via Brain Pickings.

I have not read the Roman-Raphaelson book, but it has just been downloaded to the Kindle.

Here are the books I recommend to my students on writing.

I also have advice on how to write an essay.

SA Budget infographic (Brilliant!)

From here

Old rich white men

Chris Blattman explaining why he left business consulting and is now a development economist:


" In the end, though, I grew bored with business. You need something to get yourself out of bed in the morning and to work, and I can only get so excited about making old rich white men older, richer and whiter. So now my job is now figuring out how to make young poor non-white men older and richer (but hopefully not whiter). That is some progress."

From here

Advertising masquerading as statistics – Kerr Wittenberg 2011

Economist article – Education in SA

Education in South Africa – Still dysfunctional

Standards still leave a lot to be desired

Jan 21st 2012 | JOHANNESBURG | from the print edition



FORTE HIGH SCHOOL in Soweto, the sprawling black township outside Johannesburg, was once one of South Africa’s notoriously ill-equipped and poorly performing schools. Five years ago it had no running water, no functioning library, no computers and no sports ground. Designed for 800 pupils, it had to cater for 1,300. Only half those who reached the final year matriculated, gaining the most basic certificate for finishing school. But thanks to philanthropists “adopting” it, Forte has turned itself around. Last year it achieved an 80% pass rate, and half of its matric candidates qualified for university.

Among them was Albert Dove, a black student living with his unemployed, disabled father and poor enough to qualify for free school lunches. He got six distinctions in his exams, including 100% in physical science. Every weekend and throughout the holidays he attended extra maths and science classes at a centre in Soweto run by an international charity.

Much of his success, he said, is thanks to a school-feeding scheme set up by the Art of Living Foundation, an international outfit. “I have enough food in my stomach,” he explained. “I will not go out and steal from other children or go and gamble in the streets. I will not go out looking for a girlfriend or boyfriend to give me money for food…I will not smoke drugs to keep away the stress of having no food at home.” He wants to study nanotechnology but must first find funds. A university science course costs around 30,000 rand ($3,740) a year, excluding board and keep.

Low school standards and university fees that are too high for the poor majority help explain why South Africa, the continent’s biggest and most advanced economy, has so low a rate of university attendance. Only one in six gets that far, a much lower proportion than in other middle-income countries. A third drop out within a year. With a few notable exceptions, university standards in South Africa are pretty low. Employers often complain that universities are churning out graduates who are largely unemployable.

Three million South Africans aged 18-24, more than half the total, are outside education, training or employment. Seven in ten have no qualifications at all. Even among those with matric, only 17% are likely to get a job within a year of leaving school, according to Adcorp, a recruitment agency. After five years, 60% will still be jobless. Officially, 25% of South Africans are unemployed; the real figure is probably nearer 40%. Yet there are more than 800,000 vacancies crying out for suitable applicants in the private sector alone, even as 600,000 university graduates sit twiddling their thumbs at home.

The government claims things are improving since last year’s pass rate went up. But the proportion who pass has fluctuated wildly over the years, and often depends on how many of the weaker pupils are prevented from sitting the exam. Besides, the pass mark for many matric subjects is a mere 30%.

Teachers in black state schools work an average of 3.5 hours a day, compared with 6.5 hours in the former white state schools known as “Model C”. A fifth of teachers are absent on Fridays, rising to a third at the end of the month. The education minister herself admits that 80% of schools are still “dysfunctional”.

Economist article – Education in South Africa

South African schools

E for education

Desegregation and investment have yet to boost black schoolchildren

Jan 13th 2011 | JOHANNESBURG | from the print edition

CONGRATULATIONS to the latest crop of school matriculants have been pouring in. Despite the enforced closure of schools throughout the football World Cup, hosted by South Africa, followed by a three-week teachers’ strike, the pass rate for the 2010 school-leaving “matric” examination, taken in November, has jumped by seven percentage points to 68%, bringing an apparent end to a six-year decline. But with half of all pupils dropping out of school before taking the exam and a required pass mark of just 30-40%, it is too soon for rejoicing. Educational standards in Africa’s biggest and most advanced economy remain generally dire.

Barely one in ten South African pupils qualifies for university, and only 5% end up with a degree. South Africa does particularly badly in maths and science, coming last (out of 48 countries) in a report published in 2003 by a Dutch institute called “Trends in International Maths and Science”, a study of Grade 9 pupils (aged 15). Humiliated, it withdrew from the 2007 series, though it plans to take part in this year’s tests. If the 2010 matric results are anything to go by, it may not do much better. Barely one in four matric candidates achieved a pass in maths and less than one in five passed physical science.

Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, black pupils still generally fare much worse than their white counterparts. In 2009 just over half of black matric candidates passed, compared with 99% of whites, 92% of Indians and 76% of coloureds (people of mixed race). Though blacks now account for nearly half of all university students (and 80% of the whole population), less than one in 20 of the relevant black age group, still facing harsh economic and social disadvantages, ends up with a degree, compared with almost half of all whites.

The lingering legacy of apartheid

Even though public schooling was desegregated in 1994, the vast majority of poor black children continue to go to severely deprived, overwhelmingly black schools. Two-thirds of state schools have no library or computer; 90% have no science laboratory; more than half of all pupils either have no text books or have to share them. Whites, by contrast, together with a small but growing contingent from the black middle class, send their children to the former all-white “Model C” state schools, with their far superior facilities, or, increasingly, to a private school.

Since 1994 the number of pupils attending independent schools has more than doubled to around 500,000 (4% of the total school population); six out of ten are black. Tuition fees, over a quarter subsidised by the state, range from a modest 1,600 rand ($230) to a hefty 80,000 rand a year. Many parents think it worth it. Class sizes are generally half those in state schools, the teachers are better qualified and the success rate a lot higher. More than 90% of private-school pupils can expect to get their matric, compared with just 30% of state-school pupils. The former Model C schools boast a similar success rate.

President Jacob Zuma has promised to make education his priority. Money is not the main problem: education already gobbles up about 20% of the government’s budget, representing over 5% of GDP. But attitudes, particularly those of the teachers, who are heavily unionised, will have to change. Angie Motshekga, the schools minister, admits that the system is largely “in crisis” and will take 20 years to fix. Others fear it may need longer.

From here

Letter from a slave to his ex-master

In 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Tennessee wrote to his former slave, Jourdan Anderson, asking that he come back to work on his farm.

Jourdan’s full reply is worth posting in full.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

From Chris Blattman’s blog

Letter of the year, written in 1865

Spatial segregation and school quality in South Africa

Fascinating paper – worth a read.

School quality, clustering and government subsidy in post-apartheid South Africa 


This paper examines a range of historical and geographic factors that determine the quality of public school education in post-apartheid South Africa. Empirical analysis shows, first, that population groups are still spatially segregated due to the legacy of apartheid, which implies that, given the positive correlation between school quality and school fees, quality education is concentrated in formerly white, coloured and Indian schools in areas where the majority is non-African. Second, school quality, measured by the learner–educator ratio, improves as school fee and government subsidy increase. In this sense, school fee can be decreased with an increase in government subsidy to maintain school quality. It is also shown that government subsidy is allocated to schools with lower quality and fees, increasing the number of subsidized teachers. To address the current imbalance, financial support to disadvantaged locales and schools should be strengthened further.

Full paper here