Monthly Archives: February 2012

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