Monthly Archives: June 2013

M&G 200 Young South Africans :)

  • I recently got selected as one of the M&G’s 200 Young South Africans for 2013 (*happy dance*). You can find the write-up (of which I am very fond!) here. The picture above (from the M&G site) was taken in Kalk Bay and has absolutely nothing to do with education or research…moving swiftly along….
  • Cool blog: FarnamStreetBlog (via ClintClark) – Similar to BrainPickings (which you MUST follow if you don’t already).
  • The best websites in the world – information overload (not for those of the FOMO persuasion).
  • The Bishop of Salisbury weighs in on the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK. Sensible.
  • US views on same-sex marriage summarized in four neat graphs – basically the issue is generational and religious (no shit Sherlock).
  • Long but interesting (and informed) Politicsweb article about education in South Africa. Sean Muller (UCT) needs to be brought into the education fold me thinks…
  • Some awesome quotes (via GMVP, who refuses to have an online presence – whatevs): “There is no reason to be absolutist about either aggregated data or novelistic narrative as research methods. The tension between qualitative and quantitative methods reflects the contradiction between the impersonal and personal faces of democracy, the moral need to both respect and transcend our finitude.” (213 – 214)
  • “Stories compress characters and events, and statistics reveal patterns we would have missed otherwise. Their key difference lies at another level: in the approach to death. Stories teach us to mourn, and statistics teach us to see impersonal order. (…) Stories teach the ethic of caring, statistics the ethic of not caring. Statistical thinking is a methodological Buddhism.” (214)
  • Quote of the week by JFK: “Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” (can I get an Amen!?)

Make Wikipedia free on cellphones


I wrote an open letter to the CEO’s of Vodacom, MTN and Cell-C asking them to make Wikipedia free on cellphones. You can find the article on the Sowetan website HERE. I include the full letter below…sharing is caring so feel free to spread far and wide…hopefully the right people see it and realize the power they have to effortlessly improve the education of millions of children. You can also like this FB page.

“THIS Youth Day, three companies have the power to change the lives of 12 million South African children with the stroke of a pen.

This may sound like the usual political rhetoric around Youth Day, but I assure you, this is probably the most tangible opportunity of 2013. The idea is simple: provide mobile access to Wikipedia free of data charges. It isn’t complicated or glamorous, but it would put the world’s knowledge in the hands of millions of South African youths, especially those without libraries or computers. “What is chlorophyll?”; “Who was Seretse Khama?”; “Where are the Canary Islands?” – four million articles on absolutely everything, all accessible through a cellphone.

So, if your name is Shameel Joosub (CEO of Vodacom), Sifiso Dabengwa (CEO of MTN), or Allan Knott-Craig (CEO of Cell-C) this could be one of the best (and most satisfying) decisions of your life. Listen to the Wikimedia Foundation or listen to the under-resourced Sinenjongo High School who have explicitly asked for free access to Wikipedia – if all else fails then listen to reason. The world is evolving in an increasingly digital way and encouraging cellphone use in education is just plain business sense. One need not remind you that these are your future customers and employees. There really isn’t a legitimate reason why not to. We already know it’s possible since British mobile operator Orange currently provides access to Wikipedia for free on its network in 20 countries across Africa and the Middle East, including Kenya, Uganda, Egypt and Tunisia.

So why not in South Africa?

I can’t imagine that the data revenues from South Africans accessing the (primarily text-based) Wikipedia Mobile are anything that would affect the bottom line, and anyway, these miniscule losses couldn’t hold a flame to the positive public relations and social capital from such an important policy. This kind of project is the very definition of corporate social investment. It was only last month that Vodacom announced a yearly net profit of R13-billion, up 23% from the previous year. This is great news for the company, employment and the economy. Making access to Wikipedia free is a drop in the ocean for these companies, but opens the world of knowledge to millions of South African children, who are themselves future customers and employees.

Perhaps the case isn’t compelling enough. So let’s look at some cold hard facts. Less than 20% of South African schools have a library or a computer centre. Where are pupils meant to go if they don’t know something?Of 100 pupils that start grade 1, only 50 will make it to matric, 40 will pass and 12 will qualify for university. Only 13% of schools have any access to the internet. If one excludes Gauteng and the Western Cape that figure plummets to 5%.The majority of pupils in South Africa come from resource-poor homes with almost no access to information. On top of this, most pupils are learning in their second language – frequently coming across concepts and words they don’t understand, what are they meant to do?All of these statistics are in stark contrast to the ubiquitous presence of cellphones in the country, with cellphone penetration reaching 98% this year.

In a 2010 research study, World Wide Worx estimated that 65% of urban cellphone users have the capacity to access the internet, with this figure likely to be even higher for the youth. This really is a hugely untapped resource.If one thinks of the enormous benefits of this easy-to-implement plan and the fact that other mobile phone companies have successfully implemented it in other African countries we need to ask; why can’t this be done in South Africa?

Vodacom, MTN and Cell-C control 99% of the mobile phone business in South Africa and with a stroke of a pen they could help change the educational landscape of the country. This is an idea whose time has come.So Mr Joosub, Mr Dabengwa and Mr Knott-Craig, what are you waiting for? Pick up your pen and change the lives of 12 million South African children.

Let go or be dragged…



So the picture here is in reference to an article I wrote for Youth Day which will hopefully be in one of the papers this weekend (provided the Stellenbosch folk at Ogilvy get crack-a-lacking). But just to make you feel special (whoever you blog-followers might be) this is the opening paragraph:

“This Youth Day three men have the power to change the lives of 12 million South African children, with the stroke of a pen. This may sound like the usual political rhetoric around Youth Day, but I assure you, this is probably the most tangible opportunity of 2013. The idea is simple: provide mobile access to Wikipedia free of data charges.  It isn’t complicated or glamorous, but it would put the world’s knowledge in the hands of millions of South African youths, youths without libraries or computers or the Internet. “What is chlorophyll?”; “Who was Seretse Khama?”; “Where are the Canary Islands?” – four million articles on absolutely everything, all accessible through a cell phone.” 

The three men are the CEOs of Vodacom, MTN and Cell-C. And for the regular interesting reading, see:

Back to basics…



One night while sitting in my hotel room in Hamburg feeling frustrated and angry after reading the South African news on education I wrote this article on the Minimum Norms and Standards saga: “Don’t shoot for the stars” it’s banging the usual drum…back to basics…water, toilets and electricity before libraries, microscopes and computers. Duh? I know right. Feel free to like the M&G page or tweet – a journalist is my backup career in case I flunk academia 🙂

Back to work…

forrest man

So I’ve just got back from training in Hamburg where we looked at how to analyze international large-scale assessment databases like PIRLS, TIMSS and PISA (watch this video by the master of PISA Andreas Schleicher). I’m planning on using prePIRLS and TIMSS for one paper of my PhD so this was really useful for me. For those interested in an exhaustive list of papers published with IEA data – you can find it here – very useful resource!

Germany was great – public transport is ubiquitous, as are public parks and rain. The Stadtpark in Hamburg and the Tiergarten in Berlin were two of the highlights of my trip. If I had to be honest about what I enjoyed most about Berlin (and there is a lot to enjoy) it would be one particular cafe called St Oberholz. Just as my envy was rising, thinking that these awesomely trendy working-cafes were two-a-penny in Berlin, a local told me that even by Berlin standards this cafe was uber cool and the current place to be. The thing that made it cool for me wasn’t so much the decor or the food or the coffee (all of which are above average), it was the people who frequent it and the reason they go there [can you tell I’ve been taking a sociology course?!]. The best way to describe it is to say it is a young working-cafe. There are as many plug-points, iPads, Moleskines and MacBooks as there are people or places to sit. It’s open until midnight and is packed with young people and their earphones who are clearly doing something worthwhile – writing plays, sketching in a journal or poring over some canonical text in their chosen field. This was like a uni-cafe on steroids. As someone who loves to work in cafes and enjoys being in a productive environment it was cafe heroin. The closest thing I can think of in Cape Town is probably the coffee shops at the Woodstock Exchange.

Anyways, as usual I am more than happy to be back – travelling is awesome, but South Africa is awesomer 🙂 Time to get back into the groove and get my research back on track…onward and upward.

For those interested here’s some interesting reading…

  • Useful list of short bios of eminent thinkers in education (written by top-notch academics).
  • Who are the middle class in South Africa? Does it matter for policy?” – nice 3×3 article by my friend Justin Visagie. The actual middle group in South Africa earn between R1520 and  R4560 for the entire household. Basically when we talk of the “middle class” in South Africa we usually mean the elite. Let’s be a little more circumspect in our nomenclature folks.
  • The benefits of early childhood stimulation are hugeThis new JPAL study which is a 20-year follow-up to a randomized trial in Jamaica shows that stimulation increased the average earning of participants by 42%. Just read the abstract if you’re not a fan of technical wizardry.
  • Thoroughly interesting chapter by Henri Nouwen titled “Pentacostalism on campus” – written in the ’70s and asking questions which too few of us are currently asking. Highly recommended. (Sorry for my annotations – I wasn’t planning on scanning it but it was just too good not to).
  • Short video explaining the benefits of an extended school day in one school in America (Thanks Johan Fourie).
  • The latest Economist is on poverty trends – note to self: find time to read it!