Monthly Archives: September 2013

Meaning, inequality, sociology and English majors…


  • Such a sweet cartoon about the meaning of questions and questioning meaning 
  • Really useful World Bank tool developed by Deon Filmer. It allows you to easily get graphs and tables on educational attainment and completion for a variety of countries.
  • SACMEQ III (2007) country reports have finally been finalized and are now available for download on the SACMEQ website
  • Angus Deaton writing in the Lancet weighs in on the fight between Sen and Bhagwati by comparing their two new books. Short article and worth the read.
  • The Rise and Consequences of Inequality in the US” – Krueger’s 2012 address to the Council of Economic Advisers. Worth a read. In case you were wondering how unequal South Africa’s income is distributed, the richest 10% of South Africans earn 58% of total income, the poorest 50% earn 8% of total income, and the poorest 10% earn 0.5% of total income (from this 2012 World Bank report on inequality of opportunity in SA).
  • The latest edition of the British Journal of the Sociology of Education is on “Education and Social Mobility” – some interesting stuff in there. I’m glad the sociologists are seeing the light as far as empirical research is concerned. One quote from the intro by Brown, Reay & Vincent: “The mass of research on student identities, aspirations and experiences of school, college and university has been overlooked, partly because it is primarily based on qualitative rather than quantitative methods of data collection. While this points to a weakness in mainstream mobility studies it also points to a failure of the sociology of education to engage in broader debates around intergenerational mobility, notwithstanding its engagement with wider debates on social inequalities and social justice. It also raises questions as to whether the next generation of education researchers will have the training in quantitative methods and techniques to engage in future mobility studies” (p.638).
  • A. H. Halsey has similar sentiments when he says that “Conflicts between advocates of quantitative and qualitative methods still rage in sociology. I can claim to be among the pioneer supporters of quantitative methods but also to have been friendly towards qualitative work. Nevertheless, the neglect of statistical training still seems to me to be a barrier, not only to sociological understanding but also to the supply of competent teachers of the subject
  • Quote of the week by Adam Gopnik “So: Why should English majors exist? Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures or live in more than hovels and huts or send flowers to our beloved on their birthday. No sane person proposes or has ever proposed an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization.” From the New Yorker article “Why teach English?


Links I liked…

racial stereotypes


I’m currently in Helsinki at the UNU WIDER conference on “Inclusive Growth in Africa” – I presented my paper which combines access to education and the quality of education. Helsinki is a pretty cool city although not particularly exciting or historically important. Tallinn, which is just a 2.5 hour ferry-ride away, is much more interesting and quaint.

  • Conceptual map of learning theories in education – helpful mind-map of all the different learning theories with links to their Wikipedia pages.
  • Also using CMAP technology, check out the Grade 4 – 6 Life Sciences and Natural Sciences concept maps developed by Megan Beckett at Siyavula. On the Thunderbolt Kids website you can also download posters and textbooks for Grades 4-6.
  • The 1861 infographic that Abraham Lincoln used to see the reach of slavery in the US – here. (via FarnamStreetBlog).
  • Wonderful lecture by Eugene Peterson titled “Teach us to Care and Teach us Not to Care” (PDF)
  • The Institute of Education Sciences’ “What Works Clearinghouse” is a really interesting concept. Essentially like a meta-analysis tool to give end-users (like teachers) an overview of what the research says on a particular topic. Very interesting. I want one!
  • Great repository of CS Lewis articles – here
  • ChronoZoom – looks pretty cool 🙂

SACMEQ at a glance for 10 African countries…

SACMEQ at a glance


Towards the end of last year I got really frustrated that no one had used the SACMEQ data to create an “Education at a Glance” type of document which contained the essential statistics we can get from SACMEQ. (For those of you who don’t know, SACMEQ is a survey that is conducted in 14 African countries and tests Grade 6 students in mathematics and language and also has a bunch of other information on things like teacher content knowledge, student background, school facilities etc.) So I holed myself up in my office for a few days and did the number crunching and created “SACMEQ at a Glance (10 countries combined PDF)” for ten of the SACMEQ countries. For some reason I didn’t blog about it when I did it, so here it is 🙂

It’s been available on the RESEP website for some time now and I’ll include the decriptive blurb from there below:

“The SACMEQ at a glance series is part of an ongoing research project on data from the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ). The aim of these documents is to provide a two page snapshot of some important elements of the primary school system in each of the participating countries, allowing for comparisons both within and between countries. Statistics are reported for ten African countries for SACMEQ II (2000) and SACMEQ III (2007). The ten countries are: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The results are also presented for three sub-groups: school location (urban and rural), gender (boys and girls), and student wealth (poorest 25% of students and wealthiest 25% of students) for each country. Some of the reported statistics include the prevalence of functional illiteracy and innumeracy, textbook access (reading and mathematics), pupil-teacher ratio, teacher content knowledge, proportion of students receiving a free school meal, as well as the proportion of schools with electricity and water, among many other statistics. These documents should be a helpful resource to researchers and policy-makers alike, providing accessible information in a comparable format.”

Choice, data, assessments and success…

yellow x

  • A wonderfully-witty article on liberty, choice and ranting manifestos about public versus private education. This is no surprise to you but it turns out I’m a bad person. (Thanks @HendrikvanB)
  • Wentworth Miller declines an invitation to be guest of honor at the St Petersberg Film Festival in Russia because he is gay. That’s certainly one way to come out 🙂
  • A NYT article that every academic in an education faculty should read (and every politician for that matter) titled “Guesses and hype give way to data in study of education” [as an aside – this is pretty funny 🙂 )
  • Motshekga announced this week that teacher assessments will go ahead, not that I think my article had anything to do with this, but I did publish an article only one week ago on this exact topic – “Teacher’s can’t teach what they don’t know
  • Quote of the week is by Victor Frankl via BrainPickings: “Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.