Recently I did a short interview on education in South Africa for the 2013 CSI Handbook (see here for the 2012 handbook). Although it may get edited, I suspect that it will be mostly what you see below. I’m interested to hear your answers to these questions – feel free to include them in the comments below…
- What relationships have you discovered between access to education and quality of education in your research?
- Access to education is a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning. Just because children are enrolled in school does not mean that they are learning, in fact, most of the evidence suggests that the majority of South African children are between one and two years behind the curriculum. So, although we have one of the highest rates of primary school enrolment in Sub-Saharan Africa (98%), hundreds of thousands of South African children are functionally illiterate. Rather than only looking at what proportion of grade 6 South African children are enrolled (98%), if we look at the proportion of South African 13 year olds that are literate, the figure is only 71% (in Tanzania it is 82% and in Kenya 87%).
- You argue that there are two primary school education systems in South Africa and have pinpointed specific factors affecting wealthy and poor schools differently, based on analysis of SACMEQ data. What does this mean for how education interventions are implemented in different schools?
- Almost all of the evidence we have suggests that we have two public schooling systems in South Africa, not one. The wealthiest 25% of schools are mostly functional and able to educate learners while the poorest 75% of schools are dysfunctional and unable to equip students with the numeracy and literacy skills they should be acquiring in primary school. Given that these two school systems are vastly different and that they face different problems, it’s only logical that interventions should be tailored to that particular school system. School interventions that work for poor schools that are atomized and badly run will, in all likelihood, be inappropriate and unnecessarily constraining for well-functioning schools.
- You’ve been vocal in asserting: “Teachers can’t teach what they don’t know”. How are teachers falling short, and why?
- We know teacher content knowledge in South Africa is a major problem, particularly mathematics teacher content knowledge. Given that teacher content knowledge is central to teaching mathematics (and an integral part of the professional identity of the teacher), we really need to figure out how to improve both what teachers know, and how they teach. Simply getting the right answer isn’t the only concern: overly concrete mathematical methods may ‘work’ in grades one and two, but they prove problematic in higher grades.
- Is there any empirical evidence to show that investing in teachers’ knowledge improves leaner outcomes? If not, what does improve learners’ results?
- Internationally there is strong evidence that mathematical content knowledge for teaching does improve learner outcomes but locally there is less evidence. But that’s because very few South African studies of teacher content knowledge employ evaluation methods that are rigorous enough to draw causal conclusions, and most are very small localized studies which are not nationally representative. Perhaps the most convincing international research regarding improving learner outcomes is the importance of quality early childhood development – I think that is really where we need additional emphasis in South Africa. Assessing and raising the quality of Grade R (and pre-Grade-R) in South Africa.
- Where are the gaps in education research in South Africa?
- Three things we don’t really understand are 1) The impact of language switching between Grades three and four, 2) how to do in-service teacher training (almost all the existing programs don’t work), 3) what proportions of the low and unequal learning outcomes that we see at the end of Grade 3 are attributable to low quality preschool, home background and low quality Foundation Phase teaching.
*Thanks @MarinaPape for the cool pic 🙂