Monthly Archives: February 2015

“Some Children Are More Equal Than Others” [moving documentary on SA Educ]

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Today Stefan Gottfried released his short documentary on education in South Africa, aptly named “Some Children Are More Equal Than Others.” I came into contact with Stefan last year when he was working with the Legal Resources Centre. It happened to be at the same time I was visiting mud-schools in the Eastern Cape late last year (blog post here). The documentary was produced on a shoestring budget but clearly conveys the tragedy and anguish of hundreds of thousands of parents in South Africa. The motif that runs through much of the documentary is that the low quality of education offered to the majority of South Africa’s children becomes a poverty trap and prevents any form of social mobility. It reminded me of something I wrote 2 years ago:

“While the low-level equilibrium that South Africa finds itself in has its roots in the apartheid regime of institutionalised inequality, this fact does not absolve the current administration from its responsibility to provide a quality education to every South African child. After 19 years of democratic rule most black children continue to receive an education which condemns them to the underclass of South African society, where poverty and unemployment are the norm, not the exception. This substandard education does not develop their capabilities or expand their economic opportunities, but instead denies them dignified employment and undermines their own sense of self- worth. In short, poor school performance in South Africa reinforces social inequality and leads to a situation where children inherit the social station of their parents, irrespective of their motivation or ability. Until such a time as the Department of Basic Education and the ruling administration are willing to seriously address the underlying issues in South African education, at whatever political or economic cost, the existing patterns of underperformance and inequality will remain unabated” (from here).

Although I see the tragic education stats on a daily basis, it really hits home when you see the pain and anguish of black parents who see and understand that education is the route out of poverty for their kids and are trying their hardest to get their children into “good” schools but failing at every turn. Watch the documentary and ask yourself “What can I do to change this tragic, dangerous and deeply unfair situation?”

Links I liked…


  • A book on education in Gauteng 1994-2014 has now been published. I wrote a chapter on standardised assessments. Spaull, N. (2014) Educational outcomes in Gauteng 1995-2011: An overview of provincial performance in standardised assessments, in F Maringe & M Prew (eds), Twenty Years of Education Transformation in Gauteng 1994 to 2014: An Independent Review, African Minds, Somerset West., pp 289-312
  • Free PDF books on race, sexuality, gender and class (really useful resource!)
  • Lifelines for poor children” – Nobel Laureate James Heckman writes an accessible (2013) NYT article on early childhood development. “What’s missing in the current debate over economic inequality is enough serious discussion about investing in effective early childhood development from birth to age 5.”
  • In light of the recent moves by Gauteng Department of Basic Education to introduce “paperless classrooms” we would all do well to read this chapter “Computers in schools: Why governments should do their homework.” But we will go around the mountain one more time and check for ourselves. Because how do you know if it’s a dead-end until you’ve tried it? Well, maybe because everyone else tried to do exactly what we are proposing to do and it didn’t work? If you’re not teaching teachers how to use the tech, budgeting for maintenance and most importantly evaluating the project (to figure out if it’s actually working) then it’s pretty much doomed to fail. As they say in the chapter above “The evidence so far is quite persuasive that programs that overlook teacher training and the development of software may yield low returns” (p169).  I’m all for using tech in meaningful ways but this isn’t that, this is basically “Let them eat iPads.” (also see this NYT article, “Can you have too much tech?“)
  • How Pakistan fails its children” – scathing NYT article (2014) on the state of education in Pakistan and the lack of political will for true reform.
  • The Pursuit of Beauty” – A lovely New Yorker article about a little known Chinese mathematician in the US who solved a pure-math mystery and is now famous. (Thanks Lilli for the link). It’s uplifting to hear that we humans are still making progress and pushing the boundaries of knowledge further and further every year.
  • The HSRC are looking for a Doctoral Research Trainee in Education and Skills Development (deadline for applications 6 Feb 2015). For more details see the advert here.
  • A good friend of mine Shelanna Sturgess has recently started blogging. She’s an art teacher at Durban Girls High School and has a bunch of cool stuff on art and teaching with technology, check out her site here.
  • If you want to know what perverse incentives are then read this Cullen (2003) article “The impact of fiscal incentives on disability rates” – when you give schools extra money for children with disability suddenly the number of children classfied as disabled increases…”My central estimates imply that fiscal incentives can explain nearly 40% of the recent growth in student disability rates in Texas”