Goodbye for now South Africa

Paris

I am currently sitting in JFK airport en-route to San Francisco and drinking 4 espressos to re-align my internal clock and stay awake until a reasonable hour. So I suppose this is a good time to fill everyone in on my plans for the next year and a half. From now until the end of 2015 I will be a Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University in California. I’ll be taking some courses while I’m here and also finish up our (RESEP’s) ‘Binding Constraints in Education’ project which we’re currently doing for the SA Presidency and the E.U. Needless to say I’m really excited to be spending time at Stanford and I do intend to blog about my experience here.

The second piece of exciting news is that I’ve been awarded the OECD’s Thomas J Alexander Fellowship for 2016. That means I’ll be working on PISA data and focussing on developing countries. The broad aim is to find meaningful ways of integrating access (enrolment) and quality (learning) in education, along the lines of my earlier work on sub-Saharan Africa. I’ll be based at the OECD headquarters in Paris from January until July next year and then back at Stanford for the last 4 months of 2016.

As much as I have loved my time in South Africa to date I am also ready to get some international perspective and work on other developing countries for a while. There are 2 main reasons for this. In order of priority: (1) I think that many developing countries are experimenting with bold and innovative reforms with long-term strategic leadership, something that is sorely lacking in South Africa where it often feels like we are simply tweaking things at the margin. I want to understand what they are doing, what’s working and how they got it going. I am especially interested in the Brazilian case. (2) It’s not a wonderful feeling when some people you are trying to help – in this case the South African educational bureaucracy – portray you as part of the problem when in fact you are trying to help. I know that parts of the Department are open to research, and I have been encouraged by two recent speeches by the Minister of Basic Education, but there is a clear hostility towards those of us in the research community that highlight to the public just how bad the situation really is. I still do not believe that the powers that be understand the true severity of the crisis in education, because if they did we would not be continuing with things in a business-as-usual way. A massive crisis like the one we have requires pretty radical solutions. (As an aside, at the VW Foundation colloquium last week I was encouraged to hear the Minister using the word ‘crisis’ on more than one occasion in her speech – let’s hope that the reforms that are implemented are commensurate with this acknowledgement). The Minister has told us (researchers) that we are on the same page and that we all agree on the problems. Now that may or may not be true, but unless the conclusion is a radical overhaul of the most dysfunctional 30% (?) of our schools, I don’t know that we are on the same page. In these schools there is next to no learning taking place at all, as evidenced by abysmal educational outcomes. Such an overhaul would be costly – financially and politically – but it would send a strong signal that we simply cannot go on in a business as usual way.

Maybe all of the above is par for the course and reform always takes a long time. Perhaps it couldn’t be any other way, I don’t know. Either way I needed a change of perspective and time to think about bigger-picture solutions in S.A., sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world more generally. I also need time and space to figure out what I want to spend my life doing and the kind of person I want to become.

To get perspective you need a break, so I won’t be commenting on all the educational issues in South Africa while I’m away.

I think that my blog may also take on a more personal note as I explore some of the broader, non-immediate issues in education, and in my own life.

Onwards and upwards…

Nic

22 responses to “Goodbye for now South Africa

  1. Bon Voayge, Nic! May your journey into the world beyond bring back greater insights for us her in RSA.
    Chris Ramdas, and all at MIET Africa, KZN.

  2. Enjoy, Nic! Thanks for all you do. If you have a few days free when in Paris, you might want to consider spending a few days in the Burgundy district at http://www.taize.fr/en …….once again, thanks, and enjoy!

  3. Dear Nic,

    I have been following your work over the past 2 years and recently joined and subscribed to your posts. I wish you well and every success with your time at Stanford. In fact, I had every intention to invite you to be the keynote speaker at our annual School Principal’s Breakfast. Thank you for your invaluable insight and for contributing so freely to the development of education in South Africa.

    I work as a Sales and Marketing Manager for Damelin in Mowbray, Cape Town. I will appreciate it if you could refer me to any posts or articles, if any, that you have written with your views on private education. We are currently focused on recruiting Grade 12 learners for undergraduate studies in 2016 and as it stands, we have to use huge marketing strategies in an attempt to create awareness of our accredited degree and diploma programmes for Grade 12 learners.

    Capacity at public institutes in the Western Cape is not sufficient for the number of registered 2015 Grade 12 learners. Most learners aspire to study at USB, UCT, CPUT and UWC and inevitably a majority of these learners will not be placed. Also, with the dilemma of students doing Mathematics Literacy and their chances of being selected at the public universities, are almost null and void.

    Have you done any research around this and are you able to refer or direct me to any posts or articles?

    I realise you are travelling, but I will appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards Enid de Wet (Mrs)

  4. I have been following your work over the past 2 years and recently joined and subscribed to your posts. I wish you well and every success with your time at Stanford. In fact, I had every intention to invite you to be the keynote speaker at our annual School Principal’s Breakfast. Thank you for your invaluable insight and for contributing so freely to the development of education in South Africa.

    I work as a Sales and Marketing Manager for Damelin in Mowbray, Cape Town. I will appreciate it if you could refer me to any posts or articles, if any, that you have written with your views on private education. We are currently focused on recruiting Grade 12 learners for undergraduate studies in 2016 and as it stands, we have to use huge marketing strategies in an attempt to create awareness of our accredited degree and diploma programmes for Grade 12 learners.

    Capacity at public institutes in the Western Cape is not sufficient for the number of registered 2015 Grade 12 learners. Most learners aspire to study at USB, UCT, CPUT and UWC and inevitably a majority of these learners will not be placed. Also, with the dilemma of students doing Mathematics Literacy and their chances of being selected at the public universities, are almost null and void.

  5. Thank you for this and for everything you have done to raise awareness and understanding of our education crisis. We’ll miss you and hope you’ll be back soon.

  6. Good luck Nic.

    Will miss your critical analysis and passionate advocacy. 

    Look forward to all your blogs, and wish you the best of luck. 

    George Thorne Producer Trending Tonight with Sirshin Moodliar Cell: 0845629999

  7. All the best. Look forward to reading your new insights on your personal journey.

  8. good luck Nic, wonderful learning opportunities for you, hope to have you back here at some stage.

  9. Good luck with your new ventures, Nic. I will miss your blogs and your interest in SA education.

  10. Good luck Nic and we look forward to your insights from the USA.

    Kind regards

    Jenny Louw | Co-ordinator: Information Services | Saide – South African Institute for Distance Education
    Tel: +27 11 403-2813 | http://www.saide.org.za | http://www.oerafrica.org |http://www.africanstorybook.org

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  11. It has been a pleasure to both meet you in person and to listen attentively to your passion to address change in education. I wish you every success with your new ventures overseas and trust that you will achieve everything you set out to do and so much more. Looking forward to reading about your journey. All the best. Tia – Edupeg

  12. If there is anything you want to write for us from Stanford, please let us know.

    Thank you.

    Gillian Anstey

  13. I am recent follower of your blog but am already sold on your passion for education in SA as I read your historic blogging. I’m at the “one child at a time” stage only because the real task (overhaul of the system) is rather daunting. I am certain we will be all the richer for your Stanford sojourn. I hope you will agree that the Elgin Valley trumps Napa Valley:)

    Khanyi Gcaleka

  14. I hope you know how proud I am to know you!

    I wish all happiness and lots of fun curiosity for you while you are away.

    I will look forward to regular updates.

    Much love – live the dream and have fun on my behalf.

    Camilla Swart
    Education Innovation
    Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship
    Graduate School of Business
    University of Cape Town
    Office Telephone: +27 21 406 1033
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  15. Dear Nic

    Please enjoy your stay over there. The first time I met or seen you was at Wits during the OR Tambo lecture. Even though you did not get the direct opportunity to respond to the deputy minister on the evening( which you did later) I still feel you should have been allowed that opportunity. But be that as it may, I really liked the way you argued your points without any fear, you were seated just next to the minister and still called a spade a spade… what a courage, most of us wouldn’t dare do that especially to a politician. I think that was the reason Mr. Surty was so emotional when he took the podium.

    Please keep on doing what you do best and stay in touch. I thought when I saw your email today that you will comment about the ANA disbandment for 2015…what are your views. Are we again allowing our education system to be controlled by teacher Unions?

    Regards

    [cid:image001.png@01CFDE25.161A1CC0]
    Fannie Matumba | General Manager: Operations l Marketing l Research and Development
    Forum lll, 3rd Floor, Braampark, 33 Hoofd Street, Braamfontein | PO Box 32767, Braamfontein, 2017

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    • Hi Fannie

      I’m deliberately not commenting on the ANAs since I want to get some distance from the SA context to get some perspective and I don’t want to be a spectator from afar!

      Nic

  16. Dear Nic

    I have been following your blog for almost two years since I have resumed my study in Science Education at the NWU. I want to congratulate you on the Fellowship and wish you all the best for your studies abroad. (Just so you know, I cited you in my Research project for the Honours degree).

    I was glad to have come across your blog because sometimes it feels like one is on an island and being a novice in the field, I found much value in your work, eventhough my focus is on physics education.

    Best of luck

    Regards

    Annalize Ferreia

  17. Good luck and thank you!

  18. Dear Nic. I am inspired by your work and words! THANK YOU!

    I am busy researching the experience of, and challenges we face regarding the unemployment problem in South Africa. The project is a joint project with a University in Belgium. I would love to hear your ideas on this phenomenon some or other time in future……

    Best of luck with your journey!
    Melinda

  19. Difficult to be a profit in your own land!
    Keep looking for solutions and how to get 500,000 maths passes (>50%) a year!

  20. Dear Nic
    Hope it is for now only but sounds like you have an amazing time ahead. Don’t forget NY maybe on your way to Paris from SF. Also have plans to visit Paris in the spring next year so maybe see you there. Its such a lovely city. I commuted between Paris and London for a few years in the 1980’s and it has remained one of my favourite cities.
    Very best of good times in SF in the meantime
    Christine

    Christine Downton
    570 Park Avenue Apt 12D
    NY,NY, 10065
    Home 212 588 1270
    US cell 917 439 1464
    UK cell +44 (0) 7734107623
    SA cell +27 (0) 762497527

  21. Go well – look forward to hearing about your experiences in future blogs especially your insights for us here in SA working to turn around teaching and learning.
    Best wishes
    Tracey Butchart

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