Binding Constraints in Education


For the last two years we at RESEP have been working on two major education projects: The “Binding Constraints” project (Presidency/EU) and the “Getting Reading Right” project (Zenex Foundation). We launched the two reports on Tuesday last week (my presentation is here). Included below are the two project synthesis reports, a detailed outline on a prospective course (which needs a funder) on “Teaching Reading (& Writing) in the Foundation Phase” and 11 policy briefs. I’ve also included the “Roadmap for Reading” which provides a detailed outline of the practical steps that the Minister of Education could take if she wanted to prioritise reading in the Foundation Phase.


  1. Identifying Binding Constraints in Education (V2) [Errata from V1 here]
  2. Laying Firm Foundations: Getting Reading Right
  3. Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Foundation Phase: A Concept Note

Policy Briefs:

  1. Increasing the supply of teacher graduates
  2. Education datasets in South Africa
  3. Rethinking pre-grade R
  4. Is school based assessment in matric achieving its potential?
  5. Improving the calibre of school leadership in South Africa
  6. The DBE’s workbooks as a curriculum tool
  7. Adding randomised control trials (RCTs) to the education research toolkit
  8. What the ANAs tell us about socioeconomic learning gaps in South Africa
  9. Learning to read and reading to learn
  10. Excessive class sizes in the Foundation Phase
  11. Building an evidence base for inclusive education in South Africa: Focusing on learners with disabilities
  12. Limited support for the Foundation Phase: A Misallocation of district resources

reading right

All of the above are also available on the RESEP website here. The 2015 special issue of the South African Journal of Childhood Education (SAJCE) where most of the research was published is available here (ungated) for those who would like to read the full journal articles.

The presentations from the event are available here:

(I would especially encourage everyone to read through Servaas’ and Gabi’s presentations, they were exceptional!)

There is obviously a lot to be said about these two projects, some of the new research points to very tangible, actionable steps to improve the education system, decrease inequality in outcomes and arguably create a fairer and more efficient education system. Yet it is not at all clear that any of these suggestions will be followed. It was unfortunate that neither the Director General nor the Minister were able to make the report launch. I am aware that both have very busy schedules and that a lot has been happening in education in the last few months. I hope that Servaas will have an opportunity to present this research to them in the coming months. I have also been underwhelmed by the online coverage of the research.

I deliberately do not want to write about the research now since I am currently a little jaded and frustrated about the education research, funding and policy space (perhaps you can tell!). When there are clear, unambiguous and actionable steps that could be taken to improve the education system and they are not taken, this is frustrating. When funders choose to channel millions (billions?) of rands in fruitless directions toward unevaluated projects, it is frustrating. When clear priorities and needs are ignored by national government and local funders (like developing a high-quality course to teach foundation phase teachers to teach reading!), it is frustrating. And perhaps most frustrating of all is the large number of people in provincial and national government that are unable to do the jobs that they have been appointed to do. While there are a number of dedicated and competent public servants and politicians in education, the way that our system is set up means that they have to rely on people who cannot do what they are being asked to do. Those people need to be trained quickly or performance-managed out of the system. That will take courage, strategic leadership and a clear understanding that the status quo is preventing poor children from quality education. Indeed “Weak institutional functionality” or “Insufficient State Capacity” was one of our four binding constraints. Go figure.

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