TALIS South Africa 2018

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In 2018 South Africa participated in the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). In SA, 170 high-schools participated in the study and 2,046 teachers from those schools. The aim of the survey, which is nationally representative, is getting accurate and comparable data on the working conditions and learning environments in South African schools, with a special focus on teachers and principals. Here are the three main reports for those interested in digging into the data. It’s difficult to overstate how much valuable information there is in the full OECD report (Volume 1). For any quantitative research students interested in education and thinking about a topic I would strongly recommend looking at the reports and downloading the TALIS 2018 data.

I’ve included some highlights from the reports below, mainly using graphs taken from the reports…

  • Time spent on actual teaching and learning: South African high-school teachers reported that only 66% of their time was spent on actual teaching and learning compared to an average of 78% in the 31 OECD countries.

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This is not very surprising and the 66% figure is almost certainly an overestimate given that it is self-reported data from the teachers themselves. In an earlier observational study Carnoy et al (2012) found that at the Grade 6 level only 40% of scheduled lessons for the year were actually taught. Wasted Learning time was one of the four ‘binding constraints‘ we raised in 2016. I include an excerpt from that report:

“In a comprehensive year-long comparative study evaluating 58 schools in the North West province and 58 schools across the border in Botswana, researchers found that of the 130 mathematics lessons scheduled for the year, Grade 6 teachers in the North West had only taught 50 lessons by the beginning of November (Carnoy et al, 2012, p. xvi). This amounts to only 40% of scheduled lessons for the year. By contrast, in Botswana Grade 6 teachers had taught 78 lessons by the beginning of November (60% of scheduled lessons). The researchers note that frequently the problem was not teacher absenteeism but rather a lack of teaching activity despite teacher presence. As the authors note “One of [the reasons] brought up by many North West teachers, is the ‘lack of confidence’ teachers feel in teaching the required elements of the Grade 6 mathematics curriculum. In discussions, teachers attributed this lack of confidence to lacking the knowledge needed to teach the subject” (p. xvi), reflecting the interaction between support and accountability.”

  • Gender imbalance between teachers and principals: TALIS 2018 shows that at the high school level 60% of teachers are females but only 20% of principals are female.

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Last year Gabi Wills wrote a helpful policy brief on school leadership and management and has a section where she highlights the gendered nature of South African school leadership and management:

“Gender bias in the promotion of female teachers emerges at the middle management level and widens at higher post-levels. In 2016, despite most teachers being women (74%), women only held 63% of HoD posts. At the level of deputy principal, women only held 44% of these posts and a mere 36% of school principal posts as reflected in Figure 3. However, these gaps are driven mostly through secondary school promotion appointments which are more likely to favour men than primary school promotion appointments. There has also been little improvement in gender equality in school promotion. For example, the percentage of principals who were women only improved by 2% points from 34% in 2004 to 36% in 2012” (Wills, 2018).

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  • Multilingual contexts in South Africa: South Africa had the second largest percentage of students whose first language was different from the language of instruction. (The only country with a higher percentage was the tiny island state of Singapore – to give you a sense, there are only 185 primary schools in Singapore). Drawing attention to the languages that children speak – and the diversity of those languages in SA – is really important.

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I have a forthcoming chapter (co-authored with Lilli Pretorius) where we look at early grade reading in African languages. The table below comes from that chapter and shows that Gauteng is very different to the other 8 provinces in South Africa. It also shows that  72% of Gr1-3 learners are in schools where 75%+ learners speak the same language as their home language (in KZN this is 93% and EC it’s 90%).

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Those are some thoughts for now. I’d really encourage anyone reading this to delve into the full international reports and figure out what we can learn from these studies. Bravo to the DBE for participating in these types of studies and for their commitment to improving the system based on rigorous evidence emerging from them.

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