Category Archives: Links I liked…

Links I liked…

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Some new research I liked…

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If you’ve come across interesting articles please post them in the comments!

 

Links I liked…& more job ads

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Links:

  • Extremely helpful list of research and travel funding for African academics.
  • Great website for teaching statistics – Seeing Theory – an interactive ‘textbook’

Jobs:

  • JPAL and Pratham are looking for a Managing Director of “Teaching at the Right Level” Teaching at the Right Level Africa is a new high-profile initiative jointly led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the Indian Education NGO Pratham. We currently seek a dynamic Managing Director (Nairobi/JHB) to drive a scale up of the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) learning approach to more than 3 million primary school children in Africa over the next five years. Core to this role is helping to build a collaborative, unified TaRL Africa team that works across multiple countries and partners to achieve our goal of supporting education systems throughout the continent.  Read more and apply here.
  • The DBE are looking for a Director of “Educator Performance Management and Whole School Evaluation” (Pretoria)
  • We have extended the deadline for the COO position at Funda Wande (Cape Town) to the 12th of April 2019 – if you know of anyone or think you fit the profile please apply!

Links I liked…

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Over the last while I’ve been swamped working on the Funda Wande: Reading for Meaning program (more on that soon) and haven’t managed to keep up with the ‘Links I liked‘ blog posts. I think these are a helpful way of keeping track of good articles/books/blogs/videos etc. and curating some of cool stuff on the internet so I want to get back into this. Most of my time these days is spent looking at early grade reading in African languages so most of the articles are linked to that…

Useful new research:

I think I already posted the links below but it can’t hurt to do it again:

If you’ve read any great articles in the last while feel free to post them in the comments!

Links I liked…

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These are some things I’ve been reading and listening to over the last while. Sharing is caring 🙂 Post yours in the comments below…

  • “Bread and roses” – political slogan and poem – sung by The Radcliffe Pitches  (thanks Brett!). The phrase “Give us bread but give us roses too” resonated with me as the most succinct way of expressing that the fight for dignity is about more than meeting basic needs.
  • Linked to the above poem, I really enjoyed Joel Modiri’s article “The Law’s Poverty” and the clash between an a-historical human-rights approach to the law and a historically-situated “justice” approach to the law.
  • To be or not to be” – Masha Gessen on choice, Jewishness, identity, emigration and America (thanks again Brett!)
  • STARI – Excellent resources on reading in Middle School (Grade 6-8). The STARI project run by Catherine Snow –
  • WordGen – More resources on developing vocabulary through a 72-week discussion program (Catherine Snow’s baby)
  • Huapango – a Mexican folklore ballet showcasing the incredible cultural variety and richness of the Mexican peoples. Each part of the song was created with a one group in mind and the ballet showcases their traditional dances and outfits. I’ve been listening to this on repeat for about a month (Thanks Victor!)
  • Jonathan Jansen’s address to the Stanford Senate: “The case for the Academic Senate” – I include an excerpt from that address below:

“What does this say about the role of the Senate? Quite simply, the question of knowledge is at its root a question of agenda-setting in any Senate. This points to leadership, of the President and in particular of the Senate executive. A university Senate has a choice. It can be primarily a place of administrative regulations, rules and procedures but it can also be an arena in which the “big questions” of academy and society come to enjoy prominence on the Agenda.  I wish to suggest five such big questions (the first already referenced earlier) that should constitute a major part of the agenda of Academic Senates concerned with the purposes of a university in the 21st century:

(1) The representational contents of the curriculum (what we teach)

It matters enormously that Senates step back on a regular basis and ask questions about knowledge, identity and curriculum. What knowledge matters in the 21st century? Whose knowledge “makes it” into the curriculum? And is the Stanford graduate in any field of study equipped to encounter and act on a complex (integrated and divided) world?

(2) The complexion of the professoriate (who teaches)

It does matter that a Senate asks questions of who teaches. The strength of the best universities in the world depends crucially on the recruitment of the best talent across contexts, cultures and countries. It also conveys to students (and faculty) a crucial point that advanced knowledge is not locked up in one race, gender or culture.

(3) The diversity of the undergraduate (and also graduate) enrolments (whom we teach)

It matters that a Senate keeps returning to the question of who the student is we are privileged to teach. All students benefit from the knowledge that comes with learning from and alongside students from different class, race and ethnic backgrounds but also from other countries. (It always puzzles me that a university can boast, for the purposes of improved rankings, about the exclusivity of its entering first year class). It is also true that the strength of Stanford’s academic programs has always depended on the recruitment of the most talented graduate students on the planet.

(4) The methods of teaching (how we teach)

It is difficult to imagine a Senate in the heart of the Silicon Valley not returning to the agenda the question of the best technologies (in the broadest sense of the word) for teaching in this century. I know Stanford does this well. And yet efficacious teaching is about much more than technology-led instruction or teaching innovations in the classroom; it is about powerful teaching that engages student minds, develops criticality, stirs social and intellectual discomfort, and prepares those who seek learning to become comfortable with uncertainty. In short, how does the Stanford Senate account for teaching in this large and complex institution?

(5) The impacts on learning (whether teaching matters)

An academic Senate agenda should be concerned with the question whether what we teach matters in the lives of students. Powerful teaching is only evident in powerful learning. But this has to be assessed beyond the limiting confines of passing or failing in modules, courses or even degrees. Such assessment asks questions about the enduring effects of the educational experience beyond marketing anecdotes or even “feedback loops” from the corporate environment. Do graduates from this great university do much more than earn a living on a well-paid job? That surely must be among the broader purposes of a Stanford education and, therefore, a concern of the Senate.”

Barbara Band’s links on diversity and inclusion

barbaraLast week I spoke at the South African Librarian’s Conference at Highbury in KZN (presentation one and presentation two) and heard Barbara Band speak about how the library can be a vital tool to make schools more inclusive and help all students thrive. It struck a cord for me because in high school I basically lived in the library during breaks for three years. My librarians weren’t especially empathetic or insightful but it was still a safe place in an unsafe school. As always we can’t forget that South Africa is a deeply unequal country and that only 37% of learners are in a school with a library (Page 20 from this DBE report).

In Barbara’s address she mentioned a bunch of different sites and resources and I asked her to email them to me so I could share the mall with you, so here they are:

Booklists and bookshops:

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List of organisations that support diversity and inclusion:

  • Ditch The Label – anti-bullying charity supporting 12 – 25 year olds
    www.ditchthelabel.org
  • EACH – Educational Action Challenging Homophobia: provides training, support and resources.
    http://www.each.education/
  • Educate and Celebrate – Ofsted and DFE recognised programme to implement LGBTQ/inclusive curriculum
    www.educateandcelebrate.org
  • Gendered Intelligence – a not-for-profit company whose aim is to increase understandings of gender diversity.
    http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/
  • GIRES – Gender Identity Research and Education Society: aim is to improve lives of trans and gender non-conforming people. Lots of links to articles, research, legal advice, etc.
    http://www.gires.org.uk/
  • 6IGLYO – International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation: works with over 95 LGBTQ groups, run by and for young people.
    http://www.iglyo.com/
  • Inclusive Minds – a group of consultants and campaigners working to improve diversity in children’s literature.
    http://www.inclusiveminds.com/
  • Kidscape – deals with anti-bullying and child protection
    www.kidscape.org.uk
  • Mermaids – Family and individual support for children and teens with Gender Identity Issues.
    http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
  • 4Metro – Equality and diversity charity, focusing mainly around London and South East.
    www.metrocentreonline.org
  • Rewind – works in education to challenge racism and extremism
    http://rewind.org.uk
  • Schools Out UK – aim is to make schools safe and inclusive for everyone: lots of links to resources and other relevant websites.
    www.schools-out.org.uk
  • Stonewall – help and advice, carries out research, partners with schools and organisations, lots of resources.
    http://www.stonewall.org.uk/
  • Welcoming Schools – aimed at US elementary schools but has useful information, advice, etc.
    http://www.welcomingschools.org/

ALSO USEFUL:

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Links I liked :)

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Some things I’ve been reading:

New Research:

This article reports on a two-year evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS), an innovative system-wide reform intervention designed to improve learning outcomes in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Using data from universal testing of all learners in 2008 on a provincial systemic evaluation, as well as data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Annual National Assessment tests, this article investigates whether or not the GPLMS improves the numeracy skills of learners in early-grade mathematics in underperforming schools. Using as identification strategy, the natural experiment that resulted from a miscalculation of the provincial systemic evaluation test scores in 2008, which had been used to assign schools to the GPLMS intervention, the study shows that the GPLMS intervention is positively associated with improvements in early-grade mathematics performance of schools in the neighbourhood around the assignment threshold. The findings of the study contribute to the growing body of knowledge that shows the effectiveness of combining lesson plans, learner resources, and quality teacher capacity building.

Links I liked

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    • Civilising in Earnest: Schools and Schooling” – Chapter 18 of Weber’s “Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernisation of Rural France.” An incredibly insightful read about the role that education plays in unifying a country, standardising a language and promoting the dominant culture. A must read.
    • Currently I’m very interested in Catherine Snow‘s research on reading – the way she writes about reading and reading research is both accessible and sophisticated but also totally unpretentious. Start with this article: “Reading Comprehension: Reading for Learning.” I also found an online version of Adger, Snow & Christian’s (2003) “What teachers need to know about language” which looks great.
    • I recently gave a workshop/seminar at Herzlia High School in Cape Town on the topic “Assessment: Helping or Hurting the Academic Project?” where we spoke about new thinking in the assessment space, as well as expanding what we consider the academic project to be; including socio-emotional skills, grit, and 21st century skills (Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication). On this note, NPR published a nice post titled “Non-academic skills are key to success. But what should we call them.”
    • Evaluation of Washington DC’s IMPACT policy (controversial teacher-rating system and concomitant replacement of ineffective teachers) had a positive impact on student outcomes
    • Pasi Sahlberg writes that Harvard grad students (and all others) should be able to write op-eds and not just academic papers. Obviously I agree. Future students consider yourselves notified.
    • BrainPickings covers Krista Tippett’s new book “Becoming Wise: An inquiry into the mystery and art of living.” I thoroughly enjoyed Krista’s interview on Design Matters.
    • Cool  TED Talk by Paulo Blikstein from Stanford on his idea of the FabLab@School at Stanford.
  • The End of the Lecture?” by Peter Struck – “In contrast a good lecture should be designed to make a student work harder to prepare for the following one. It will motivate students to carry on the really hard, self-driven work of teaching themselves. It needs to transform data into knowledge by providing a synthesis and modelling for the students how to do it. It tailors the mass of information on a subject into a comprehensible narrative that picks and chooses, making judgments and subordinating some ideas to others. It animates the raw power of the fresh ideas it conveys. In other words, what makes a good lecture in these new formats is pretty much what makes a good lecture at all. Lectures have always been hard to do well, and we would benefit from more time spent working to improve them, something that will happen only by first resisting anti-lectureism, which, as a side effect, absolves us from the task.
  • Q&A with Angela Duckworth (of ‘grit’ fame) “One thing we’re doing to learn more about what teachers are doing, what works, and how we can scale it, is we are giving grants to teachers. Teachers probably have better ideas than we do about children and how to help them. What they don’t always have is training in the scientific method, measurement, study design, and statistics. What we’re hoping to do is help those teachers test those ideas in ways that might be more systematic than they might be able to do on their own.”

Research

Minding the gap?’ A national foundation phase teacher supply and demand analysis: 2012-2020 – Green, Adendorf & Mathebula (2015)

Abstract: This paper explores the extent to which foundation phase teacher supply meets demand in South Africa, against a backdrop of considerable change in an education system endeavouring to fulfil the needs of a 21st century society while still battling with significant inequalities in the distribution of skills. The primary purpose of the paper is to use recently sourced teacher education data from a range of national databases to determine to what extent state-led interventions are assisting to meet the foundation phase teacher supply and demand challenge. The data, as well as the more qualitative aspects of their context, are analysed at the macro (national) level to present a more nuanced picture of foundation phase teacher supply and demand. The study attempts to move beyond simply basing an analysis of supply and demand on teacher attrition, and takes into account multiple variables that should be considered in supply and demand planning. It also goes beyond simply matching supply to demand in the most recent year for which data is available, to forecasting a future scenario which will need to be planned for. The paper concludes by suggesting steps that should be taken to ensure a better match between supply and demand.

Making Good Use of New Assessments: Interpreting and Using Scores From the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2015) by Linda Darling-Hammond Edward Haertel James Pellegrino. Important thinking about around new assessments.

Quasi-experimental evidence on the effects of mother tongue-based education on reading skills and early labour market outcomes (Bethlehem A. Argaw∗ Leibniz University of Hanover February 23, 2016)

 Abstract: Prior to the introduction of mother tongue based education in 1994, the language of instruction for most subjects in Ethiopia’s primary schools was the official language (Amharic) – the mother tongue of only one third of the population. This paper uses the variation in individual’s exposure to the policy change across birth cohorts and mother tongues to estimate the effects of language of instruction on reading skills and early labour market outcomes. The results indicate that the reading skills of birth cohorts that gained access to mother tongue-based primary education after 1994 improved significantly by about 11 percentage points. The provision of primary education in mother tongue halved the reading skills gap between Amharic and non-Amharic mother tongue users. The improved reading skills seem to translate into gains in the labour market in terms of the skill contents of jobs held and the type of payment individuals receive for their work. An increase in school enrollment and enhanced parental educational investment at home are identified as potential channels linking mother tongue instruction and an improvement in reading skills.

Double for Nothing? Experimental Evidence on the Impact of an Unconditional Teacher Salary Increase on Student Performance in Indonesia” (Dee et al, 2016)

Abstract: How does a large unconditional increase in salary affect employee performance in the public sector? We present the first experimental evidence on this question to date in the context of a unique policy change in Indonesia that led to a permanent doubling of base teacher salaries. Using a large-scale randomized experiment across a representative sample of Indonesian schools that affected more than 3,000 teachers and 80,000 students, we find that the doubling of pay significantly improved teacher satisfaction with their income, reduced the incidence of teachers holding outside jobs, and reduced self-reported financial stress. Nevertheless, after two and three years, the doubling in pay led to no improvements in measures of teacher effort or student learning outcomes, suggesting that the salary increase was a transfer to teachers with no discernible impact on student outcomes. Thus, contrary to the predictions of various efficiency wage models of employee behavior (including gift-exchange, reciprocity, and reduced shirking), as well as those of a model where effort on pro-social tasks is a normal good with a positive income elasticity, we find that unconditional increases in salaries of incumbent teachers had no meaningful positive impact on student learning

Links I liked and new research

backwards
Links I liked:
Research
As part of project we are doing for the EU/SA Presidency, two RESEP-affiliated researchers – Martin Gustafsson and Stephen Taylor – have published important papers extending our understanding of education in South Africa. The first looks at the spatial distribution of teachers in South Africa and pays special attention to post-provisioning, the recruitment and employment of teachers and how policy can be improved in these areas. The second looks at the impact of treating schools to a new provincial administration, exploiting a change in provincial boundaries that led to some schools ‘moving’ into different provinces.
Teacher supply and the quality of schooling in South Africa. Patterns over space and time” (Gustafsson 2016)
  • The paper addresses policy questions in South Africa’s education system using a newly merged 1999 to 2013 panel of data that includes school enrolments by grade, staff details from the payroll system, examination and test results and the geo-coordinates of schools. This combination of data, which is seldom used, at least in developing countries, permits new and important knowledge about a schooling system to be uncovered. Whilst policy conclusions are South Africa-specific, the methods would be largely transferable to other contexts. It is shown that school data can complement official population data with respect to the monitoring of within-country migration and in determining the rate of urbanisation. An approach for calculating the viability of small schools in a context of migration out of rural areas is presented, using assumptions around maximum distance to be travelled by pupils and the degree to which multi-grade teaching by teachers should be permitted. Cost reductions associated with a reduced presence of small schools, and greater economies of scale associated with larger schools are found to be smaller than what is generally assumed. Correlations between pupil under-performance and the under-staffing of schools are found to be higher at the primary than the secondary level, apparently confirming the greater importance of personal interaction with a teacher for younger pupils. Between-school movements of pupils other than those associated with urbanisation are found to be high, and highly variable across districts. This further complicates the allocation of publicly paid teachers. An approach to gauging whether teachers avoid moving to schools on the other side of provincial boundaries is presented. It is confirmed that movement across provinces, which are the employers of teachers, is restricted, creating further obstacles to efficient teacher allocation. It is confirmed that teachers tend to move to better performing schools, but that the performance signals that influence this movement are often inaccurate and a few years old.”

    Treating schools to a new administration: Evidence from South Africa of the impact of better practices in the system-level administration of schools” (Gustafsson & Taylor, 2016)

  • “School examination results are far from ideal measures of progress in schooling systems, yet if analysed with sufficient care these data, which are common in education systems, can serve this purpose. The paper partly deals with how various student selection and year-on-year comparability issues in examinations data can be dealt with. This is demonstrated using South African student-level results, aggregated to the school level, for Grade 12 mathematics in the years 2005 to 2013. This was a period during which provincial boundaries changed, creating a quasi-experiment which is amenable to impact evaluation techniques. Value-added school production functions and fixed effects models are used to establish that movement into a better performing province was associated with large student performance improvements, equal in magnitude to around a year’s worth of progress in a fast improving country. Improvements were not always immediate, however, and the data seem to confirm that substantial gains are only achieved after several years, after students have been exposed to many grades of better teaching. The institutional factors which might explain the improvements are discussed. Spending per student was clearly not a significant explanatory variable. What did seem to matter was more efficient use of non-personnel funds by the authorities, with a special focus on educational materials, the brokering of pacts between stakeholders, including teacher unions, schools and communities, and better monitoring and support by the district office. Moreover, the education department in one province in question, Gauteng, has for many years pursued an approach which is unusual in the South African context, of hiring a substantial number of senior managers within the bureaucracy on fixed term contracts, as opposed to on a permanent basis, the aim being to improve accountability and flexibility at the senior management level.”
  • I have just discovered John Jerrim’s website. He seems like an extremely prolific scholar and has done loads of research on PISA. As important, he seems to be working closely with education policy makers in the UK.
  • Duration of unemployment in youth transitions from schooling to work in Cape Town” (Mlatsheni & Leibbrandt 2015)
  • “Starting together, growing apart: Gender gaps in learning from preschool to adulthood in four developing countries” (Singh & Krutikova, 2015)
  • Durevall, Lindskog & George (2016) – Three approaches all suggest no impact of secondary school attendance on HIV incidence in South Africa #CSAE2016
  • Nice round up of economic research on Africa from the first day of CSAE s well as Day Two and Three.

Links, presentations and new research

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Links I liked:
  • The story of Judge Lex Mpati who went from being a petrol attendant after matric to the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and Chancellor of Rhodes University where he studied (bartending on the side to pay for his studies). Such an inspiration that we have people like this who have gone from the very bottom to the very top.
  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) has a new report out titled “New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology.” (picture above taken from here). Interesting. Would like to see more research on this. (Again I reiterate that there isn’t anyone looking at grit – ala Duckworth – in South Africa).
  • The “What Works Clearinghouse” funded by the US Department of Education is an exceptional piece of scientific wisdom. Reviewing the evidence and coming up with recommendations on “what works” – what a brilliant (and obvious/logical) idea! Anyone in SA want to take this on? 🙂  (Thanks John Aitchison for reminding me of this).
  • NATURE has published a “Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims” – Great!
  • Great Quartz article taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Hillary Campaign and how Google’s top dog (Eric Schmidt) is funding a startup that provides analytics support.
  • Labyrinth of Lies” (2015) – great German film about prosecuting those responsible for the atrocities at Auschwitz, and this at a time soon after WW2 when key Nazi officials remained in high office in Germany. I watched this on the plane to Vancouver and was particularly moved by the scene where Jewish survivors explain what happened to them at Auschwitz (at the time this wasn’t discussed in Germany). The dialogue goes silent and all you see is the faces of the secretary transcribing the accounts in disbelief.
  • Knight Lab Timeline – Great resource to make Timelines for presentations. Thanks Shelanna Sturgess!

Some presentations I’ve given in the last month:

Some new research

  • Schooling inequality, higher education and the labour market: evidence from a graduate tracer study in the Eastern Cape, South Africa” 2015 article by Michael Rogan and John Reynolds comparing graduates from Fort Hare and Rhodes ABSTRACT: An emerging body of research has shown that there are large inequalities in access to higher education in South Africa. There remains a gap, however, in identifying how factors such as schooling background, academic performance, race and gender are linked with key higher education outcomes. In particular, the significance of these factors for first-choice degree attainment at university and in the subsequent transition to the labour market are of interest. This paper addresses these questions by presenting a descriptive and multivariate analysis of data collected through a tracer study which interviewed graduates from two Eastern Cape universities. The results suggest that schooling history, race and gender are associated with career choice and unemployment. These findings have important implications both for equity and for the efficiency of higher education institutions. The article concludes with a discussion of potential policy responses and the implications for equity in higher education.
  • Learning from Failure: why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved” by Sheringold (2015)
  • System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics StrategyB Fleisch, V Schöer, G Roberts, A Thornton – International Journal of Educational Development 2016 ABSTRACT This article reports on a two-year evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS), an innovative system-wide reform intervention designed to improve learning outcomes in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Using data from universal testing of all learners in 2008 on a provincial systemic evaluation, as well as data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Annual National Assessment tests, this article investigates whether or not the GPLMS improves the numeracy skills of learners in early-grade mathematics in underperforming schools. Using as identification strategy, the natural experiment that resulted from a miscalculation of the provincial systemic evaluation test scores in 2008, which had been used to assign schools to the GPLMS intervention, the study shows that the GPLMS intervention is positively associated with improvements in early-grade mathematics performance of schools in the neighbourhood around the assignment threshold. The findings of the study contribute to the growing body of knowledge that shows the effectiveness of combining lesson plans, learner resources, and quality teacher capacity building.
  • Treating schools to a new administration: Evidence from South Africa of the impact of better practices in the system-level administration of schools M Gustafsson, S Taylor – 2016 ABSTRACT: School examination results are far from ideal measures of progress in schooling systems, yet if analysed with sufficient care these data, which are common in education systems, can serve this purpose. The paper partly deals with how various student selection and year-on-year comparability issues in examinations data can be dealt with. This is demonstrated using South African student-level results, aggregated to the school level, for Grade 12 mathematics in the years 2005 to 2013. This was a period during which provincial boundaries changed, creating a quasi-experiment which is amenable to impact evaluation techniques. Value-added school production functions and fixed effects models are used to establish that movement into a better performing province was associated with large student performance improvements, equal in magnitude to around a year’s worth of progress in a fast improving country. Improvements were not always immediate, however, and the data seem to confirm that substantial gains are only achieved after several years, after students have been exposed to many grades of better teaching. The institutional factors which might explain the improvements are discussed. Spending per student was clearly not a significant explanatory variable. What did seem to matter was more efficient use of non-personnel funds by the authorities, with a special focus on educational materials, the brokering of pacts between stakeholders, including teacher unions, schools and communities, and better monitoring and support by the district office. Moreover, the education department in one province in question, Gauteng, has for many years pursued an approach which is unusual in the South African context, of hiring a substantial number of senior managers within the bureaucracy on fixed term contracts, as opposed to on a permanent basis, the aim being to improve accountability and flexibility at the senior management level.
  • Also, this isn’t new (it’s 2012) but I’ll be buying/ordering this volume ASAP: “Handbook of International Large-Scale Assessment: Background, Technical Issues, and Methods of Data Analysis

Important new education research

holy

    • Ursula Hoadley and Joe Muller have just published their important paper looking at assessment in South Africa “Visibility and differentiation: Systemic testing in a developing country context” (Curriculum Journal, 2016)- I prefer their earlier title “Testing testing: Investigating the epistemic potential of systemic testing” (Un-gated draft-version of that paper here).
    • Why has large-scale standardised testing attracted such a bad press? Why has pedagogic benefit to be derived from test results been downplayed? The paper investigates this question by first surveying the pros and cons of testing in the literature, and goes on to examine educators’ responses to standardised, large-scale tests in a sample of low socio-economic status (SES) schools in the Western Cape, South Africa. The paper shows that teachers and school managers have an ambivalent attitude to tests, wary of the reputational costs they can incur, but also curious about the differentiated picture test results can give them as they learn to ‘read’ the underlying codes embedded in the results. The paper concludes that a focus on what tests make visible and a recognition of the pedagogic agency of teachers points to potential pedagogic benefits of systemic tests.

    • Craig Paxton has finally finished his PhD thesis “Possibilities and constraints for improvement in rural South African schools” (UCT, 2015). This is on my to skim/read list together with Eric Schollar’s PhD (see below)
    • Part of Craig’s PhD abstract:”Rural South African schools face a complex mix of challenges, which make improvement a daunting task. Not only do schools deal with the time, place and space issues that face rural schools worldwide, but in addition they contend with a legacy of severely deprived schooling under the apartheid system. Using the framework of the Five Essential Supports, developed by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, together with Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and doxa, this thesis examines what improvement might mean in this deeply disadvantaged context. The five supports – leadership, learning climate, school-community ties, ambitious instruction and professional capacity – are contextualised to account for both the rural setting and the peculiarities of education in South Africa’s former homeland communities. Alongside this largely quantitative framework, Bourdieu’s conceptual tools are brought to bear, offering an alternative perspective that makes sense of the complex forces produced by history and rurality

    •  Pritchett’s new (2015) RISE Working Paper “Creating Education Systems Coherent for Learning Outcomes.” This has been quite an influential paper for me. Although in the South African context I would almost always add “Capacitation” to his four criteria Delegation, Financing, Information, Motivation. Lant also has a great (and scathing) critique of meta-analyses of quantitative studies:
    • If one were to take this approach of “rigorous evidence” at face value then there is rigorous evidence that nothing in the conventional wisdom actually works. There is rigorous evidence that giving out textbooks doesn’t matter, there is rigorous evidence pay for performance doesn’t matter, there is rigorous evidence that class size doesn’t matter. Of course there is also rigorous evidence that all these elements of the conventional wisdom do matter. The usual approach of doing a “systematic review” of the literature that simply counts studies (in a quality weighted basis) is not at all helpful. Suppose that context A is a system coherent for learning—so that teachers know what students should learn, that learning is measured on a regular and reliable basis and teachers are motivated to achieve high student learning—and class size is reduced. Let’s assume that learning improves (as there is RCT evidence from the USA, for instance, that this is true). Context B is a system coherent for schooling only. Class size is reduced. Let’s assume learning doesn’t improve (as there is RCT evidence from Kenya, for instance, that this is true). Suppose the only two studies in the systematic review were USA and Kenya. Then the conclusion would be that “class size improves student learning in 50 percent of the studies.” Now suppose that 8 more rigorous studies were done in the USA so that a systematic review would conclude “class size improves student learning in 90 percent of studies.” Suppose, in contrast, 8 more studies were done in Kenya. Then a systematic review of the rigorous evidence would conclude “class size improves student learning in 10 percent of the studies.” All three statements are equally worthless. The (assumed) truth is that “class size improves performance in context A but not in context B” and hence unless one knows whether the relevant context is A or B the systematic review finding of impact in 50 percent, 90 percent or 10 percent of the studied cases is irrelevant.

  • Glewwe & Muralidharan’s new (2015) RISE Working Paper “Improving School Education Outcomes in Developing Countries” they find that:
  • Interventions that focus on improved pedagogy (especially supplemental instruction to children lagging behind grade level competencies) are particularly effective, and so are interventions that improve school governance and teacher accountability

Links I liked

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Links I liked (and some personal reflections)

rise

  • Taylor, N. 1989. Falling at the First Hurdle: Initial encounters with the formal system of African education in South Africa. Research Report #1. EPU. (via JET Education). – an old but important report that is not in the public domain yet (as far as I’m aware) – thanks JET for scanning this.

  • Improving learning in primary schools of developing countries: A meta-analysis of randomized experiments” – Patrick McEwan (2015) (via Servaas van der Berg).
  • The independent Task Team led by Prof John Volmink, which was appointed to look into the ‘jobs-for-cash’ scandal exposed by CityPress last year, has found that SADTU has a ‘stranglehold‘ over the State in provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. These scandals sometimes turn deadly when the ‘right’ candidate is not appointed. On this topic I would highly recommend Gabi Wills’ new article “Informing principal policy reforms in South Africa through data-based evidence.” To give you the highlight: The cohort of principals that are currently in the system are, on average, much older than they were in the past meaning that there is soon to be a wave of principal retirements. Whereas in 2004 only 17% of principals were aged 55yrs+, in 2012 that figure was 33%! If these principals retire at 60 this means that between 2012 and 2017 there will be about 7000 principal replacements! (remember there are only about 24,000 public schools in SA).
  • This latest report shows that the South African Council of Educators (SACE) is a toothless dog, as I have argued before. Earlier this year SACE ran their own investigation into the exact same jobs-for-cash scam and could not find “a single bit of evidence” that there was corruption in the appointment of teachers and principals in SA. Subsequently CityPress has claimed SADTU ‘told SACE to end their investigation” after the names of top SADTU officials started cropping up in the investigation. So how is it that SACE ran an investigation on the same issue at the same time and found no evidence while Volmink’s team found multiple examples of corruption, and 13 of the cases were so strong that they could already be passed on to the police? Go figure. Minister Motshekga needs to put a target on SACE and reform the entire organization. It is rotten through and through.
  • Holstee have come up with a set of 10 questions to ask yourself about the year that was. Reflection. Contemplation. Good stuff.
  • I’m re-reading Henri Nouwen’s “Reaching Out” – the book where he outlines his understanding of spirituality from the Christian perspective. It’s lovely, not too preachy or crispy-clean / three-bags-full-sir Christianiaty which I have little tolerance for. One quote:

“When loneliness is haunting me with its possibility of being a threshold instead of a dead end, a new creation instead of a grave, a meeting place instead of an abyss, then time loses its desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid of the missed opportunity” – Anonymous in Nouwen’s Reaching Out p35

All models are wrong but some are useful.

— George Box (via Farnam Street Brain Food)

I am really enjoying poetry for the first time in a long time…

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T.S. Elliott

Also Pablo Neruda.

It was also my birthday last month which started in tears and ended in champagne with a view! Ad Astra Per Aspera!

IMG_7650

Photo credit: Michael Chandler (@MrChandlerHouse)

Links I liked

listen

  • It is worth reading and re-reading the DBE’s “Second detailed indicator report for the basic education sector” published last year. The infrastructural backlogs in the Eastern Cape particularly are truly unbelievable.
  • The MEC of Gauteng has proposed rotating principals every September in an effort to curb corruption. As a friend of mine said “It takes at least 3 years to find your feet in a new school – this is like school leadership musical chairs. It’s ludicrous.” I agree.
  • New IJER Special Issue on Teacher Rounds, like medical rounds but for teaching practice.
  • Instil Education – a private teacher development startup in SA – are looking for an “Instil Fellow” and a “Director of Teacher Development” – links here.
  • I’m currently reading through one of my masters students dissertations and came across this lovely quote by Martha Nussbaum:
  • “Nothing could be more crucial to democracy than the education of its citizens. Through primary and secondary education, young citizens form, at a crucial age, habits of mind that will be with them all through their lives. They learn to ask questions or not to ask them; to take what they hear at face value or to probe more deeply; to imagine the situation of a person different from themselves or to see a new person as a mere threat to the success of their own projects; to think of themselves as members of a homogeneous group or as members of a nation, and a world, made up of many people and groups, all of whom deserve respect and understanding” – Nussbaum (2006, p.387).
  • I am currently staying with a friend and his family and made a few meals from Nigel Slater’s “Tender: Volume 1” which is lovely. My kind of a cookbook.  Kathleen Alcott captures the appeal in her New Yorker article
  • Slater is the writer for those of us who have ended up in the kitchen because transforming chopped vegetables and seasoned meats into complex dishes makes us feel that we have acted capably for the sake of our own well-being, and for the well-being of those we love. The hours I spend bent over an evolving meal are, as I believe they are for Slater, a step in the direction of the person I want to be and the home I’d like to have, even if I am frequently not that person, even if I do not come from that type of home. We conceive who we are as we conceive the meal in front of us.”
  • Two documents that will be helpful for those in government and in the NGO world. They are “Database of potential funders for municipalities” and in a different version: Database of potential funders (both from the CSI Trialogue Newsletter)

Links I liked…

circle

  • I attended the “Thinking Big about Learning” event at Stanford last month. I would strongly recommend watching the talks by Doorley on the future of the university and Wojcicki on student-driven learning using media. If you’ve never heard Carol Dweck before then watch her video, but if you have then skip it – it’s the same flipping thing she’s been saying for 15 years. But the concept of a growth mindset is important enough to give her a free-pass to everything for life! Carl Wieman’s talk was also great.
  • My @Powerfm987 interview on the Child Gauge 2015 where we spoke about education, reading by age 10, school fees and inequality, teacher training, priorities and whether or not government is working with researchers in education (short answer: yes, but probably not enough).
  • Last year Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton gave a lecture at LSE “A Menagerie of Lines: How to Decide Who is Poor?
  • Megan Beckett‘s beautiful concept maps showing how “Life and Living” concepts fit together across the Grade 4-9 science curriculum.
  • Corruption Watch releases report on money mismanagement in South African schools. Sigh.
  • How much inequality is reduced by progressive taxation and government spending in SA?” – useful to get some stats on the table! the gist of it
    • “Through progressive taxation and pro-poor social spending, the SA fiscal system reduces income inequality significantly. The extent of this reduction is larger than in twelve comparable middle-income countries measured similarly. Nevertheless, ‘final’ income (i.e. income after major taxes, government transfers and spending) remains more unequal than in comparator countries. While the fiscal system has an important role to play in reducing inequality, interventions to improve the distribution of wages, salaries and capital income are needed”
  • I came across an important SA company, Advantage Learn which offers teaching videos for Grade 10, 11 and 12 in maths, science and NBTs. I know James and Crispian personally and have some friends that were taught by Trish and rave about her teaching. Looking forward to exploring this further in December…
  • MIT PHD student Dan De Kadt has a new paper on service delivery and voting behaviour, finding the opposite of what one would expect: “Studying southern African democracies, where infrastructural investment in basic services has expanded widely but not universally, we find a surprising answer to this question: Voters who receive services are less likely to support the incumbent.” (It’s a pretty small world in SA – Dan and his team at Glenwood were our main debate rivals in high school!)
  • Some links from Mike Youngblood who taught one of the courses I took at Stanford.

“Here’s a few quick resources for you. Some are coming from more of a design perspective, others from more of an anthropological perspective – but they’re all talking about the intersection between the two.

  • Fulton Suri, Jane. “Poetic Observation: What Designers Make of What They See” in Design Anthropology (Springer, 2011) pages 16-32.
  • Salvador, Tony et al. “Design Ethnography” in Design Management Journal (Fall 1999) pp 35-41.

Links I liked :)

beauty

  • Nice interview with Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton on Randomized Control Trials and the future of development economics (via Gareth Roberts). Deaton’s book is in my top three list of next books to read. An excerpt from the interview:

TO: Do you think there are promising leads in abolishing world poverty
AD: From RCTs?
TO: From anywhere.
AD: I know what I think which is that we should be thinking much more about politics than about micro-detailed studies. So I’m basically in the same boat as Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson.

  • Great source of “For” and “Against” arguments for the “Top 100 Debates
  • Two new (2015) books published by UNESCO: “Investing against evidence: the global state of early childhood care and education” and “Mobile phones & literacy: empowerment in women’s hands; a cross-case analysis of nine experiences
  • EdNext interview with U-Mich’s David Cohen on “Teaching and its Predicaments” – I was interested to hear that he thinks that charter networks could have a large positive impact, and also discusses the possibility of technology, reaffirming the usual refrain: “Technology is no better than the people that use it
  • Nice list of course outlines/readings for those interested in political communication, propaganda, media etc. See Stanford’s “Political Communication Lab
  • Stanford’s Design-School has quite a cool handout “Interview for Empathy” and “Empathy Map
  • One of the people I’ve met here works at the AltSchool in Palo Alto or san Francisco (I can’t remember). This sounds like a pretty fascinating school that’s rethinking how to ‘do’ school. Check out the videos here. It is also $20,000/year and part of a for-profit company.
  • What looks like a cool Stanford course: “Building Innovative Brands
  • Stanford anthropologist James Ferguson discusses “The Politics of a Post-Jobs Economy” and highlights the case of cash transfers in South Africa. Here’s the bio: “Most of the left’s politics for most of the last century and a half have been framed around the idea that the principle way we get money is that we work: we trade our labor to businesses that need it. But what happens if we re-think the way we distribute money, and it isn’t about work anymore . . . it’s about your rights as a citizen to a share of the value that the economy’s producing? We’ll discuss the places where this is actually happening, and what it means for our economics and our politics”
  • My kind of fashion blog – http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/

Some links and updates before leaving :)

dissolve

Before leaving I thought It would be a good idea to do a bit of a ‘brain-dump’ on my blog to update everyone on the things that I know about in the South African education space. Some of these might be very well known but I imagine some of them are less well known. In any event I think it’ll be helpful. If you know of any other ‘useful-to-know-about’ projects please include them in the comments to this post. And just for shits and giggles I’ve included some GIFs 🙂

  • The matric pass rate will drop this year. You just need to look at the gigantic matric cohort that we have this year – in fact, if my calculations are correct it is *the* biggest matric cohort we have ever had! One can only conclude that this is because of the automatic-progression law that’s now being applied to the FET phase. There are 687,230 students enrolled in matric this year, compared to 571,819 last year. Enough said.

ear dear

  • Speaking of matric, let’s briefly touch on the perennial no-brainer that is always politicized and therefore scrapped – testing prospective matric markers. Every year the Minister says prospective matric markers will need to write a competency test prior to being appointed and every year SADTU opposes it and it’s scrapped at the last minute. This article of mine from 2013 is just as true today as it was then, unfortunately. I think this is a good litmus-test of whether the Minister or the new DG mean business. If the research shows that many teachers lack basic content knowledge of the subjects they are teaching and marking – and it definitely does – then we need to be asking why prospective markers are not required to prove they can assess accurately? (except in the Western Cape where testing prospective matric markers has been in place for many years already).

excellent question

  • We now have a new Director General of Basic Education, Mr Mweli. This position has been essentially vacant (i.e. no permanent DG) for more than a few years now. It will be very interesting to see what he chooses to prioritise in his time as DG.

hmm very interesting

  • The results of the SACMEQ 2013 (Gr6) national testing and the TIMSS-Numeracy 2014 (Gr5) study should be released soon. As an aside South Africa is seriously thinking about taking part in PISA-for-Development in 2017 which will be great – more on that in the future (I’m working at PISA next year). The SACMEQ 2013 results are very important. I am really looking forward to seeing what they show.

kittens looking

  • The for-profit sector will continue to grow rapidly in South Africa in the coming decade, largely because the majority of public schools are dysfunctional. The ‘low-fee’ sector will grow the fastest as entrepreneurs and investors see the potential for huge growth and massive returns (with or without State subsidies).

a dollar makes me holler

  • See my presentation to the IEB on for-profit schooling in SA here. To give you an idea about the growth of Curro students/schools, for example, see the graph below:

Curro

that escalated quickly

  • Nick Taylor, one of the education champions in South Africa, is pushing ahead with his Initial Teacher Education Research Project (ITREP) – see here. It aims to identify to what extent we are producing teachers who are better able to address the challenges of schooling. The initial results have found especially damning results for university’s existing teacher training programs. Hopefully the positive energy and attention will lead to reform. Nick is also involved in a cool (and important) project aimed at creating communities of practice for Primary numeracy and literacy researchers in South Africa. Both of which show serious promise.

excited

  • The education technology space in South Africa (and in the world generally) is booming. Billions of Rands have been allocated to technology in both Gauteng and the Western Cape. I have been meaning to write an article about this for a long time but haven’t got around to it yet unfortunately. In light of this move 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?

dulp2

  • 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 (and doing it properly in a hands-on, in-classroom way), 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). Importantly we should be asking where these budgets are coming from. Is it wise to be spending billions in untested, unevaluated technology when we still have 500,000 disabled students out of school? (see my presentation to SANASE AGM here).  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?“).

got any other bad ideas (stark)

  • On a positive note there is a really important Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) currently underway in the North West, Kudos to the DBEStephen Taylor, Brahm Fleisch, Nompumelelo Moholwane and their team for initiating this one. See here for a write-up about it. It’s basically trying to find the best way of teaching reading in the early grades, testing alternatives against each other to find the one with the biggest impact and the most-effective alternative. For those not familiar with the RCT methodology, read this document written for the UK Parliament. I am really looking forward to the results from this study. They have important ramifications for how we ‘teach’ early grade reading in South Africa.

prism

And then some of my ‘usual’ links:

  • Presentations from our Quantitative Research in Education conference. Many of these papers have been developed into full articles and will be available in a special issue of the SAJCE –Priorities and Policy-making in South African Education – which should be out later this year. In the mean time I would strongly recommend going through Gabrielle Wills’ presentation on the principal labour-market in South Africa. She estimates that due to the ageing profile of principals that there will be 7000 principal replacements between 2012 and 2017 in South Africa. That’s enormous.

idea explosion

hell to the no

  • The Auditor General of South Africa has released their special report on the Education Sector in South Africa – see here.
  • One school in California has decided to ban grade-based promotion and has moved to a performance/competence criteria for promotion. Interesting, innovative, forward-thinking. More of this please…
  • The New York Public Library has put 20,000 high-res images of maps online and makes them free to download (via Kelsey).
  • Before deciding on your opinion about racism (or the lack thereof) at Stellenbosch University (or the Open Stellenbosch movement) watch this 30-minute documentary about the experiences of 32 black students at the University. My thoughts on this: (1) The current pace of transformation is too slow, (2) the current culture at the University is experienced as exclusionary by Black students, (3) While not its explicit aim, the current language policy at SU has the effect of excluding many Black students from quality higher education (in a country where such quality higher education is rare), (4) these issues will not go away until deep, meaningful and sustained reforms (which will be difficult) are implemented at the University, (5) disciplinary hearings and expulsions for protesting students is *totally* the wrong approach to deal with this (one wonders who is advising those in management?!). Watch the documentary for yourself and let me know what you think…

stellenbosch graduation photo

Some presentations I’ve given in the last 2 months:

That’s all for now.

 

Im outta here

Reading to some purpose

baloon rock

  • Important This American Life podcast on accidental school desegregation in Missouri in 2013 (via Doron Isaacs). Such a relevant conversation for South Africa where the distinction between functional and dysfunctional schools is so stark. We really need to be doing more research on understanding the formal (and informal) ways that fee-charging schools manage to exclude students that cannot pay. While I am sympathetic to passionate principals who are concerned about funds needed to run the school, I am even more sympathetic to parents of poor children who want a good education for their children but simply have no options.
  • The School of Life asks “What’s Education For?” and provides quite a compelling answer which highlights the current deficiencies in our education system (globally).
  • Inside The Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers – very cool WIRED article.
  • 2014 USAID “Mobiles For Reading:A Landscape Research Review” via Garth Spencer Smith
  • In 1989 Susan Sontag gave a guest lecture at Michigan State University about ‘illness as metaphor’ where she discusses cancer and AIDS with insight and eloquence. Worth listening to.
  • Brilliant Comedy Central skit showing what it would be like if we treated our best teachers like our best football players
  • Informative New Yorker article on Jeb Bush’s influence on education – specifically testing and the proliferation of charter schools (including for-profit charter schools) during his time as Governor of Florida. Remember that he is probably going to be the Republican presidential candidate for the upcoming U.S. elections.

Who watches the watchmen? SADTU, SACE and the insidiousness of corruption

watchmen

In the first or second century AD the Roman satirist Juvenal asked “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which translates to “Who will watch the watchmen?” or “Who will guard the guards?” – a pithy quote about where ultimate power does or should reside, and highlighting that all are corruptible. The latest manifestation of this seems to be with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). On their website they explain that “SACE is the professional council for educators, that aims to enhance the status of the teaching profession through appropriate registration, management of professional development and inculcation of a code of ethics for all educators.” Unfortunately this is, at best, an aspirational Facebook status.

My first encounter with SACE was during a Section 5 Committee meeting of the SA Human Rights Commission (I am on the advisory committee for education). As part of an investigation into corporal punishment at schools we requested that officials from both the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and SACE attend the meeting and answer our questions. In that investigation there were numerous instances of corporal punishment, I have even heard of one instance of a 9 year old girl that was “disciplined” by the principal and ended up dying in hospital a little while later. As part the same investigation there were numerous stories emerging about some teachers and principals sexually assaulting their students. This was especially offensive to me and became the issue I asked the DBE and SACE about when they were at the meeting. As it turns out, if a teacher is dismissed for sexually assaulting a student – which is very rare (being dismissed that is) – they should be struck from the SACE roll so that they cannot get another teaching job in South Africa. Unfortunately this is just how it works in theory, not in practice. In practice what usually happens is that the provincial education department (who is the employer) dismisses the teacher and will not rehire them at another school in the province. However, during the investigation – and after many explicit questions – it emerged that the provincial education departments do not share a common database of registered or disbarred teachers, either with each other, or with SACE (whose database systems are totally shambolic). So there is nothing stopping this dismissed teacher leaving the province where they sexually assaulted a student and moving to another province where they can be employed as a teacher. There are no electronic records that are available to either the receiving province or the receiving principal. I distinctly remember the awkward shuffling and sheepish looks when I asked the DBE official: “Please can you be explicit and tell us if there are any functional systems currently in place that prevent a teacher who has been dismissed for sexual misconduct from being rehired by another school in another province?” To which the answer was “Our databases are not currently linked so that is theoretically possible, yes.” Which obviously shocked everyone at the Section 5 Committee meeting.

That was the first sign to me that SACE is a totally dysfunctional institution that is all form and very little function. The most recent, and even more disturbing revelation is that it seems that this institution has been captured by the major teacher union SADTU. Sipho Masondo reported in the City Press last week that in October last year the DBE and SACE launched separate investigations into the allegations that SADTU officials were selling teaching and administrative positions (see here for the detailed and damning expose). The DBE’s investigation, headed by a friend of mine Prof John Volmink, is yet to be finalized and released. However, Sipho’s article reports that  “a source within the SACE, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told City Press that Sadtu’s executives approached the council’s chief operating officer, Tsedi Dipholo, and asked her to drop the investigation after the names of the union’s leaders in branches, regions and provinces started cropping up.” – something that she readily complied with. Promptly after this the investigation was wrapped up, has never been released and found no wrong-doing whatsoever. SACE CEO Rej Brijraj explains that “We spent four months investigating. There was a very strong rumour that persisted, but we couldn’t find a single bit of evidence. The rumours were strong, but no evidence or witnesses were brought forward for us to prosecute. We were given leads, but they yielded nothing and we had to stop.

Both of these instances, depicting incompetence and corruption respectively, deserve our serious attention. SACE is the body that is supposed to be regulating the profession and preventing disrepute and degradation, yet it is the very organization that is complicit in this degradation.

We need to ask: Who will watch the watchmen? Who will regulate the regulators? The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga should request a Ministerial Task Team to look into the functionality of SACE and whether it actually can or does accomplish what it is mandated to do. But, and this is crucial, it is not good enough to simply order a task team, you actually have to do something with the results. When and if the Volmink report is actually released the biggest question I have is “So what?” What happens to the findings and recommendations? Probably the same thing that happened with the Limpopo textbook enquiry – a little more investigation here, a little staff shuffling over there, but essentially no consequences. This is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing our education system – the lack of accountability – i.e. the lack of consequences – in our education system. The process of writing this blog post has given me sufficient energy to edit some of my opening remarks for the OR Tambo Debate which I will publish as a blog post now…

In all of this we need to remember who is most affected by this widespread ineptitude and corruption in the education system. It is the poor, mostly Black African, children of South Africa that are condemned to lives of poverty and unemployment, no different to their parents and care-givers. That is the real tragedy here.

Reading to some purpose…

blue

As part of one my research projects we are now focussing on reading in the Foundation Phase (Grades 1-3) and developing a course to train Foundation Phase teachers how to teach reading, because, as it turns out, most Foundation Phase teachers don’t actually know how to teach reading (in an African language or in English). We’re getting the best literacy experts in the country on it and developing a world class video-based, year-long, part-time course showing practically what the various building blocks of reading are, why they’re important, how to teach them, and when. It’s still in the concept note phase – and you’ll hear more about it in the next 3 months – but for now here are some great articles and books about reading:

“The Road to Self Renewal”

sketch

Every so often I come across an essay that totally changes the way I think about life or what I’m doing. It’s like a mental palate cleanser 🙂 The previous one was this one.  And today I read another: “The Road to Self Renewal.” Some excerpts I loved…

“The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent but pays off on character. You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you; they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing. Those are things that are hard to learn early in life. As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As writer Norman Douglas said, “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.” You come to terms with yourself. You finally grasp what playwright S.N. Behrman meant when he said, “At the end of every road you meet yourself.

Life is an endless unfolding and, if we wish it to be, an endless process of self discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just success as the world measures success, but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.
For many, this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of a coherent community and traditionally prescribed patterns of culture. Today you can’t count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments, whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn’t handed out free anymore – not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.
I hope it’s clear that the door of opportunity doesn’t really close as long as you’re reasonably healthy. And I don’t just mean opportunity for high status but opportunity to grow and enrich your life in every dimension.
Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account. 

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

What a gem! Full essay here.