Category Archives: Links I liked…

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


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…


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”


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.

Links I liked…


  • On the 7th of July I will be part of a debate with the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga as well as Prof Mary Metcalfe, Sizwe Nxasana and Nadi Albino. If you’re around join us – it should be an interesting debate 🙂 (to RSVP see the invite above).
  • For those of you who will be in and around JHB on 22 June (9am-1pm) come and join us for a conversation about the Annual National Assessments (invite here). I’ll be speaking together with Martin Gustafsson and Caroline Long.
  • Interesting article: “Brahm Fleisch on building a new infrastructure for learning in Gauteng
  • Applications for teacher intern bursaries are due on the 3rd of July 2015 (see here).  Only students studying through UNISA are eligible and the focus is on Maths and English. I really like the internship model of teacher training (i.e. being under a master teacher) and am keen to see this program expand.
  • Beyond benchmarks: What 20 years of TIMSS data tell us about South African education” (Reddy, Zuze et al, 2015)
  • Comprehensive Special Report on Early Literacy by EduWeek (2015) – (Thanks Kim Draper)
  • Someone dies from a shack fire every 2 days. A friend of mine, Frank Petousis, is involved with a social startup called Lumkani which builds small cheap devices which can detect shack fires and alert residents (and neighbors). I’ve donated to their Indiegogo drive to raise $50,000 to cover 3000 shacks. Go check it out!
  • On the 22nd of May 2015 Ireland took to a referendum the issue of gay marriage in the country (watch this video). Citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting equal status to gay people to get married (62% voted yes).
  • 100 things to do in Cape Town during winter

A world of languages – and how many speak them (infographic)

languages of the world

From here-

Reading to some purpose…


“In an influential 1937 essay called “The Nature of the Firm,” the economist Ronald Coase argued that a firm would grow as long as its internal transaction costs were less than the external costs it would otherwise incur. But in the Bay Area today, Ravikant suggested, the external transaction costs for many things have got so low that there are fewer such economies.

 “For example, in the old days, we’d get breakfast and lunch brought in every day so that the engineers can work and be productive,” he said. “I might have had my office manager do that—essentially, I’ve hired someone who’s spending time doing it. Now we have a zillion different little services who bring that in-house.” The more assured Ravikant got, the faster he spoke; he started rattling off the options available. On the transportation front, “we have our Lyft and our Sidecar and our UberX and our InstantCab and our Flywheel. Two years ago, I couldn’t find a cab in this city to save my life. Now I’ve sold most of my cars and I have five different car services at my beck and call.”

The same systems that make outsourcing of small tasks more efficient have driven down the cost of launching a company. Once, an entrepreneur would go to a venture capitalist for an initial five-million-dollar funding round—money that was necessary for hardware costs, software costs, marketing, distribution, customer service, sales, and so on. Now there are online alternatives. “In 2005, the whole thing exploded,” Ravikant told me. “Hardware? No, now you just put it on Amazon or Rackspace. Software? It’s all open-source. Distribution? It’s the App Store, it’s Facebook. Customer service? It’s Twitter—just respond to your best customers on Twitter and Get Satisfaction. Sales and marketing? It’s Google AdWords, AdSense. So the cost to build and launch a product went from five million”—his marker skidded across the whiteboard—“to one million”—more arrows—“to five hundred thousand”—he made a circle—“and it’s now to fifty thousand.” As a result, the number of companies skyrocketed, and so did the number of angels: suddenly, you didn’t need to be a venture-capital firm to afford early equity.”

The youth, the upward dreams, the emphasis on life style over other status markers, the disdain for industrial hierarchy, the social benefits of good deeds and warm thoughts—only proper nouns distinguish this description from a portrait of the startup culture in the Bay Area today. It is startling to realize that urban tech life is the closest heir to the spirit of the sixties, and its creative efflorescence, that the country has so far produced.

Public-minded kids in San Francisco seem to have that expectation, which is partly why the startup market has had such growth, and why smart people from around the country keep flying in to try their hands at the game. The result is a rising metropolitan generation that is creative, thoughtful, culturally charismatic, swollen with youthful generosity and dreams—and fundamentally invested in the sovereignty of private enterprise.

  • Re-read Keynes’ old quote and was reminded about the power of ideas: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”

Links I liked…

dead fish

Links I liked :)

devote yourself


Carli Davidson Pet Photography

Carli Davidson Pet Photography

Links I liked…


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

Links I liked :)

 dead fish

  • My presentation on the matric results 2014 (22 Jan 2015). Matric 2015: Understanding the results, interrogating the issues. Presentation at Eduvate’s Ed-Tech seminar (Stellenbosch)
  • Judge orders government officials to personally pay up” – this is an interesting development in SA. Unbelievably shocking story.
  • Report on an early grade reading initiative that showed promise but wasn’t followed up on 😦 Impact Study of SMRS Using Early Grade Reading Assessment in Three Provinces in South Africa  – I was alerted to this by Nick Taylor’s excellent 2013 NEEDU Reading Report (draft version)
  • Formative evaluation of workbooks and textbooks in South Africa” – Study by ACER.
  • Interesting article on “The superiority of economists
  • Great 2012 podcast on “True Grit” by Angela Duckworth. Are there any good SA psychologists/educationists doing research on this topic of perseverance, self-control and grit? If so please include in the comments. If not, someone get on it!
  • Minimum wages: the choices are not simple – UCT’s Seekings and Nattrass weigh in on the debate.
  • Great example of the power of open-source / Creative Commons – someone has curated the awesome aerial photos NASA takes. Free wallpapers for your phone.
  • DG Murray Trust Hands-on Learning Brief: Scaling up ECD in SA
  • Full list of presentations (and slides) from UNICEF’s recent Knowledge Building Seminar on Early Childhood Development (ECD) – I would recommend looking over the presentations by Mark Tomlinson, Linda Biersteker, Marie-Louise Samuels, Linda Richter and Jean Elphick.
  • Useful organogram of the Western Cape Education Department (thanks Mike Wilter)
  • Isabel Allende “This I believe: In giving I connect with others” – extremely moving one page essay about finding meaning in giving. I’ve added this to my list of “higher truths”
  • Private school effects in urban and rural India” – “The results have several implications of interest for policy-makers. Combined with previous work highlighting that the average cost per child in rural private schools is a fraction of the average cost in the state schools, and that private schools dedicate less instructional time to Telugu and Mathematics, they suggest strongly that private schools are considerably more productive than government schools. However, they also imply that the spread of private schools is unlikely to raise average achievement levels as measured by math skills or functional literacy significantly; with the exception of English, I do not find any large and consistently positive ‘private school effect’. To the extent that the first-order concern for education policy in India remains the abysmally low levels of achievement in general, rather than the inefficiencies in the delivery of education services, the spread of private schooling by itself is clearly not an adequate solution. The large and significant private school premium in English, provided without any trade-off in other subjects in the case of Telugu-medium private schools and only a modest trade-off in English-medium schools, could lead to a possibly large wage premium for private school students in the future. Combined with the selectivity on socio-economic background in the private sector, this premium provides possible grounds for concern that private schools hinder social mobility and facilitate the intergenerational persistence of socio-economic status.”
  • Quote of the week: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. […] Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” — Frederick Douglass, leader and one-time slave, in “An address on West India Emancipation” (via Jon Hodgson)
  • “Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there would be no concept of humanity.” – Hermann Hesse (On Lilli Pretorius’ recommendation I’m now listening to “Proust and the Squid” by Maryanne Wolf (first Audible book free)

Some articles/links I liked…


  • The Sutton Trust has recently published a study (2014) “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” which looks like a great overview (thanks Joe Muller)
  • Poverty traps and social exclusion among children in South Africa” – 2014 ReSEP report for the SAHRC (summary report here, full report here)
  • The balancing act between the constitutional right to strike and the constitutional right to education” (Deacon, 2014, SAJE)
  • The SARCHi Chair in Teacher Education at CPUT (Prof Yusuf Sayed) has put out a call for post-doctoral students/fellowships (Deadline 10 Dec)
  • Alistair Sparks weighs in on the current situation in South Africa: “There is only one way to rectify the deplorable state we are in, and it surely cannot be long before the stalwarts of the ANC come to recognise and act upon it. Zuma should be asked to step down, even if that requires granting him a blanket amnesty and allowing him to go and enjoy Nkandla. The country and the ANC itself can no longer afford him. His interim successor should then form a government of national unity drawn from all sectors of society, to get the country back on track ahead of the 2019 elections.

Links I liked…


  • Excellent 2013 lecture by Michael Fullan on “Schools in need of re-education
  • Her Majesty Susan Sontag talks to us mere mortals about “Modern Literacy
  • The HSRC are looking for a post-doc student in their “Education and Skills Development” portfolio (deadline 17 Nov) – for more details see here.
  • What a tattoo looks like while it’s happening (semi-cringey) – IFL Science
  • Great collection of modern architecture photos
  •  “Writing and style guide for university papers and assignments” – from the University of Ottawa
  • If you want to get mad read this GroundUp article about Marikana “Lonmin’s Broken Promises
  • Shocking new report by Oxfam (“Even it up“) on global inequality and what needs to be done.
  • Quote of the week: “It is worth noting that American students have never received high scores on international tests. On the first such test, a test of mathematics in 1964, senior year students in the US scored last of twelve nations, and eighth-grade students scored next to last. But in the following fifty years, the US outperformed the other eleven nations by every measure, whether economic productivity, military might, technological innovation, or democratic institutions. This raises the question of whether the scores of fifteen-year-old students on international tests predict anything of importance or whether they reflect that our students lack motivation to do their best when taking a test that doesn’t count toward their grade or graduation.” – Diane Ravitch in the NYRB “The myth of Chinese Super Schools” (I’ve received great feedback from friends and colleagues – many challenging Ravitch’s simplistic generalizations – but I still think the article is quite thought-provoking).

Links I liked…


“On our own, when we’re furious, we don’t shout, as there’s no one there to listen – and therefore we overlook the true, worrying strength of our capacity for fury. Or we work all the time without grasping, because there’s no one calling us to come for dinner, how we manically use work to gain a sense of control over life – and how we might cause hell if anyone tried to stop us. At night, all we’re aware of is how sweet it would be to cuddle with someone, but we have no opportunity to face up to the intimacy-avoiding side of us that would start to make us cold and strange if ever it felt we were too deeply committed to someone. One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.” You cut me deep Shrek. 

  • The no-baby boom” – Really interesting and insightful social commentary on how older women without children navigate society’s expectations and why they have to.
  • “What no one could have predicted is that women born in the ’60s and ’70s would become what Day terms the “shock absorber” cohort, living through the most extraordinary changes in dating and mating in one generation. That’s the result of a confluence of forces—the pill, women’s access to higher education and professions—running headlong into a rigid corporate model that remains based on the husband-provider, male-fertility model—working hard in your 20s and 30s to establish a reputation, leaving kids to the stay-at-home wife. “But that doesn’t work for women,” says Day. “If you make it work, it’s as much luck as good judgment.” (via @KelseyWiens).

  • Why do Americans stink at Math?  – great NYT article about comparing Japanese and American approaches to learning and teaching.
  • Thankfully the Ugandan anti-gay law has been struck down by their Constitutional Court on a technicality
  • Just the facts about sexual orientation & youth: A Primer for Principals and Educators

Links I liked…


  • Save yourself a month of therapy and read this article about the critical importance of kindness in relationships (well worth the read) – thanks Helen Blaine.
  • I did two interviews with News24 regarding the WEF education ranking fiasco – (“SA does not rank last for maths and science” and “Don’t accept all facts about SA as truth“, and my M&G article is here)
  • Cool article on “The peril of hipster economics” – “Gentrification spreads the myth of native incompetence: That people need to be imported to be important, that a sign of a neighbourhood’s ‘success’ is the removal of its poorest residents. True success lies in giving those residents the services and opportunities they have long been denied.”
  • 2014 Inyathelo report: “Student Access and Success: Issues and Interventions in South African Universities” (PDF)
  • Why should English majors exist? – a lovely 2013 New Yorker article worth reading. An excerpt: “So: Why should English majors exist? Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures or live in more than hovels and huts or send flowers to our beloved on their birthday. No sane person proposes or has ever proposed an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization. Even if we read books and talk about them for four years, and then do something else more obviously remunerative, it won’t be time wasted. We need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs or kinder C.E.O.s but because, as that first professor said, they help us enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.”
  • Lovely 1990 article by Psacharopoulos titled “Comparative Education: From Theory to Practice, or Are You A: \neo.* or B:\*. ist?” which closes with the line: “Comparative educators of the world unite – you have nothing to lose but your labels” #love


Links I liked…


  • Great list of South African NGOs compiled by the Bertha Centre at UCT GSB
  • New paper on language compensation in South Africa by the prolific Stephen Taylor: “Reviewing the language compensation policy in the National Senior Certificate” 
  • Three minute video that will make you realize that we live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
  • Richard Branson is set to buy Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek. Small prediction folks – the insanely beautiful properties in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are going to go like hot-cakes when wealthy europeans realize they are (comparatively speaking) very cheap. 
  • Susan Sontag on Beauty-vs-Interestingness via BrainPickings   
  • Thought provoking 5 minute video about how social media and technology are taking over our lives without us even knowing. We need more of this kind of thing to see and understand the insecurities that drive our compulsive use of technology.
  • Quote of  the day: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou
  • Quote of the week is from Justice Thurgood Marshall commenting on the process of desegregation of schools in the US: “The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.” — Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993).
  • My presentation at the Moneyweb Ibandla Conference – An Overview of the SA Education System

Links I liked…


  • The above vase was made from ice-cream sticks – pretty epic.
  • This week I attended the Harvard African Development Conference and heard a bunch of cool talks : (1) Raul Pantaleo opened my eyes to a bunch of cool context-specific, culturally-relevant, architecture projects that they they’ve done around the world (TAM associati). Check out some of the their projects here. (2) The folks at Mass Design are also doing amazing work using architecture in new and interesting ways – think integrating sociology, ecology, the environment and design – pretty epic. (And they are crazy young which is always a plus!). Also watch this 5-min PopTech talk by Founder Michael Murphy on “Architecting Health” (3) interesting website aiming to “construct a web of knowledge” to learn new concepts – randomly started chatting to a guy at a cafe at MIT (Maths PhD student, of course) and it turns out he’s interested in  machine learning in education…
  • In 15 years the question of whether or not a surfer (or anyone) is gay will be so irrelevant that people will wonder why you are even asking it. See this short clip which is a rough-shod attempt at changing the gay narrative.
  • Great 2 page summary/highlights of the 2014 Budget for South Africa (thanks Treasury)
  • Helpful website listing post-doc opportunities in the US focussing on educational sciences.
  • “Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex” (see here). Finally some sense.
  • Stem-cells in mothers breast milk (New Scientist article) “Cultured samples also grew into different tissues including bone, neuron, heart and pancreatic cells”
  • Great article by Servaas Van der Berg & Eldridge Moses (2012). How better targeting of social spending affects social delivery in South Africa.(accessible & important!)
  • Pretty interesting idea of offering a coding summer-school in CT – iExperience – with all the touristy bells-and-whistles that come along with trying to attract kids from America.
  • Interesting article on “The Rise of the Open Source Coder Generation” – thanks Christine

Links I liked…

Child Bride

  • Revealing faux-magazine-cover exposing the horror of young children forced into marriage. For more see “Too young to wed
  • A cogent letter from an Indian judge and mother of a gay son – “In India if you’re gay you’re a criminal
  • Does America have to take sides in the Ukrainian crisis?” – Jerusalem Post: Only the best article I’ve read on the Ukrainian crisis…scathing, incisive and revealing. If you only read one article on the topic, this should be it…
  • Great NYT article by Maureen Dowd on American Political dynasties: “The Clintons don’t get defeated. They get postponed.
  • Why 30 is not the new 20 – scary (but enlightening) TED talk by Meg Jay
  • Chimamanda Adichie weighs in on the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria and Uganda.
  • Why is there a homophobe on the Global Fund? Great article on DailyMaverick
  • A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues” – fascinating report by the Public Religion Research Institute. Such encouraging findings and definitely a sign of things to come…
  • The boring development manifesto” – a wonderful and easy to read explanation why so many of the West’s efforts don’t work – Development Bloat is sexy, slog-and-grind incremental progress isn’t.
  • Quote of the week: “The distribution of income is determined by immensely complex processes in which government activity interacts with relatively autonomous initiatives and adjustments by ‘the myriad forces of the market’. There does not exist a well-tested, widely endorsed body of theory to model all of these processes. But it is clear that governments cannot readily control all of them, and there are limits to what governments may be able to do to change distributions. We must avoid assuming that if there is a change, or no change, government policy is responsible. Nor should we assume that government policies are either coherent or necessarily successful.” (Bromberger (1982: 167)


Links I liked…


  • The Annual National Assessments for literacy and numeracy (Grades 1-6 and 9) for 2011, 2012 and 2013 are now available for download on the Department of Basic Education’s website. I’m really impressed with the transparency of the DBE and this a great sign going forward. Now I just wish that subject-experts would download the tests and compare the difficulty levels and questions across the years. Is there anyone out there?!
  • The Illustrated guide to a PhD – classic illustration (thanks Hendrik van Broekhuizen)
  • Great 1min video “MOVE” which reminded me that I really need to go and travel again sometime soon! 
  • Where is it illegal to be gay? – great resource from the BBC (thanks @James Dray)
  • Great review of Nina Munk’s damning book (“The Idealist”) about Jeff Sachs and the Millenium Villages project. To his credit, Sachs answered my tweet and we eneded up having a great conversation about development and the meaning of “aid” – see my TL.
  • Random tid-bit of info – for those interested in SA-SAMS, the manuals can be found online here (Thanks Gabi).
  • Wielding Whip and a Hard New Law, Nigeria Tries to ‘Sanitize’ Itself of Gays” – Tragic article from the NYT. Unbelievable what gets done in the name of religion while those who support the religion say nothing. I’m reminded of Burke’s quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
  • Quote of the week (and very relevant for the discussion on ANAs in South Africa) – Campbell’s Law – “The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (thanks Jon Hodgeson)

Remember. You are here.

you are here

  • Republicans shut down prefrontal cortex – classic New Yorker article worth a read.
  • I always have time for the erudite Alistair Sparks. In this Business Day article “A crippling disconnection in our economic thinking” he outlines why the status quo isn’t leading anywhere particularly hopeful.
  • Another faux pas of the DBE – they will only use MS Office for Computer Applications Technology (CAT) – i.e. no open source programs allowed. And only Delphi for computer programming, not the sharpest tool in the shed  – see article here.
  • One of the few RCT’s in the field of education in South Africa. Essentially it evaluates the causal impact of the matric Mind The Gap series (PDF here). For background reading on RCTs see this report by the UK government.
  • On the 23rd of September Trevor Manual gave the keynote address at the Growth Week 2013. You can listen to the speech here – I didn’t find it hugely absorbing though.
  • If the U.S media covered the recent shutdown the same way they covered news from other countries, it’d look something like this 🙂 I chortled once or twice…
  • Pic via @PaulaLouise