Category Archives: Uncategorized

Our new Springer book on SA education!

Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 14.54.39

On Thursday this past week we launched our new book “South African Schooling: The Enigma of inequality” published by Springer.  Jonathan Jansen and I co-edited the book which includes 19 chapters from some of South Africa’s leading scholars. The chapters are as follows:

screen-shot-2019-09-12-at-06.27.08.png

screen-shot-2019-09-12-at-06.27.22.png

The reason why we wanted to write this book was twofold: (1) Books are a nice way of bringing together in one volume the latest ‘state of play’. (2) We thought it would be helpful to have a single book with contributions from both educationists and economists who otherwise rarely read each other’s work. To give you a sense of the book I have included an excerpt below from my framing chapter of the book.

Chapter 1. Equity: A Price Too High to Pay?

Nic Spaull

1.1 Introduction

South Africa today is the most unequal country in the world. The richest 10% of South Africans lay claim to 65% of national income and 90% of national wealth; the largest 90–10 gap in the world (Alvaredo et al. 2018, p. 150; Orthofer 2016). Given the strong and deeply historical links between education and the labour market these inequities are mirrored in the education system. Two decades after apartheid it is still the case that the life chances of the average South African child are determined not by their ability or the result of hard-work and determination, but instead by the colour of their skin, the province of their birth, and the wealth of their parents. These realities are so deterministic that before a child’s seventh birthday one can predict with some precision whether they will inherit a life of chronic poverty and sustained unemployment or a dignified life and meaningful work. The sheer magnitude of these inequities is incredible. In 2018 the top 200 high schools in the country have more students achieving distinctions in Mathematics (80%+) than the remaining 6,600 combined. Put differently 3% of South African high schools produce more Mathematics distinctions than the remaining 97% put together. Of those 200 schools, 175 charge significant fees. Although they are now deracialized, 41% of the learners in these schools were White. It is also worth noting that half of all White matrics (48%) were in one of these 200 schools. This is less surprising when one considers that in 2014/2015, White South Africans still make up two thirds of the ‘elite’ in South Africa (the wealthiest 4% of society) (Schotte et al. 2018, p. 98).

In a few years’ time when we look back on three decades of democracy in South Africa, it is this conundrum – the stubbornness of inequality and its patterns of persistence – that will stand out amongst the rest as the most demanding of explanation, justification and analysis. This is because inequality needs to be justified; you need to tell a story about why this level of inequality is acceptable or unacceptable. As South Africans what is the story that we tell ourselves about inequality and how far we have come since 1994? Have we accepted our current trajectory as the only path out of stubbornly high and problematically patterned inequality? Are there different and preferential equilibria we have not yet thought of or explored, and if so what are they? In practical terms, how does one get to a more equitable distribution of teachers, resources or learning outcomes? And what are the political, social and financial price-tags attached to doing so?

While decidedly local, the questions posed above and in the subsequent chapters of this book also have global relevance. Like few other countries in the world, South Africa presents an excellent case study of inequality and its discontents. As Fiske and Ladd (2004, p.x) comment in their seminal book ‘Elusive Equity’:

“South Africa’s experience is compelling because of the magnitude and starkness of the initial disparities and of the changes required. Few, if any, new democratic governments have had to work with an education system as egregiously- and intentionally inequitable as the one that the apartheid regime bequeathed to the new black-run government in 1994. Moreover, few governments have ever assumed power with as strong a mandate to work for racial justice. Thus the South African experience offers an opportunity to examine in bold relief the possibilities and limitations of achieving a racially equitable education system in a context where such equity is a prime objective.”

Inequality touches every aspect of South African schooling and policy-making, from how the curriculum is conceptualized and implemented to where teachers are trained and employed. Reviewing the South African landscape there are many seemingly progressive policies on topics such as school governance, curriculum and school finance. As the chapters in this volume will show, few of these have realized their full potential, and in some instances, have hurt the very students they intended to help (Curriculum 2005, for example). The ways that these policies have been formulated, implemented and subverted are instructive to a broader international audience, particularly Low- and Middle-Income Countries and those in the Middle East and Latin America. The visible extremes found in South Africa help to illustrate the ways that inequality manifests itself in a schooling system. In a sense, the country is a tragic petri dish illustrating how politics and policy interact with unequal starting conditions to perpetuate a system of poverty and privilege. Ultimately, we see a process unfolding where an unjustifiable and illegitimate racial education system (apartheid) morphs and evolves to one that is more justifiable and somewhat non-racial, all the while accommodating a small privileged class of South Africans who are not bound to the shared fate of their fellow citizens. Based on their reading of the South African evidence, different authors paint a more, or less, pessimistic picture of South African education. Some authors focus on the considerable progress that has been made in both the level and distribution of educational outcomes since the transition, and particularly in recent periods (Van der Berg and Gustafsson 2019). Others document tangible interventions aimed at decreasing inequality by improving early grade reading outcomes in the poorest schools, principally through lesson plans, teacher-coaches and materials (Taylor S 2019). While generally supportive of these types of interventions a number of other authors caution that these gains are the low hanging fruits of an extremely underperforming system. Unless teachers have higher levels of content knowledge (Taylor N 2019), and meaningful learning opportunities to improve their pedagogical practices (Shalem and De Clercq 2019) any trajectory of improvement will soon reach a low ceiling. Moving beyond teachers’ competencies, the book also foregrounds deficiencies in funding (Motala and Carel 2019), and the primacy of politics (Jansen 2019).

The aim of this introductory chapter is to provide an overview of the key dimensions of inequality in education and in South Africa more generally, showing that outcomes are still split along the traditional cleavages of racial and spatial apartheid, now also complemented by the divides of wealth and class. The argument presented here foregrounds the continuity of the pre- and post-apartheid periods and concludes that in the move from apartheid to democracy the primary feature of the story is a pivot from an exclusive focus on race to a two-pronged reality of race and class. This is true not only of the schooling system, but also of South African society more generally. Where rationed access to good schools was determined by race under apartheid, it is now determined by class and the ability to pay school fees, in addition to race. Rather than radically reform the former White-only school system – and incur the risk of breaking the only functional schools that the country had – the new government chose to allow them to continue largely unchanged with the noticeable exception that they were no longer allowed to discriminate on race and they were now allowed to charge fees.

//

The full intro chapter and chapter titles are available here. The book can be ordered here. We will be having a few more book launches (in Joburg and possibly overseas), I’ll post those either on here or on Twitter.

🙂

“When The Earth Burned”

image-from-ios.png

😢

 

via @jolynnminaar

DBE is hiring: Directors for ECD & GET

ecd

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is hiring two Director-level positions for the posts of Director: Early Childhood Development, the other is for Director: GET. The closing date is 09 September 2019All-Inclusive package of R 1,057,326 per annum.

As I’m sure we all know, Government is only as good as the people who work in it. Given the recent ECD migration shift from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education there is huge scope for growth and impact in both of these roles.

The full description of the positions and application process is available HERE.

Funding for African academics and African Masters & PhD students – super helpful! :)

WATC_ResearchAfrica_Sq-321x321

I’ve reposted Rachel Strohm’s article on “Research and travel funding for African Academics” below. This is a REALLY helpful resource for those looking for funding for research and travel. I’ve also included her funding list for MA and PhD opportunities at the end…

From Rachel:

“As a complement to my list of scholarships for African students doing MAs and PhDs, here are all the research and travel grants that I could find for African professors.  If you come across any others, please send them my way!  They’re listed by funding type and by country or region.

I include the link to the current version of the fellowship or grant offered when I found it, so some of the links may now be out of date.  I don’t have time to update all the links every year, so if you find an outdated link, just Google the current information on the program.

I’ll note here that I get a lot of requests from people asking me to help them get a scholarship.  I’m not affiliated with any of the universities or scholarship providers listed here.  I can’t provide individualized recommendations for scholarships.  I can review a limited number of social science scholarship applications as my schedule permits.

African Post-Docs

European Post-Docs

Other Post-Docs

Research Funding

Travel, Conference, and Visiting Scholar Funding

Training

MA and PhD opportunities

I’ve come across several great scholarship opportunities for African students who’d like to study or attend workshops abroad recently, and wanted to highlight them here.  They’re listed by country or region, and by university.

I include the link to the version of the scholarship offered when I found it, so some of the links may now be out of date.  I don’t have time to update all the links every year, so if you find an outdated link, just Google the current information on the scholarship.

I’ll note here that I get a lot of requests from people asking me to help them get a scholarship.  I’m not affiliated with any of the universities or scholarship providers listed here.  I can’t provide individualized recommendations for scholarships.  I can review a limited number of social science scholarship applications as my schedule permits.

Si vous êtes un étudiant francophone, veuillez regarder la liste des bourses ici.

Africa

Europe

UK

US

Other Resources

(Image at the top from here)

TALIS South Africa 2018

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 11.28.42

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 12.13.07

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 12.04.51

 

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 12.28.05

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 12.05.55

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 12.38.46

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 11.29.18

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 11.29.38

The Incredible Whiteness of Being (the DA)

cyrilSo, it’s election week. On Wednesday the 8th of May 2019, we will all go out and vote to decide who will govern South Africa for the next five years. It is no secret that the Zuma-led ANC has crippled the country and yet it is almost certain that the ANC will win the election this year and that their proportion of the national vote will increase from 2014. Even conservative publications like the Economist describe Cyril Ramaphosa as “South Africa’s best bet.” To quote them further “The Economist endorsed the DA in 2014. But this time, with deep reservations, we would cast our national vote, at the national level, for the ANC. Our reasons are painfully pragmatic. The DA has the right ideas for fixing South Africa, but it is in no position to implement them. It is still seen as the party of those who are white, indian or coloured.” I wonder why that is?

Since the transition the DA has always been the largest opposition party and the most credible threat to the ANC, yet they will have to get significantly more than 22% of the vote (compared to the ANC’s 62%) to do so. Given that Black South Africans make up 79% of the total population, winning a national election is only possible by convincing large numbers of Black voters to vote for the DA. Most South Africans still think race is a really important feature of South African society, something that’s understandable given that that’s what the apartheid government used to differentially legislate, allocate, reward and punish for half a century. I was curious about the racial breakdown of the DA in parliament (“do as I do, not as I say”). So I went to look at the People’s Parliament website and it turns out that the current DA parliamentarians are 62% White and 67% Male.  The infographic below is telling.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 15.23.39

Thinking that perhaps this was a legacy issue and that the DA has subsequently changed, I looked at the National Parliamentary List that the DA have just put forward for the 2019 elections. It turns out that if the DA wins the same number of seats in the 2019 election as it did in the 2014 election (87 seats) then it will be ‘only’ 59% White, hardly an improvement.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 16.20.12

Comparing the above graph to the one below, you have to ask yourself who is advising the DA? How are they still employed?

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 14.14.23

What kind of logic do you have to use to conclude that in a hyper-racialised country like South Africa it’s OK to have 59% of your representatives come from 9% of the population? And specifically the group that systematically oppressed and benefited from apartheid. And somehow this is a winning strategy? Of course the DA response is usually “But we pick the best candidates for the job, irrespective of race.” How is this going to go down well with Black South Africans? If anything it is extremely offensive. The implication is that there are no competent Black people within the DA to lead it. It may well be the case that there are not enough Black leaders in the DA but the first place to start looking for answers is in the party itself. How have strategic party officials and big funders of the DA not set out ultimatums around transformation – change or we’re out. How many times does one have to say this: you will never win a national election unless you can convince Black South Africans that your policies and their implementation will benefit them, in particular those who are poor, unhoused and unemployed. I personally don’t think the DA will ever be able to make that case when two thirds of their leadership is White.

It is not the DA alone that pays the price of its short-sightedness. South Africa as a whole is the one that suffers when we have such a weak and shambolic opposition. In three days time thousands of voters are likely to hold-their-nose-and-vote-Ramaphosa knowing full well that one votes for a party and not an individual, fully cognisant that their vote will contribute to large numbers of murderous, corrupt and inept ANC politicians making it into parliament as a result. Yet they will do it anyway. Not because they do not know that the DA exists, or what their policies are, or even their track record in the municipalities they govern. It is simply that they do not trust the DA. Some do not trust that they will be able to lead us out of the political quagmire that we are in, seeing Ramaphosa and his appointees as the only way out. Others do not trust that the party really has their interests at heart. And who can blame them, when a party’s leaders are 62% White and 67% male. Shame on you DA.

Get with the program or be content to keep 20-something percent of the vote forever.

“In Praise of Unsexy Policies” (my BD article on the ECDOE rollout of graded reader anthologies)

The article below first appeared in the Business Day on the 29th of April under the title “Eastern Cape pioneers book printing and distribution scheme to pupils“)

anthology-covers.png

In South Africa it is rare to find even-minded critics that praise our government. I suspect there is a latent fear that compliments will lead to complacency and laurels to laziness. Perhaps it’s simply that we are disappointed in almost everything; high aspirations repeatedly confronting harsh realities. Earlier in 2019 the President proclaimed that we will “position South Africa as a global competitive player within the digital revolution space.” Yet 48% of primary schools don’t have internet, 26% have no running water and 12% have no electricity (SMS 2017). Fourth Industrial Revolution here we come!

Yet sometimes government does get it right and we should give credit where credit is due. In 2019 an unlikely province pioneered the production and distribution of books to every Grade 1-3 child in the province; the Eastern Cape. The books were anthologies of levelled readers – crucial reading resources normally only available to middle-class children. By quietly inventing a new way to produce, print and distribute high-quality Open Access books, three bureaucrats changed the reality of schooling for 463,276 children in 2019. I’d like to briefly tell this story; the collaboration of civil society (Molteno), private funding (Zenex Foundation and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment) and government (Eastern Cape Department of Education) to innovate for the improvement of education.

Our story starts in Gauteng in 2012 when the MEC Barbara Creecy announced that she was going to focus on primary school literacy and numeracy using coaches, lesson plans and graded readers (a formula that has emerged as the education ‘triple cocktail’) (GPLMS). At the time there were no levelled readers in African languages (i.e. stories that increase in difficulty incrementally, story by story), despite the fact that 70%+ of South African children learn to read in an African language in Grades 1-3. To fill the gap the Zenex Foundation commissioned a well-known South African NGO (Molteno) to develop graded readers in all African languages in a series called ‘Vula Bula’. These were short stories (‘skinny books’) levelled from Story 1 to Story 66 in each language. (Middle-class parents may be familiar with “Biff, Chip and Kipper” – the characters in the Oxford Reading Tree series). The Vula Bula skinny books were printed and distributed to half of all primary schools in Gauteng.

After the release of the PIRLS 2016 results in 2017 showing that three quarters of South African Grade 4 children (78%) could not read for meaning, the Eastern Cape Department of Education took a strategic resolution to focus on Literacy in Grades 1-3. Three of the top bureaucrats in the department – Themba Kojana, Ray Tywakadi and Penny Vinjevold – drew up a reading strategy to provide access to levelled readers to all Grade 1-3 children in the province.

To cut a long story short, they decided to print the 66 skinny books in three anthologies (one per grade with 22 stories per anthology). The genius here is that the main cost of printing readers is the cover of the ‘skinny books’ and the licensing fees paid to publishers.  By eliminating licensing fees (using Open Access readers), combining stories into one book with one cover, and printing in large print runs of more than 100,000 per anthology they reduced the cost per anthology to R8-per-anthology. To give a price comparison, 20 Oxford Reading Tree readers cost more than R400. Lastly they delivered the Vula Bula anthologies using a proven distribution mechanism – in the plastic wrapping together with the DBE workbooks.

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 09.57.57

In 2018 the ECDOE printed and distributed 824,365 anthologies to 463,276 Grade 1-3 learners in 4,365 primary schools. To give you a sense of the scale, if you stacked all those anthologies on top of each other it would be the same height as 26 Table Mountains! The total cost of printing them was a prudent R7-million, paid for by the Eastern Cape Department of Education. By my calculations Minister Motshekga could implement this nationally for all Grade 1-3 children for R24-million per year. I personally cannot think of a better use of taxpayer money than providing every child with the basic resources they need to get on the first rung of the reading ladder.

Obviously teaching reading is about more than just providing the right books, but it’s a good start. You certainly can’t teach reading without them! The ECDOE is also eliminating extreme class sizes in the Foundation Phase and has offered bursaries to all of its Foundation Phase subject advisers to enrol in a new qualification at Rhodes on how to teach reading for meaning. On behalf of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment I’ve been involved with the Rhodes course and advising the ECDOE at strategic points in this journey, but the credit here goes to government and these three bureaucrats who have been quietly innovating in the background. They are ultimately the ones who are responsible for implementing these programmes on the ground.

Policies like these are the bread and butter of educational improvement. Providing books and teaching teachers how to teach reading isn’t sexy, but neither is plumbing. Both are necessary for improvement – even in the ‘digital revolution space.’