The PDF of the Job ad is available here.
(+ a sneak-peak of our 2019 Annual Report which should be out soon!)
The PDF of the Job ad is available here.
(+ a sneak-peak of our 2019 Annual Report which should be out soon!)
As many of you know I’m currently seconded to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment to develop the “Funda Wande: Reading for Meaning” program. The aim of that is to equip teachers in no-fee schools with the resources and training they need to teach reading for meaning by age 10 (this video explains it well). We have now also initiated a sister program for Grade 1-3 mathematics: “Bala Wande: Calculating with Confidence.” The program is headed by two of South Africa’s mathematics stalwarts: Ingrid Sapire and Lynn Bowie and includes a formal collaboration with Nelson Mandela Institute’s Magic Classroom Collective who have been working in this area for a long time. The aim is to develop fully bilingual learner activity booklets and video-based teacher guides for Grade 1-3 in all South Africa’s official languages. The big aim is to delink price and quality, and offer “best in the world”, in African languages, openly-licensed and widely available. If the pharmaceutical industry can create ‘generic drugs’ (same quality but MUCH cheaper), we can do the same with early learning resources!
The policy at Funda Wande (and Bala Wande) is that open is always better than closed. Everything we make is Creative Commons licensed and freely available for download. We also have a rule that everything we provide to our intervention schools must be available on our website and on our YouTube page within 2 weeks of it being delivered in our schools. Anyone is welcome to download and use any of our materials for free, and you don’t even need to ask us for permission to do so (but it’s nice to know who’s using them so please do! 🙂
Today we uploaded our first mathematics materials and I am very proud of them. They are the isiXhosa Grade 1 Term 1 Learner Activity Booklet and the corresponding Teacher Guide. Please take a look at them and share them with anyone who might be interested. We are currently running a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) in the Eastern Cape to test the efficacy of the materials and teacher coaches (Grade 1 in 2020; Grade 1+2 in 2021; Grade 1+2+3 in 2022) – more to come on that in due course. Here are some excerpts from the Learner Activity Booklet and Teacher Guide:
We are always looking to collaborate with people who are passionate about Grade R-3 mathematics in South Africa. If you’re an expert on Foundation Phase Maths and speak an African home language email your CV to ingrid[at]fundawande.org and we can see if there are ways of collaborating!
Watch this space 🙂
This article first appeared in the Business Day on 22 Jan 2020 under the title “Putting golf club needs above social housing is one way the rich fail the poor“
With sex and religion, South Africans don’t like talking about their annual income. We thus often have wildly incorrect estimates of what other people earn and where we fit in the income distribution.
That’s where research can help. A 2019 report by Stats SA and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (Saldru) shows that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.
If SA was made up of 100 people and we lined them up from richest to poorest, the 10th poorest person’s income declined 15% and the 99th person’s income (richest 1%) increased 48% from 2011-2015.
To be in the top 1% in 2015 you needed to have an annual taxable income of R1m or more, making you one of only 350,000 South Africans (R400,000 a year put you in the top 5%). That’s according to Ingrid Woolard’s analysis of anonymised SA Revenue Service (Sars) tax data for her 2019 inaugural lecture at Stellenbosch University, in which she showed that since 2003 the incomes of the top 5% have consistently grown faster than everyone else’s in SA, and especially that of the poor.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is largely in keeping with the negotiated settlement and ANC policy. The post-apartheid social compact was a straightforward quid pro quo: “If you pay your taxes and agree to pay for most of your own health, security and education services, you can keep your property, your wealth, your privilege and your place in society”.
Nowadays, about 5%-15% of South Africans opt out of all public services; 17% have private medical aid, 7% have private security, and 5% have private schooling or high-fee (R12,000-plus per annum) public schooling, according to the general household survey (GHS) 2016-17 and Stats SA victims of crime (VOC) survey 2017-18.
For God’s sake, there are 23 other golf courses and driving ranges in Cape Town and another one literally next door: the King David Mowbray Golf Club
The main reason this is a problem is that the new “integrated elite” governing SA are totally unaffected (and uninterested) in the challenges 70% of the population face.
Redress and transformation are impossible while those in government are unwilling to take the risks on which they campaigned, and for which they were elected. Implementing the National Development Plan, arresting corrupt politicians, large-scale social housing, land redistribution, well-funded long-term teacher development — we only ever hear plans. Name one corrupt politician currently in jail.
Some of these are complicated initiatives that involve long-term appointments, policy reform, and court cases, but even when they don’t the political will is lacking. The most recent and visceral example of this is Cape Town’s indefensible decision to renew the 10-year lease of the Rondebosch Golf Club rather than use it for social housing.
In one of the world’s most spatially-segregated cities, the city in its wisdom has chosen to renew the lease of 450,000m² of prime public land to the Rondebosch Golf Club. And in exchange it asks for the princely sum of R1,000 a year in rent.
This is for the equivalent of 45 rugby fields of public land in the middle of Cape Town. Rather than prioritise the needs of those who live in shacks and are physically excluded from economic opportunity, services and schools, the city instead advocates for the needs of golfers. For God’s sake, there are 23 other golf courses and driving ranges in Cape Town and another one literally next door: the King David Mowbray Golf Club.
Why does the city consistently oppose civil society when it shows countless sites for social housing and shows the economic viability of using cross-subsidisation models proven in Spain and Hong Kong? In an excellent report on city leases, Ndifuna Ukwazi has shown five viable sites for social housing in Cape Town, yet they are ignored. Where is the city’s courage (or shame) to actually implement its own policies? Through its choices and lack of action, Cape Town spits on the needs of the poor and panders to the rich.
I often wonder how long the SA status quo can carry on before Paris-style gilets jaunes protests break out and stop everything. There is a line in the latest Batman movie in which Catwoman turns to Bruce Wayne and says:
“There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
I was happy to see an early Christmas present in my emails today. A paper I wrote with my co-author, Dr Nwabisa Makaluza, was released online today! The full ungated article is available HERE. We tried to take all of the education data that we could get our hands on from 1995 – 2018 and see where and when girls do better or worse than boys. This is one of those empirical questions where we don’t have to rely on the unsubstantiated claims of every Tom, Dick and Harry around the braai. The evidence is pretty clear: Given the way girls are, the way they are socialised, the way we organise schools and the way we assess kids, girls do better than boys.
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. These inequities are mirrored in the education system where we have 20% of schools that are broadly functional, and 80% that are mostly dysfunctional. Because of this, 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. We have private schools charging R300,000 a year, and public schools where children drown in pit latrines. Last year (2018), the top 200 high schools in the country had more students in matric 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.
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 and financial price-tags attached to doing so?
Our post-apartheid education system is currently an awkward fusion of apartheid systems serving post-apartheid societies. What the apartheid government used to perpetuate privilege and to act as a lever for rapid poor-White social mobility, post-apartheid society uses as a lever for Black middle-class mobility. Today Black and Coloured learners make up 60% of those attending former White-only fee-charging schools. Thus, a small, separate and functional school system, created to privilege one section of the population and exclude others remained intact but the discriminating principle simply morphed over time from race to fees. We now have a ‘pay-to-play’ system. If you want your child to have a decent shot at life, you need to get them into a good school. In that sense, school fees have become the current price of dignity in South Africa.
Reflecting on our particular journey out of apartheid, we can see that our country has become a case study of how politics and policy interact with unequal starting conditions to perpetuate a system of poverty and privilege. We are witnessing 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.
The post-apartheid government has made important strides in trying times; educational outcomes are really improving, the Child Support Grant has significantly reduced poverty and deprivation for large swathes of the country, and access to basic services have undeniably improved across the board. Yet we must also be honest and say that our collective political imagination has come up short. We lack a believable vision of a more equal country where everyone has basic dignity, and even more so, we lack a believable plan of how to get there. While there has been some tinkering around the edges of the political and economic possibilities available to us, we cannot point to a country-wide initiative that has made significant inroads into the gross inequity that is visible everywhere we look.
We need bolder policies and bolder politicians. We need our elected officials to actually visit the pit latrines that our children drown in. Consultants prophesying coding and tech must actually speak to children in the 26% of South African schools that still don’t have running water in 2019. Let them drink laptops. Surely we can muster the political will and societal shame to put an end to these visceral daily injustices? We need officials who have the courage and the mandate to fire corrupt or incompetent officials currently shuffling between government ministries with no consequences. But we also need those with the moral clarity to take on comfortable elites who resist wealth taxes, land reform and social housing. Whatever the story is that we keep telling ourselves to justify our obscene levels of inequality, the poor and excluded will not believe it forever.
This article first appeared in the Financial Mail on the 24th of October 2019). It is an extract from my chapter in our new book “South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality” which is co-edited by myself and Jonathan Jansen (published by Springer in November 2019).
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:
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?
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.
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 2019. All-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.
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…
“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.
Travel, Conference, and Visiting Scholar Funding
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.
(Image at the top from here)
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…
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.”
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).
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%).
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.
So, 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.
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.
Comparing the above graph to the one below, you have to ask yourself who is advising the DA? How are they still employed?
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.
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“)
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.
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.’
I’m currently at the CIES conference in San Francisco where we launched a book that I co-edited with John Comings. The title of the book is “Improving Early Literacy Outcomes: Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment” and it focuses on early literacy in developing countries. My intro chapter (“Learning to Read and Write for Meaning and Pleasure“) provides an overview of the book and includes a few excerpts from chapter 4 (Pretorius, 2019) and chapter 11 (Menon et al, 2019). The book is available for purchase online here. The full list of chapters is included below:
For the last two years we have been working on the Funda Wande: Reading for Meaning program (video here). Our aim is to equip Foundation Phase teachers (Grades R-3) to teach all children to read for meaning in their home language and in English. We’ve realised that this involves a lot of different components, from collaboration with government, the development of lesson plans and materials, in-classroom coaching, and working with Rhodes to develop a formal qualification, the Advanced Certificate in Teaching Foundation Phase: Literacy. The team has expanded quickly over the last two years and there are now 28 people working on various elements on the project. We have now also expanded into mathematics (Bala Wande: Calculating with Confidence) and have a pilot in ECD.
We are now looking for a COO for the project to help manage all the different work streams. If you know of anyone who fits the description above please forward this on to them and encourage them to apply (Deadline: end of March 2019, PDF of job advert here). They will be working with a really great team of fast-moving, competent, dedicated and hard-working professionals. All kids deserve a decent shot at life by learning to read for meaning and pleasure and learning to calculate with confidence and understanding. Join the team 🙂
Other important jobs: The Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) are recruiting a Research Manager and a Research Assistant for their Early Grade Reading Study scale-up in the North West (Deadlines: 13 March 2019). I am always reluctant to circulate job adverts that don’t have a salary range (these ones don’t) but this is really important work and you will be working with a very cool team of researchers in the DBE. I can strongly recommend this!
Important bursaries: RESEP at Stellenbosch is currently offering bursaries to Masters students at any SA university for students looking at the Economics of Education, Basic Education and ECD. Value: R50,000 p.a. Deadline: 5 April 2019.
(This article first appeared in the Financial Mail on the 21st of February 2019 under the title “Tablets won’t cure pupil problems“)
Reading through the Treasury’s meticulous budget documents the contrast between the State of the Nation (SONA) and the Budget becomes starkly apparent. SONA is the aspirational shopping list the President gives the Finance Minister. The Budget is what is actually in the trolley when he walks out the shop. The President can announce whatever he likes but until it manifests in the Budget then it remains in the collective dreamscape of the ANC.
So, it should come as no surprise then that this budget wasn’t a SONA-Budget, it was an Eskom-budget. In a context of low growth and imminent catastrophe there is only so much that can be done. And if you can’t keep the lights on then nothing else matters anyway. Given that others will deal with Eskom, and the big push in infrastructure spending I will focus exclusively on Basic Education.
In short this was a business-as-usual education budget. Most of the sensational elements of the President’s SONA as far as education is concerned were conveniently left out of the budget. There was no mention of one-tablet-per-child and nothing about “two years of compulsory early childhood development (ECD)”. What a relief! There is no evidence that either of these would be a good use of limited funds. One tablet per child policies are universally regarded as being foolish, and have failed in every country they have been implemented, rich or poor. Existing evaluations of our current Grade R year indicate that children don’t actually benefit that much from it because the quality is so low. The received wisdom in the sector is to make Grade R worthwhile before adding on another low-quality questionable-value year of ECD.
To their credit, Treasury has prioritized the eradication of pit latrines in 2,400 schools by allocating an additional R2,8billion over the next three years. Interestingly, these funds won’t be given to provinces to spend – perhaps because the more dysfunctional provinces failed to spend their school infrastructure funds in the past – and instead will be managed nationally by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and spent “on their behalf” (p.69). Perhaps this is a sign of the political times with a strong-handed national approach rather than the traditional federalist provincial implementation of policies.
While the least feasible (and most expensive) proposals from SONA were ignored, so were the most important and highest impact ones: focusing on fixing early grade reading. In the SONA the President explained that early grade reading “is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality” Well, not according to the Finance Minister because no money was allocated to it. There was no mention of reading at all except for some lip-service about an Early Grade Reading Assessment which is actually a pre-existing initiative and receives less than R10-million per year. This is a shame and represents yet another year that we kick the education can down the road. The problem with a business-as-usual budget is when business-as-usual isn’t working in education. The two most reliable international assessments South Africa takes part in either show a slow-down in progress (in Grade 9 mathematics between 2011-2015) or no improvement at all (in Grade 4 reading between 2011 and 2016) (see here). There are a number of reasons to speculate why results are stagnating. Due to a 13% surge in births in 2003-2005 (most probably due to ARVs) without a concomitant rise in education spending, we are seeing increases in the number of learners per class, rising from 40 to 45 learners per class in primary schools and 41-48 learners in no-fee schools (according to Pirls 2016). What we needed from this budget was a recognition that the long-term struggles of the country (unemployment, inequality, low growth) cannot be addressed when 78% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language. And that while reforming basic education is a long-term solution, long-term solutions have to start somewhere.
I have a lot of sympathy for Treasury officials who work tirelessly to make sure that the country is economically on track and deftly navigate the trade-offs, prioritization and budget constraints that are the real politics of any democracy. There is no doubt that neutralizing the Eskom threat was the number one challenge we needed to overcome in this budget. Yet there will always be a new urgent challenge that grabs our attention and is considered political dynamite – #FeesMustFall in 2017/18 Eskom in 2019/2020 – surely there will be others. Hats off to Minister Mboweni and his Treasury officials for steering us through the current crisis. Let’s hope his successor can move from dealing with crisis upon crisis and instead start laying the foundations for long term progress.
19 January 2019.
My background note for the meeting with the Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni at the Treasury Economic Colloquium (19 January 2019; South African Reserve Bank), PDF Note HERE.
The education problem as it stands in January 2019:
Education priorities for reform:
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. The top 200 high schools in the country have more students achieving distinctions in Mathematics or Physical Science (80%+) than the remaining 6,476 high schools combined . Put differently, 3% of South African high schools create more Mathematics or Physical Science distinctions than the remaining 97% put together. Of those 200 schools, 185 are former White-only schools and all 185 charge significant fees. Although they are now deracialized, 57% of the matrics in these top 200 schools were White. This is less surprising when one considers that in 2014/15, 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 onto a higher economic growth path that is both sustainable and inclusive? Does anyone really know how to ‘create’ jobs apart from higher growth and a more skilled workforce? The latter of which is not possible without improving the education system, so how does one get to a more equitable and improved distribution of teachers, resources or learning outcomes? And what are the political, social and financial price-tags attached to doing so? These are the questions that should stand front and centre in our national discourse and with which the next elected government must grapple.
While the international assessments are the most reliable indicators of progress in education, there are also other pieces of supporting evidence, including the fourfold increase in black university graduates between 1994 (11,339 black graduates) and 2014 (48,686 black graduates) (Van Broekhuizen, 2016: p.12), and the large increase in the number of matriculants receiving mathematics marks which make them eligible for engineering at university, increasing from 18,601 to 25,054 between 2002 and 2016 (Van der Berg & Gustafsson, 2019).
Figure 2: Current provincial per learner expenditure on basic education 2010 to 2019 (Own calculations using real cost drivers and expressed in 2017 Rands, 2017-2019 projections based on MTEF)
Figure 3: Proportion of South African grade 6 mathematics teachers by content knowledge (CK) group – SACMEQ 2007 (with 95% confidence interval) (Venkat & Spaull, 2015: p.127).
Figure 4: The qualifications pyramid in South Africa (Van Broekhuizen et al., 2016)
“In 47% of [South African high] schools there was not a single learner who reached 475 points, the TIMSS Intermediate International Benchmark. In this respect South Africa did much worse than any other country… [The comparable figure in Botswana is just 2%]. The comparison with Botswana is particularly important, because Botswana is within the same region but also because both Botswana and South Africa tested Grade 9. In the context of South Africa’s skills shortfall and the need for more black professionals, it is particularly problematic that a large segment of the schooling system are in effect ‘academic wastelands’ which do not produce even a single learner performing at the intermediate international benchmark.
Figure 5 below illustrates this point by showing the “effective” grade that children are in at each stage of the schooling process. If we look at the no-fee schools (poorest 80% of schools), learners are approximately 2,5 years behind the curriculum in Grade 3. By Grade 9 they are 4-5 years behind the curriculum, showing the compounding effect of not getting primary school learning right.
Figure 5: South African mathematics learning trajectories by national socioeconomic quintiles using a variable standard deviation for a year of learning (0.28 in grade 3 to 0.2 in grade 8 with interpolated values for in-between grades (Based on NSES 2007/8/9 for grades 3/4/5, SACMEQ 2007 for grade 6 and TIMSS 2011 for grade 9, including 95% confidence interval (See Spaull & Kotze, 2015: p.21)
Figure 6 below indicates that South African high-schools lag behind other developing countries when it comes to access to computers. However the evidence-based approach to remedy this is (1) focus on ensuring all high-school have functional computer laboratories (rather than one device per child, (2) piloting and evaluating teacher development programs on the use of ICT-in-teaching, (3) piloting and evaluating different software and apps to see which of these are most likely to be beneficial to learners and teachers.
Figure 6: Comparison of access to computers in high schools using TIMSS Gr8 2003-2015 (Source: Martin Gustafsson, 2019).
Summary of the evidence from comparison countries:
Alami, A. (2016) Why do Technology Projects Fail? Procedia Computer Science 100 (2016) 62 – 71
Alvaredo, F., Chancel, L., Piketty, T., Saez, E., & Zucman, G. 2018. World Inequality Report 2018. Online. Available: http://wir2018.wid.world/ [Accessed: 26 June 2018]
Department of Basic Education. 2016. Report of the Ministerial Task Team Appointed by Minister Angie Motshekga to Investigate Allegations into the Selling of Posts of Educators By Members of Teachers Unions and Departmental Officials in Provincial Education Departments. Department of Basic Education. Pretoria
Inter-American Development Bank. (2012). Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop per Child Program. IDB Working Paper Series No. IDB-WP 304.
Martin Gustafsson, 2018. “Understanding the sharp primary level enrolment increases beginning in 2011,”Working Papers 08/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
Mullis IVS, Martin MO, Foy P, Hooper M (2017) Pirls 2016: International Results in Reading. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement
Muralidharan, K., Singh, A., & Ganimian, A. J. (2018). Disrupting education? Experimental evidence on technology-aided instruction in India. American Economic Review, Working Paper.
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Ramphele, M. 2012. Education system worse than under apartheid: Ramphele. Mail & Guardian 23 March 2012. (Online). Available: https://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-23-education-system-worse-than-under-apartheid-ramphele [Accessed: 26 June 2018]
Schotte, S., Zizzamia, R., & Leibbrandt, M. (2018). A poverty dynamics approach to social stratification: The South African case. World Development 110 (2018) 88-103.
Spaull, N. and Kotze, J. (2015). Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: The case of insurmountable learning deficits in mathematics. International Journal of Educational Development. Vol 41 (March) pp12-24
Spaull, N. (2016). Excessive class sizes in the Foundation Phase. Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP). Policy Brief. Apr/2016.
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Appendix A: Summary table of Muralidharan et al.’s, (2018) overview of technology in education interventions
Appendix B: Status of Technology in SA Schools (Source: Ostrowick, 2016)
Appendix C: Over-arching findings of MSDF-funded AC Kearney report “Education Data and Tool Landscape Diagnostic in South Africa” (2019)
 This is based on my own calculations on the Matric 2014 National Senior Certificate data (i.e. it does not include IEB candidates, but does include independent schools that write the NSC. ‘Top’ here is defined as the largest number of mathematics distinctions (80%+). In almost all of these schools there are at least 9 mathematics distinctions per school. Note also that 23 of the 200 schools are independent schools writing the NSC exam.
 This is based on my own calculations using Treasury’s Estimates of Public Revenue and Expenditure (EPRE) data which is available on their website.
 This demographic phenomenon has been confirmed by Home Affairs birth registration data as well as age-specific data in the Department of Basic Education’s Annual Survey of Schools (ASS) and the Learner Unit Record Information Tracking System (LURITS). The leading explanation is that the rise in births coincides with the roll out of Anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment. Thus larger cohorts of children have been moving through the schooling system, with the ‘surge’ reaching Grade 8 in 2018