Measuring pupils’ progress can drive economic growth

Information guides investment, and with the world economy becoming more knowledge driven it is important for investors to understand the state of educational outcomes in the countries in which they are investing. This is the message that ReSEP researcher, Martin Gustafsson, presented in last week’s Business Day.

While matric results are important to the pupils and their families, he explains, the inconsistent nature of these tests make them unsuitable for tracking improvements over time. Standardised testing, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), are preferred by economists for measuring quality changes in education systems.

Gustafsson stresses that the business community in South Africa should be following the evolution of the Annual National Assessment (ANA) programme closely. While the ANA is still plagued with problems, as discussed by ReSEP economist Nic Spaull, it has the potential to provide reliable information on small but vital improvements.

Results from these tests should not only inform investors about the future workforce of countries, but should guide education policies:

We like to think that remarkable quality improvements seen in small-scale interventions can be replicated across an entire schooling system. Experience shows that this is not possible, not so much due to financial constraints but because human talent is limited.

We do not like to face up to the painful slowness of widespread quality improvements in education. Yet the danger if we do not monitor slow improvement is that we will begin believing there is no improvement, which can lead to a vicious cycle of radical policy change in the education system, followed by disillusionment that there was no magical take-off, more radical policy shifts, and so on.