RESEP launches its synthesis report entitled “A Society Divided: How Unequal Education Quality Limits Social Mobility in South Africa”

On Friday, 24 March 2017, RESEP launched its synthesis report entitled “A Society Divided: How Unequal Education Quality Limits Social Mobility in South Africa”. The research project was headed up by Prof Servaas van der Berg and the report incorporates the research of about 20 authors. The central focus of the report is the role of education in promoting social mobility for the poor in the highly unequal South African economic landscape. The investigation is of particular relevance in a country where the rapid expansion of educational attainment since the 1970s has not produced the desired labour market outcomes for many South Africans, for the most part perpetuating patterns of poverty and inequality along the apartheid dimensions of race and geography.

Given the deep structural nature of inequality in South Africa, this report employs a conceptual framework (shown Figure E1) to illustrate how differences in education quality offered to South African learners are at the root of income inequality that persists two decades into democracy. The grim labour market prospects facing South Africa’s young adults are in large part attributable to an education system that still manages to produce vastly different education outcomes that favour a small elite in the wealthy part of that system and disadvantage mainly black and coloured learners in the less affluent part of the system.

A small minority of learners attend functional, high quality (mostly former white) schools, staffed by qualified teachers and characterised by good management, assessment and parental involvement. Learners graduating from these schools have relatively good chances of entering the upper end of the labour market, often (but not always) first acquiring some form of tertiary education. The high productivity jobs in this part of the labour market offer high returns. Traditionally this part of the labour market has been dominated by whites, but the removal of apartheid era restrictions, government interventions (such as black economic empowerment and affirmative action) and improved access to better quality education for some black children have allowed a relatively small black minority to achieve upward social mobility through the labour market.

In contrast, the majority of South Africa’s (mostly black) learners attend formerly black schools. These schools, that often also suffer from poor management, little parental participation and poor assessment, produce poor cognitive outcomes, which are poorly rewarded in the labour market, resulting in low employment probabilities and low wages from unskilled occupations. While the transition from low quality schools to low productivity jobs is relatively deterministic, it is possible for individuals from this part of the education system to access the high productivity part of the labour market through vocational training, affirmative action or other forms of labour market mobility.

This conceptual framework is used throughout the report to discuss how education, and particularly education quality, are critical inputs in advancing social mobility for South Africa’s economically vulnerable citizens.

Main findings

  • Performance on international and national standardised tests show that while educational attainment has converged dramatically over time between races, poor schools still lag far behind their affluent counterparts in learning outcomes. By Grade 9, learners in poor (mostly black) schools, have a backlog of about 3½ years relative to their rich school counterparts.
  • Substantial learning gaps between learners in different schools can be observed as early as the middle primary school years, making a strong case for decisive early interventions. As early as Grade 4, fewer than 30% of learners in the poorest 40 percent of schools are performing above international low learning benchmarks.
  • Education is an important predictor of labour market outcomes, with education beyond matric improving prospects both for employment and higher salaries. In 2007 the wage per hour of someone who had achieved a degree was three times as large as for someone who had achieved only a matriculation.
  • New evidence suggests that school education quality is also strongly positively associated with future earnings. Therefore, learners who attend poor quality schools generally earn substantially less than those who attend good quality schools, even when they have the same education levels.
  • The consequences of unequal education opportunities are particularly dire for many of South Africa’s black youth, who despite having more education than previous generations and no longer facing discriminatory labour market legislation, have no better employment probabilities than older labour market participants. Thus, despite more education, young black South Africans are less optimistic about their future.

Thus far, the report has featured in the Mail & Guardian as well as in News24.

The report can be downloaded in PDF format, here.

ReSEP report on flows from matric to, and through, university enriching debate around student fees

Recent research looking at “higher education access and outcomes for the 2008 national matric cohort”, by Hendrik van Broekhuizen, Servaas van der Berg and Heleen Hofmeyr of Stellenbosch University are colouring the debate around student fees in South Africa with in-depth analysis that are attracting welcome interest.

The Mercury recently reported on the findings of the research outputs of the ReSEP authors, and highlighted the much more pervasive extent of the challenges in resolving the student fees crisis.

Looking at matric exam data from 2008 to 2013, data from South African universities from 2009 to 2014, data from the Educational Management Information System master-list and data from the 2011 national census, the authors conducted an investigation of university access in South Africa.

Their findings included that, for those who started school, only:

  • 60% wrote matric.
  • 37% passed matric.
  • 12% gained access to university within six years of finishing school.
  • 6% completed an undergraduate qualification within six years of finishing school.
  • 4% completed a degree within six years of finishing school.

To read the full story and what underlying factors are contributing to the challenges of basic education in South Africa to contribute to the resolution of the student fees crisis, please click here to go to the IOL website, and read the original article as published in The Mercury.

New data of challenges in tertiary education presented at LMIP conference

Hendrik van Broekhuizen, Servaas van der Berg and Heleen Hofmeyr recently published a report on higher education access and outcomes for the 2008 national matric cohort. The study makes use of a unique dataset that combines data at the school and university level in order to track the transition of the 2008 matric cohort from school to university. This enables analysis of the relationship between school-level factors such as matric performance and university outcomes such as access, completion and dropout. Servaas van der Berg presented the main findings of the report at the Research Colloquium on Skills Planning on the 29th of September in Johannesburg. The colloquium was hosted by the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The main findings of the report are as follows:

• Approximately one-third of learners who write the matric examinations and obtain Bachelor’s passes never go to university.

• Amongst matriculants that obtained Bachelor’s passes, university access is not skewed against black students or students from poorer schools.

• A large proportion of matriculants who do go to university do not enter in the year following matric, but only one or more years later.

• Matric marks are a good indicator of university access, but only weakly related to eventual university completion rates.

• There are large differences across universities in the average matric performance of students who attend these universities.

• It takes a long time for many students to successfully obtain university qualifications.

• Dropout rates at university, although high, are not as high as often reported, because many students that are considered “drop-outs” from university in official statistics did not leave the university system, but changed their degree programme, switched from a degree to a diploma or certificate programme, or enrolled in a different university.

Prof Van der Berg’s presentation highlighted the extremely small proportion (14%) of learners who start school who end up with a Bachelor’s matric pass. 12% achieve Diploma passes. This implies only 26% of learners who start school will be eligible for enrolment in university. Delayed entry to university and low completion rates result in only 6% of the original group who started school obtaining some kind of undergraduate qualification within six years of completing matric. Prof Van der Berg also pointed out the importance of matric performance in ‘gateway subjects’ such as Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Mathematical Literacy in university completion rates.

These findings suggest that many patterns of university access and success are influenced strongly by school results. The weak school system has a major influence on who reaches matric and how they perform in matric. This, and particularly the achievement of Bachelor’s passes, explains much of the racial differences in access to university.

RESEP hosts Conference on Quantitative Applications in Education

On the 19th and 20th of September this year, RESEP hosted the “Conference on Quantitative Applications in Education” at STIAS. The conference was attended by 85 participants from government, academia and civil society, with a keynote address by the Minister of Basic Education Ms Angie Motshekga

In her address, the Minister highlighted the importance of basing education policy on rigorous research. The Minister reiterated the important links between her Department and the research community:

“I want to acknowledge the valuable work that has been generated by the RESEP group recently. And not only be those directly part of RESEP, but also by many others here today, who are part of a growing network of people focused on understanding the challenges of the education sector and on offering solutions that can be implemented at a policy level. The two reports released earlier this year by RESEP have been tremendously influential in shaping thinking around what should be the priorities in education policy. These are the report on “Binding Constraints” in the sector and the report on “Laying Firm Foundations” through getting reading right.”

The conference heard from two international researchers based at the Research Triangle Institute: Dr Luis Crouch and Dr Benjamin Piper. Further presentations were given by researchers from the Department of Basic Education, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the Joint Education Trust (JET), as well as those based at the University of Johannesburg, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Cape Town, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Witwatersrand. Links to the powerpoint presentations can be found below:

Day 1

 Day 2

 

Prominent media coverage of ‘Binding Constraints’ and ‘Laying Firm Foundations’ reports

The recent ReSEP reports on “Identifying Binding Constraints in Education for the PSPPD (Project to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development) and “Laying Firm Foundations: Getting Reading Right” for the Zenex Foundation have generated widespread media coverage over the last few weeks.

On radio, Gabrielle Wills and Martin Gustafsson were invited for a discussion on SAFM while Servaas van der Berg spoke on RSG and on some local radio stations. The reports were also discussed on TV when Janeli Kotzé and Nompumelelo Mohohlwane appeared on Freek Robinson’s programme, Regstreeks on KykNet.

These reports have featured in at least 12 newspaper articles, amongst others in Mail & Guardian, Die Burger, Beeld, The Mercury, Business Day Live and Times Live. Mail & Guardian even devoted an editorial to our findings. You can read some of the articles below:

The reports also caught the attention of Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who requested ReSEP to present to the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), which he chairs.

On 10 June, Servaas van der Berg presented the highlighted key findings of both the reports to the HRDC in Johannesburg. His key message articulated the considerable reading deficits of children across the country and the relevance of a binding constraints framework for addressing issues of basic service delivery in education.

He also drew attention to concrete suggestions for addressing the reading crisis in the reports. The six key policy recommendations stressed at the end of his presentation included:

  • Emphasizing reading as a unifying goal for primary schooling
  • Continuing to test students regularly through reformulated ANAs as a measure of learning outcomes in primary schools
  • Using DBE workbooks to measure curriculum coverage
  • Teaching primary school teachers how to teach reading in African languages and in English 
  • Prioritizing the elimination of extreme class sizes in the Foundation Phase
  • Giving more attention to reading in African languages. 

It is satisfying to see our hard work coming to fruition. We hope that ReSEP’s research will have a lasting effect on policy debates and developments to the benefit of all South African children.