Social Gradients, Early Childhood Education and Schools Performing Above the Demographic Expectation: Empirical Insights into Educational Issues

Author(s): Servaas van der Berg , Janeli Kotzé (Candidate)

Candidate: Janeli Kotzé
Supervisor: Professor Servaas van der Berg
Institution: Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Department of Economics

Abstract:

This dissertation exploits the wide variety of datasets available on the South African education system to consider select education issues. The purpose of this is to contribute relevant empirical research to inform current debates and discussions relating to issues and policies in the South African education system which might be entrenching the inequalities of the past and thereby impeding on future improvement. The first part of the dissertation provides a new perspective on within-country educational inequality among different education systems by comparing data from seven Sub-Saharan countries and sixteen Latin-American countries. When comparing the effect of socio-economic status (SES) on education across countries, researchers have always been faced with a trade-off between the accuracy of the SES measure within countries and the comparability of the measure across countries. This has often caused measures of SES to be incorrectly used to compare relative wealth across different countries and contexts. This chapter sets forth a new methodology to adjust the traditional measures of SES and make them more comparable across countries and surveys. Furthermore, the comparable SES measure is applied to compare children in equally impoverished circumstances across countries, sub-samples and datasets to more accurately identify the most disadvantaged children across the world. More specifically this method will be applied to the SACMEQ (Sub-Saharan Africa) and SERCE (Latin America) education datasets to compare the educational outcomes of those students living under the $3.10 a day poverty line. Most strikingly, the comparison shows that Ugandan and Mozambican children living under the $3.10 a day poverty line achieve much higher educational outcomes than similarly poor children in middle-income countries such as South Africa and the Dominican Republic. Investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD) has the prospect of cultivating extraordinary potential within individuals and can assist in bridging the social equity gap from a very young age. Over the past decade Grade R has been the strongest policy lever used by the Department of Basic Education to early learning. The National Development Plan has, however, called for universal access to two years of early childhood development prior to entering Grade 1. Chapter three explores the merits of this proposal given the specific South African context. More specifically, this analysis intends to bring new information to bear on three matters. The first relates to the demand-side and aims to identifying participation trends among four- and five-year-olds. Moreover, an attempt is made to obtain a profile of those learners not attending any form of preschooling currently. The second objective is to consider the supply-side and aims to understand the policy space in which pre-Grade R will function, the quality and quantity of infrastructure already in place, and the expertise of ECD practitioners. Finally, the implementation of a universally accessible pre-Grade R within a constrained system and the requirements for ensuring that it will have a significant impact on those children most in need are discussed. Drawing on three uniquely constructed datasets using the 2012-2014 Universal Annual National Assessments (U-ANAs), the 2013 Verification ANA (V-ANA) and the 2011 School Monitoring Survey, the fourth chapter investigates the prevalence and performance of poor schools which manage to perform above the demographic expectation. Overall it is evident that only 5% of all Quintile 1 – 3 schools, serving only 4% of the learner population in Quintile 1 – 3 schools, manage to perform at an acceptable level. The study estimates that poor learners who attend these above average schools, gain up to a year of additional learning relative to their peers in weak performing schools. Finally the study shows that strong school management and governance and supportive bureaucratic accountability are associated with the higher performance observed in these schools.

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