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Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP14/2016

The Western Cape, one of South Africa’s better performing provinces in terms of educational outcomes, has a relatively well-run education bureaucracy when compared not only within South Africa but also with other middle-income country education systems. Nevertheless, questions have been raised about whether bureaucratic competence has translated into higher levels of student learning in the province. In this paper, we consider how well primary school students perform in the Western Cape when compared with their peers in other systems within and across Southern and Eastern Africa after we control for differences in the socio-economic profiles of students and schooling inputs. Primarily relying on SACMEQ 2007 data, we use both descriptive and multivariate estimation with propensity score matching to explore performance differentials. In particular, we use an internationally calibrated measure of socio-economic status to compare test scores across equally poor students in different systems before drawing naïve conclusions about performance differentials. We find that while the Western Cape is a relatively efficient education system within South Africa, particularly in serving the poorest students, a less-resourced country such as Kenya produces higher levels of grade 6 student achievement across the student socio-economic profile. We also identify that observed differences in resourcing, teacher and other school inputs are typically not able to explain away performance differentials across different systems.

JEL Classification:
I20, I21, I24

Student achievement, Western Cape, Southern and Eastern Africa, comparative education