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Nic Spaull

Research Fellow

Nic Spaull is an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University and part of the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) group in the Department. Nic’s research centres on education policy in South Africa with a focus on inequality and early grade literacy and numeracy. In 2021 he was awarded the Royal Society’s Meiring Naude Medal as well as the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) P-Rating, the highest rating possible for researchers under 35. During the COVID-19 pandemic Nic initiated the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), a nationwide consortium of more than 30 researchers from six universities, to measure the impact of COVID-19 in South Africa which has generated over 60 academic working papers in less than a year and has been cited by the President in parliament.

Nic has held visiting fellowships at Stanford University in the US and the OECD in Paris and is currently a non-resident fellow at RISE as well as the Centre for Global Development (CGD). Nic recently (2019) co-edited “South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality” with Jonathan Jansen and published by Springer and is co-editing a 3-volume series on reading and mathematics to be published by Oxford University Press in 2022. Nic comments regularly in the media and advises numerous high-level policymakers and philanthropists in South Africa and abroad. His research and commentary are available on his website nicspaull.com

September 29, 2020 in Development, Development - Report & Policy, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs

NIDS-CRAM Wave 1 Synthesis Report: Overview and Findings.

The overview and findings of NIDS-CRAM wave 1, consisting of work by a national consortium of 30 social science researchers from five South African universities.…
September 29, 2020 By: Nic Spaull, Cally Ardington, Ihsaan Bassier, et al. PDF
June 19, 2020 in Adaiah Lilenstein, Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2020, Labour, Labour - Reports & Policy, Labour 2020, Nic Spaull, Reports, Research Outputs, Servaas van der Berg

The Race Between Teacher Wages and the Budget

This report determines how the real resources available to the average child in South Africa have changed over the period 2008 to 2018.
June 19, 2020 By: Nic Spaull, Adaiah Lilenstein, and David Carel PDF
June 16, 2020 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2020, Nic Spaull, Reports, Research Outputs, Servaas van der Berg

Counting the Cost: COVID-19 School Closures in South Africa & its Impact on Children

Van der Berg, S & Spaull, N. (2020). Counting the Cost: COVID-19 school closures in South Africa & its impacts on children. Research on Socioeconomic…
May 10, 2020 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2020, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs, Research Outputs

Who should go Back to School First in South Africa?

Who should go back to school first in South Africa? Children under 10 are least susceptible to COVID-19, they should go back first.   Spaull,…
May 10, 2020 By: Nic Spaull PDF
November 12, 2019 in Chapters in Book, Education, Education - Publications, Education 2019, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Assessing Early Literacy Outcomes in Burkina Faso and Senegal: Using DHS and PASEC to Combine Access and Quality

  Book: Improving Early Literacy Outcomes Chapter: Assessing Early Literacy Outcomes in Burkina Faso and Senegal: Using DHS and PASEC to Combine Access and Quality Authors: Nic…
November 12, 2019 By: Nic Spaul and Adaiah Lilenstein PDF
November 11, 2019 in Chapters in Book, Education, Education - Publications, Education 2019, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Learning to Read and Write for Meaning and Pleasure

Spaull, N. (2019). Learning to Read and Write for Meaning and Pleasure. In Spaull, N. & Comings, J. (Eds), Improving Early Literacy Outcomes. Leiden, The Netherlands:…
November 11, 2019 By: Nic Spaull PDF
November 11, 2019 in Chapters in Book, Education, Education - Publications, Education 2019, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Still Falling at the First Hurdle: Examining Early grade Reading in South Africa

Spaull, N. & Pretorius, E. (2019). Still Falling at the First Hurdle: Examining Early grade Reading in South Africa. In Spaull, N., & Jansen, J.…
November 11, 2019 By: Nic Spaull, Elizabeth Pretorius PDF
November 11, 2019 in Chapters in Book, Education, Education - Publications, Education 2019, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Equity: A Price Too High to Pay?

Spaull, N. (2019). Equity: A Price Too High to Pay? In Spaull, N., & Jansen, J. (Eds), South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer…
November 11, 2019 By: Nic Spaull PDF
September 4, 2018 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2018, Nic Spaull, Nompumelelo Mohohlwane, Policy Briefs

Creating reading fluency benchmarks in African languages

Learning to read for meaning is the most important skill that children learn in primary school. If a child cannot read well, then they will…
September 4, 2018 By: Nic Spaull, Nompumelelo Mohohlwane, Elizabeth Pretorius PDF
July 16, 2018 in 2017, Education, Education - Working Papers, Education 2017, Focus Areas, Nic Spaull, Research Outputs, Working Papers

The ‘Martha Effect’: The compounding female advantage in South African higher education

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP14/2017 Publication date: November 2017 Abstract: In this paper we use population-wide panel data to follow every South African student…
July 16, 2018 By: Nic Spaull, Hendrik van Broekhuizen PDF
July 4, 2018 in 2016, Education, Education - Working Papers, Education 2016, Nic Spaull, Research Outputs, Working Papers

Disentangling the language effect in South African schools: Measuring the impact of ‘language of assessment’ in grade 3 literacy and numeracy

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP19/2016 Abstract: The aim of this paper is to exploit an unusual occurrence whereby a large group of South African…
July 4, 2018 By: Nic Spaull PDF
March 13, 2018 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2018, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Who makes it into PISA? Understanding the impact of sample eligibility using Turkey as a case study (PISA 2003- PISA 2012)

Spaull, N. (2017) Who makes it into PISA? Understanding the impact of sample eligibility using Turkey as a case study (PISA 2003- PISA 2012). OECD…
March 13, 2018 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in Development, Education, Gabrielle Wills, Martin Gustafsson, Nic Spaull, Reports, Servaas van der Berg

Identifying Binding Constraints in Education

Synthesis Report for the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD) This research report provides an overview of a large research project undertaken by a…
October 16, 2017 in 2011, Education, Education - Working Papers, Nic Spaull

A Preliminary Analysis of SACMEQ III South Africa

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP11/2011 Abstract: The many and varied links between student socio-economic status and educational outcomes have been well documented in the…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in 2012, Education, Education - Working Papers, Nic Spaull, Working Papers

Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP13/2012 Abstract: Although racial segregation has been abolished for 18 years now, schools which served predominantly White students under apartheid…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in 2012, Education, Education - Working Papers, Nic Spaull, Working Papers

“Effective enrolment” – Creating a composite measure of educational access and educational quality to accurately describe education system performance in sub-Saharan Africa.

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP21/2012 Abstract: In this paper we question the existing practice of reporting enrolment statistics that ignore quality, but also quality-statistics…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in 2013, Education, Education - Working Papers, Nic Spaull, Working Papers

The effects of rapidly expanding primary school access on effective learning: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP01/2013 Abstract: Have recent expansions of access to primary schooling in African countries led to deterioration in the quality of…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull, Stephen Taylor PDF
October 16, 2017 in 2014, Education, Education - Working Papers, Education 2014, Nic Spaull, Research Outputs, Working Papers

What do we know about primary teachers’ mathematical content knowledge in South Africa? An analysis of SACMEQ 2007

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP13/2014 Publication date: 2014 Abstract: Primary school mathematics teachers should, at the most basic level, have mastery of the content…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull, Hamsa Venkat PDF
October 16, 2017 in 2015, Education, Education - Working Papers, Education 2015, Nic Spaull, Research Outputs, Working Papers

Examining oral reading fluency among grade 5 rural English Second Language (ESL) learners in South Africa: An analysis of NEEDU 2013

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP09.2015 Publication date: 2015 Abstract: The ability to read for meaning and pleasure is arguably the most important skill children…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull, Kim Draper PDF
October 16, 2017 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2017, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs, Research Outputs

Learning to read and reading to learn

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 04/2016 Abstract: Reading for meaning and pleasure is arguably the most important skill children learn in primary school. Since almost all…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2017, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs, Research Outputs

Excessive class sizes in the Foundation Phase

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 05/2016 Abstract: In previous research we have stressed the importance of learning to read by the end of Grade 3 (see…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2017, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs, Research Outputs

SA learners perform poorly relative to local and regional standards

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 01/2012 Abstract: Despite positive trends in completion rates and Grade R enrolment, staggering numbers of South African learners continue to lack…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 16, 2017 in Education, Education - Reports & Policy, Education 2017, Nic Spaull, Policy Briefs, Research Outputs

Identifying policy priorities to improve outcomes for poor primary school learners

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 03/2011 Abstract: Socio-economic status has a significant impact on primary school learner performance. Poorer learners often suffer poor educational outcomes: They…
October 16, 2017 By: Nic Spaull PDF
March 13, 2017 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2017, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Getting reading right: Building firm foundations

Introduction The Millennium Development Goals aimed to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015. Attendance rates in South Africa remain high, with 97% of…
March 13, 2017 By: Nic Spaull, Ursula Hoadley PDF
August 13, 2016 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2016, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Disentangling the language effect in South African schools: Measuring the impact of ‘language of assessment’ in grade 3 literacy and numeracy

Abstract The aim of this article is to exploit an unusual occurrence whereby a large group of South African grade 3 students were tested twice,…
August 13, 2016 By: Nic Spaull PDF
February 12, 2016 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2016, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Exploring relationships between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension amongst English second language readers in South Africa

  Abstract Most analyses of oral reading fluency (ORF) are based on L1 reading, and the norms that have been developed in English are based…
February 12, 2016 By: Nic Spaull, Elizabeth Pretorius PDF
December 25, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000

  Abstract This paper examines the extent to which increased access to primary schooling in ten Southern and East African countries between 2000 and 2007…
December 25, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Stephen Taylor PDF
November 25, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: The case of insurmountable learning deficits in mathematics

Abstract This study quantifies a year’s worth of mathematics learning in South Africa (0.3 standard deviations) and uses this measure to develop empirically calibrated learning…
November 25, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Janeli Kotzé PDF
October 16, 2015 in Nic Spaull, Research Outputs, Servaas van der Berg, Theses, Theses 2015

Education Quality in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa: An Economic Approach

Candidate: Nic Spaul Supervisor: Professor Servaas van der Berg Institution: Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Department of Economics Abstract: Education has always occupied a central…
October 16, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Servaas van der Berg PDF
September 12, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Accountability and Capacity in South African Education

  Abstract The aim of the study is to discuss the notion of accountability with respect to education in South Africa. Starting with an overview…
September 12, 2015 By: Nic Spaull PDF
July 25, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

What do we know about primary teachers’ mathematical content knowledge in South Africa? An analysis of SACMEQ 2007

  Abstract There is consensus in the international mathematics teacher education literature that teachers should, at the most basic level, have mastery of the content…
July 25, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Hamsa Venkat PDF
June 8, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Examining oral reading fluency among rural Grade 5 English Second Language (ESL) learners in South Africa: An analysis of NEEDU 2013

  Abstract The ability to read for meaning and pleasure is arguably the most important skill children learn in primary school. One integral component of…
June 8, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Kim Draper PDF
March 8, 2015 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2015, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Access to What? Creating a Composite Measure of Educational Quantity and Educational Quality for 11 African Countries

Abstract The aim of the current study is to create a composite statistic of educational quantity and educational quality by combining household data (Demographic and…
March 8, 2015 By: Nic Spaull, Stephen Taylor PDF
June 21, 2014 in Development, Development - Publications, Development 2014, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

The Gospel according to Banerjee and Duflo

  Excerpt: In their latest book, Poor Economics, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee present a highly readable overview of the problems facing the world’s poor…
June 21, 2014 By: Nic Spaull PDF
October 25, 2013 in Education, Education - Publications, Education 2014, Journal Articles, Nic Spaull, Publications, Research Outputs

Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa

  Abstract: The strong legacy of apartheid and the consequent correlation between education and wealth have meant that, generally speaking, poorer South African students perform…
October 25, 2013 By: Nic Spaull PDF