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Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP09.2016
Previous studies of the South African education system have emphasised its bimodal performance, with the weaker part of the schools’ system containing a majority of schools that are seemingly unable to transform either school resources or even children’s socio-economic status (SES) into improved learning outcomes. This stands in contrast to the better functioning and more affluent part of the system.

This study uses data from prePILS, a recent international evaluation, where South African schools that tested in African languages were largely those associated with the weaker performance. The innovation of this paper lies in its empirical investigation of parent-child and teacher-child interpersonal interactions (so-called “softer” factors), such as parents appreciating children’s reading, parents checking children’s homework frequently, and teachers reporting that they adhere very strongly to the curriculum. Such variables are not often incorporated into education production functions. This study finds that these softer, non-conventional factors are significantly and positively associated with student test scores, even after controlling for other factors. Coefficients relating to these non-conventional inputs are also significant in the poorer and generally lower quality and less functional tier of the school system, where physical resource inputs appear to be associated with only limited cognitive gains.

These research findings indicate that a more effective education policy should perhaps shift the emphasis from the learning inputs usually considered (mainly tangible) towards non-conventional learning ‘inputs’ related to interpersonal interactions and parental and teacher behaviour.