Education analysis misses the mark

A recent comment piece published in the Mail & Guardian (“Basic education is failing the economy”) expresses alarm at the performance of the schooling system and the implications for the economy. We share the fundamental concern that the school system still needs much improvement in order to contribute to economic growth and transformation, but unfortunately the analysis is weak.

First, the glaring factual errors indicate perfunctory knowledge of key data sources and education in the country. For example, the authors assert that the “latest results” available from international assessments of education quality come from the national school effectiveness study (NSES), but these are by no means the latest results nor was it an international study.

The NSES was undertaken almost 10 years ago, between 2007 and 2009, in a sample of eight provinces in South Africa.
How then do the authors cite average numeracy scores for other countries? They then introduce the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) but go on to quote statistics that come from a different study. Tanzania, for example, was not even part of the study.

The article also draws on the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SEACMEQ) to illustrate problems of teacher subject knowledge. The authors argue that “60% of maths teachers, teaching from grades one to six, failed to pass tests for maths at that grade level”. This reflects a clear gap in knowledge because they have not fully understood how these assessments are administered.

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