South Africa CREATE seminar 14 June 2007

The South African CREATE team held a seminar to discuss the draft copy of Educational Access in South Africa: An Analytic Review at the Wits Club, Wits Main Campus, 14 June 2007.  The seminar coincided with the public sector strike which had virtually shut down schools since 1 June 2007 and came just two days before the commemorations of the 16 June 1976 youth uprisings against Bantu Education.

Trevor Coombe, chair of the National Reference Group, opened the seminar with a reminder of the Preamble to the South African Schools Act (1996): ”this country requires a new national system for schools which will redress past injustices in educational provision, provide an education of progressively high quality for all learners and in so doing lay a strong foundation for the development of all our people's talents and capabilities, advance the democratic transformation of society, combat racism and sexism and all other forms of unfair discrimination and intolerance, contribute to the eradication of poverty and the economic well-being of society, protect and advance our diverse cultures and languages, uphold the rights of all learners, parents and educators, and promote their acceptance of responsibility for the organisation, governance and funding of schools in partnership with the State.”

“It’s a fitting summary of the concerns of the Consortium," Coombe said.  "The job of CREATE is to focus on the most vulnerable, those most at risk in primary and junior secondary schools.  … The focus on the marginalized reminds us that though we do well on the aggregates, we're not so good on the margins."

Duncan Hindle the Director General of the National Department of Education gave an introductory address stressing the importance of the issues raised for South Africa and for the Region. He noted the value of research and analysis and said the department has got better at collecting data.  “But,” he said, “it was never going to be enough and in that light we welcome the initiative of CREATE.  It is useful in that the international comparisons are with countries with similar features to ourselves.”

While the department was improving its data collection systems, it is of some concern that an audit of 200 schools revealed that as many as 17% over-reported their numbers. “Gauteng and Western Cape claim to gain up to 30 000 learners each year - but no province admits to loosing learners,” Hindle said making it difficult for planning and allocating funds.  These problems are compounded by the fact that there is no zoning system for schools.  South Africa has a largely mobile learner population.  Hindle cited cases in Limpopo where mobile classrooms follow teachers.  He argued for the need to tighten up on zoning.

Hindle said the system retains most learners up to grade 9 - and even grade 10.  “Quantitative access has been addressed,” he said. “We have almost achieved universal primary and even universal basic education.  But drop-out in grade 11 and 12 is an odd decision to take.  We really need to understand the dynamics pushing people out of the system.”  Hindle emphasized that access must address the question: “access to what?”  The aim was for access to a proper learning environment where people are comfortable to learn.

Keith Lewin, CREATE director, provided an international perspective on the project and its model of access.  Shireen Motala, EPU Director, presented the main issues arising from the report, Educational Access in South Africa: An Analytic Review.

Veerle Dieltiens, CREATE co-ordinator outlined future research possibilities.  These include:

  • Detailed analysis of statistics on a smaller, district-wide scale which would enable scrutiny of the accuracy of the primary data and provide a disaggregated picture of which sub-populations experience high drop-out rates and repetition, where they are geographically, and in which grades they are most likely to drop out.
  • A Community School Survey to establish the reasons learners drop out or fall behind and specific relationship between the explanatory variables and their priority.
  • Monitoring the impact of recent policies on access, including: progression and age-grade norms, the introduction of Grade R, fee-free schooling and the closure of farm schools.

Russell Wildeman, a member of the National Reference Group, provided a discussant commentary on Educational Access in South Africa: An Analytic Review. The following is a summary of his observations:

  • The report does credit beyond an academic report.  It has breadth covering health and social issues.
  • It redefines access without sidelining or trivializing structural access.
  • Epistemic access - meaningful learning - is interesting but it begins to make the project unwieldy.
  • There is a lot of information and perspective but there is no clearly defined research programme.
  • There is a proliferation of analytical approaches.
  • The statistical analysis assumed too much. Need to have confidence errors on statistics. Provide more information on the stats so that the reader can make their own decisions.  The statistics chapter is compromised by telling readers what to think.
  • Meaningful access is a wonderful concept but it feels very wide ranging.
  • School effectiveness needs an additional literature review.
  • Isn't the access theme in itself limiting? Is it realistic in the short to medium term?
  • The report has an exclusive focus on research at the expense of advocacy.  What are the mechanisms of change?  It should be fundamentally inserted into the report.
  • What is the statistical method to be proposed?
  • In order to have policy impact, we need access to longitudinal data.


The Review will now be finalised in the light of comments and uploaded to the website in the near future.

P.S. A Ministerial Committee has been set up to Review issues of retention in the education system. CREATE was invited to give evidence to the Committee and team members met for this purpose in Pretoria with the Committee, 13 June 2007.

South Africa is hosting the next Ministers of Education Meeting of the African Union (COMEDAF) which will consider establishing strategic partnerships for the implementation of the Plan of Action for the Second Decade of Education for Africa and this will provide opportunities for CREATE to project its research insights..