The CEO Notes

Improving education to better life opportunities



Quality education is an indisputable prerequisite for development to occur, and similarly development is a prerequisite for improvement of education. Development offers opportunities for improvement of infrastructure necessary for education to take place, and also offers opportunities for production of qualified teachers, as well as learners who can learn. When teachers lack basic resources to teach, learners are less likely to benefit from education.  

South Africa is a middle income country, yet it has such immense inequalities where some areas are very underdeveloped and others are world-class. If one was sitting in Washington DC watching the 2010 Soccer World Cup being played in Cape Town, one would not imagine that ten kilometers away is the sprawling Crossroads township, where people live in makeshift houses, lack proper sanitation and access to water in their homes. These inequalities are reflected in our development indicators of unemployment of more than 40%, if we count those who are discouraged from looking for a job, a Gini-coefficient of 0.68 and the fact that 30% of our population lives on social grants.   

The high inequality in our country advantages those who live in formal housing, have income and enjoy access to educational material. Those living on the fringe of society are unlikely to benefit from education. It is no surprise that the matric results are better in former Model C schools, which are almost entirely located in better neighbourhoods.. Unfortunately, the Model C schools are in a minority. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the government has prioritised education and prescribed solutions to ensure effective teaching takes place.

Since 1994, the South African government has initiated many policies and programmes to improve the state of education, but with limited success. There have been strides in increasing access to education but quality education remains elusive. The present government has prioritised education, and Outcome One of the government’s set of priorities is the improved quality of basic education for all.

Education research and evidence-based policy recommendations could support government by providing insights and knowledge for new or modified programme interventions, and also provide insights into the impact of policies designed to improve the quality of education.

In September 2006, an education consortium, comprising the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Education Policy Consortium (EPC), JET Education Services (JET), and the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), successfully submitted a proposal to the Royal Netherlands Embassy to conduct research on the literacy and numeracy challenge in South African schools. The purpose was to arrive at specific policy options and to establish models of good practice to support the Department of Education in its ongoing efforts to improve the quality of education.

The HSRC was appointed the lead agency of what became known as the 3Rs Consortium. Recognising the importance of a coordinated research effort, the consortium partners designed a research project that would investigate different dimensions of the literacy and numeracy challenge.

Unique to this investigation was that research would be undertaken at a school, family and community level. In addition to producing knowledge, this project also embraced a capacity development dimension: this included both research capacity and institutional development.

In this edition of the HSRC Review we focus on the results of this project, which comes to an end in December 2011. The articles, presented on pages 21 to 41, , offer an opportunity for reflection on both the process and the knowledge generated by this five-year project.The finalisation of the projects culminates in a research conference in October 2011, where the synthesis report from the study will be presented to the director general of the Department of Basic Education.

We believe this research will be of great interest to researchers, policymakers and practitioners.