SU research could give education policy direction
Education policy should ensure that learners from poor performing schools get an education which will secure them a career with a higher income.
This was found by a team of researchers of the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University (SU). The team, under the guidance of Prof Servaas van der Berg of the Departement, presented their results at a workshop on education policy on Monday.
The workshop was held at the Wallenberg Research Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies (Stias) and titled “Low quality education as a poverty trap”. Policy makers in the education sector, as well as education experts, researchers and students attended the workshop.
The project was undertaken with the financial assistance of the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD), a programme of the European Union and the Presidency of South Africa. Almost 20 people were involved in the project and the outputs produced were ten working papers, five policy briefs, a summary report and a series of policy recommendations.
Prof Van der Berg and six researchers who were part of the team presented their results at the workshop.
Ms Debra Shepherd, a doctoral student, spoke about why schools in poor areas produce poor results. Repetition of grades, early drop-outs and poor matriculation passes were addressed by Mr Martin Gustafsson, a part-time researcher at the Department, while Dr Stephen Taylor of the Department explored school functionality in South Africa.
The quality of education and the labour market was Mr Eldridge Moses’s topic, with Mr Dieter von Fintel talking about numeracy and Ms Ronelle Burger giving a summary of the findings. All three also work at the Department of Economics.
Prof Van der Berg highlighted the implications of this research for education policy, as well as the relation between socio-economic status and education. “South Africa has a dualistic school system and labour market. There are high-quality schools (mainly ex-white schools) and low-quality schools (mainly former black schools), and we see that learners from the former end up in high-productivity jobs with a higher income, while learners from the latter get low-productivity jobs with low income. Only some talented, motivated or lucky students manage the transition from low-quality schools to high-productivity jobs and incomes.”
Currently, Van der Berg said, children living in low socio-economic conditions go to low-quality schools and receive bad results. When they enter the labour market, they get low-income jobs, which completes the vicious circle, because their children grow up in low socio-economic conditions and eventually end up in low-income jobs. “We must break this circle of poverty.”
According to Van der Berg there are certain findings in their research that could give education policy direction:
- Greater emphasis on pre-school education;
- Textbooks should be supplied and more schools should have libraries;
- Homework should be given to learners;
- The assessment practices needs attention;
- Teachers’ subject knowledge should be improved;
- The appointment of principals with performance contracts should be implemented.