Schools need capacity to shine’

2014-08-14 00:00

HOW can you call schools to account when they don’t have the capacity to perform?

This question was posed by Nicholas Spaull, educational researcher at Stellenbosch University, at the South African Education Research Association (SAERA) conference being held in Durban this week.

He presented his paper, “Accountability in South African Education: Understanding the disconnect between resources and results”.

Clearly South African schools were “not all born equal”, said Spaull, and different schools had “different resources, different pressures and different capacity”. There was both a lack of capacity and a lack of accountability in the education system according to Spaull, adding that schools and teachers could only be effective if they had proper resources.

Spaull said there was a tendency for policy makers to rely on incentives: “But to do what? What are teachers supposed be doing tomorrow they are not doing today?”

Citing Harvard educationist Richard Elmore, Spaull said people who are asked to do things they don’t know how to do, become “skilled at subverting systems”.

“You can’t only look at accountability or ­capacity,” he said. “Without capacity equal to ­accountability, you get teachers subverting the system. Even if you have a willing teacher but the school doesn’t have the capacity to develop a curriculum or deal with disciplinary problems, the teacher will fail.

“But we shouldn’t only be looking at the classroom,” said Spaull, “but at all levels of the education system: classroom, school, principals and province.”

Currently there are no consequences for non-performance, said Spaull.

Stephen Taylor, advisor and researcher in the director general’s office of the national Basic Education Department, said that when it came to issues of accountability or capacity, there was a need for evaluations as currently the department didn’t know which issue to prioritise.

Taylor said rigorous impact evaluations were required that investigated the real outcomes of policy as opposed to simply targets met.

Currently, there was too much emphasis on evaluating “processes” rather than impacts.

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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