Angie Motshekga: We’re not the worst. Here’s why

2014-06-10 12:00

Once again, the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has caused a stir. Regarding the educational quality indicators, it is important to bear in mind that the WEF does not use a standardised testing system in producing its report.

In South Africa’s case, about 50 respondents from the “business community” were asked to rate the quality of education on a seven-point scale.

One would expect the respondents to know better because we have sound data on our educational quality relative to other countries and have always taken the trouble to make it available. Clearly, the WEF respondents did not have the required information.

In the report of the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality published in 2012, South Africa was ranked ninth out of 15 countries in Grade 6 maths.

Lesotho did considerably worse, but its WEF ranking for the quality of primary schooling indicator is 120 against our 132. This illustrates the problem with subjective data on a matter that is relatively amenable to measurement.

Test-based data suggest South Africa’s quality of education requires fixing and is well below where it should be, yet the catchy slogan that we are “at the bottom of the world” is not supported by the evidence. We have made strides in fixing the system, particularly in maths, science and technology.

We are implementing recommendations presented by the task team appointed to advise the department on how to address the challenges. Besides our national assessments, we also participate in regional and international studies to benchmark our performance.

Recently, we were part of a forum of 12 African countries that reflected on how assessment information could be disseminated and used optimally to inform and improve educational quality. A challenge

that all 12 raised was the lack of political leadership in terms of placing the results, which all agreed were often not desirable, in the public arena.

Participants were amazed that in South Africa the dissemination of the results of all the assessments was led by political leaders. All agreed that a less confident government would never do that.

We want South Africans to know the facts so citizens can engage from an informed position and exercise their right to participate in education as a social enterprise. In the past three years, we have scientifically and with valid methods, assembled enough data to give us a comprehensive understanding of what the issues are.

The latest studies, including the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, have confirmed what our national assessments have already indicated?–there is evidence that our education system is responding positively to the initiatives we’ve been working on.

Our performance is definitely on an upward spiral. There are still challenges which we have put out in the public with plans on what we are doing to address them.

In assessments, there are set established processes that are scientific, reliable, valid and consistent. So opinions remain just that. They are biased views and to say government has to accept what is unacceptable is incorrect.

We cannot get the nation to accept what we know is unacceptable, fearing that we will be accused of being defensive or in denial. The rate of our transparency is unmatched internationally.

» Motshekga is the minister of basic education

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