Newsletter 235 - On our Watch


It has been more than 26 years since the African National Congress has governed South Africa. We all knew it then that governance is far more challenging than protesting…we just never knew it transformation was going to take forever.

  • Strengthening of a “Three-tiered socio-political-economic System” – Education/Health/Basic Services/Police/Justice
    • Rich 1% (very wealthy)
    • Middle-class 19% (hopefuls)
    • Poor 80% (very poor)
  • Radical economic transformation has not been successful
  • Economic growth has been declining
  • News of endemic fraud and corruption by the political and economic elite has become daily news
  • Political structures such as local government has failed us dismally
  • The rich has become richer – let see what they are up to; Nowadays, about 5%-15% of South Africans opt out of all public services; 17% have private medical aid, 7% have private security, and 5% have private schooling or high-fee (R12,000-plus per annum) public schooling, according to the general household survey (GHS) 2016-17
  • The poor has become poorer
  • If SA was made up of 100 people and we lined them up from richest to poorest, the 10th poorest person’s income declined 15% and the 99th person’s income (richest 1%) increased 48% from 2011-2015.
  • Land reform…its trickling effect has made no sustainable or significant impact

Nic Spaull made the reference;

I often wonder how long the SA status quo can carry on before Paris-style gilets jaunes protests break out and stop everything. There is a line in the latest Batman movie in which Catwoman turns to Bruce Wayne and says: “There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Some good news for teachers;

  • As many of you know I'm (Nic Spaull) currently seconded to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment to develop the "Funda Wande: Reading for Meaning" program.
  • The aim of that is to equip teachers in no-fee schools with the resources and training they need to teach reading for meaning by age 10 (this video explains it well).
  • We have now also initiated a sister program for Grade 1-3 mathematics: "Bala Wande: Calculating with Confidence."
  • The aim is to develop fully bilingual learner activity booklets and video-based teacher guides for Grade 1-3 in all South Africa's official languages.

Martin Gustafsson says that there are "New evidence supports the belief that South Africa’s education is not all bad".  

"In 2012, TIMSS results pointed to substantial improvements in lower secondary maths and science since 2002. A few years later, SEACMEQ revealed improvements in the upper primary level. "

"My findings (of leteracy data) were surprising. The raw data appeared not to have been properly analysed in arriving at the conclusion that there was no progress. In fact, the progress was remarkably large."

"It’s important to note, however, that even after improvements, South Africa still underperforms relative to most other middle income countries. What’s encouraging is that there’s a move in the right direction."

"What lies behind the improvement?

  1. It’s a mix of education and non-education factors.
  2. Urbanisation has improved the access of young people to resources which facilitate learning, from electricity in the home to public libraries.
  3. In the schooling system, there’s evidence that access to textbooks has improved.
  4. Curriculum reforms have made it clearer what teachers should do. "

"Not acknowledging that there are improvements raises the risk of policy change, where perhaps policy stability is necessary."



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