– iol on line – 29 August 2008
“Bring data, evidence into education process”
It is time to bring data and evidence into South Africa’s education
production process, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said on Friday.
“For too long, we have relied on faith, good fortune or flagellation
for the education of our young,” he said in his acceptance speech
as Chancellor of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
There was a tendency – when economic value could not be approximated
by bottom-line profits – to institutionalize a plethora of administrative
reporting requirements and output or activity indicators as proxy performance
This kept officials busy and might serve an accountability purpose, but
far too often the exercise deteriorated into unthinking compliance with
ill-considered forms and templates, Manuel said.
“Yet in today’s world we have the tools at our disposal, the
data, the recording systems, the number-crunching powers, the analytical
algorithms, to replace intuition with evidence as the foundation of public
policy and education management. What it takes is a determination to ask
questions that probe deeper, to examine the facts from new angles, to
be open to findings that will sometimes confound our preconceptions.”
Manuel said there was nothing new in the idea of looking for evidence.
What was new, was the extent of data available and the power of modern
“Our universities and research institutions are rightly at the forefront
of analysis of South African demographic trends, epidemiological patterns,
labour markets, industrial processes, mining technology. Bur there are
areas of social enquiry in which we are not yet making anywhere near enough
use of available data and analytical tools. My submission to you is that
the best functioning universities and colleges in the 21st century will
be those that make the most aggressive use of data – data about
what they do, data about how their students do, data that tracks student
performance into the work place, career development, skills and earnings.
We need more studies of classroom practices, we need more analysis of
learning outcomes, we need tracer studies that follow students out of
the classroom into their careers,” Manuel said.
In the context of South Africa’s growth and development challenges,
finding ways of making schools work better should be at the top of the
national research agenda.
“If our schools and colleges are to play their role as an inter-generational
ladder out of poverty, and if higher education is to play its role in
technology change and supporting economic advancement, then we need to
continue to build more direct links between ‘learning’ and
‘doing’. If we are to achieve growth of seven percent a year
over the decade ahead, what would that mean for our engineering and technology
enrolment? Many countries are asking questions of this kind, and behind
rapid economic growth in countries such as China and India there is an
astonishingly rapid educational transformation underway,” he said.