Newspaper clipping – 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 measures.

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 analytical techniques.
“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. - Sapa