PROMOTING SCHOOL CHOICE FOR THE POOR: Practical ideas from international experience


Private schools, especially in low-income communities, are a growing and vital part of ensuring more choice for parents and driving better performance by all schools, public and private. What needs to be done to expand access to quality education in the private school sector? This report compiled by The Centre for Development and Enterprise is the result of a workshop attended by international and local experts. Building on experience in other developing countries, the report contains many practical suggestions on how to support low fee private schools in poorer communities.



Business must play its part to expand vocational education



Based on VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA: Strategies for improvement

SA’s attempts to achieve accelerated and shared growth over the past decade or so have been thwarted by shortages of artisan, technical and other vocational skills. The basic problem is poor educational quality despite high expenditure. In addition, the disappearance of apprenticeships, shortcomings in training by sector education and training authorities (Setas) and the inadequacies of further education and training (FET) institutions have made their own contributions to this blockage to growth.

At the same time, the country is haunted by the waste of youthful potential represented by about 3-million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who, according to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s recent green paper, are not in employment, education or training.

Unlike basic and general education, the point of post-secondary education, at institutions such as FET colleges, technical high schools and technikons, is employability. Since the private sector is the engine of job creation, qualifications that are highly regarded by business should be the goal.

This has not been the case up to now. Despite government attempts to expand vocational education, qualifications from vocational schools often fail to inspire employers’ confidence; teachers at vocational schools and colleges don’t have enough experience; and students are often uninterested or unable to cope.

What business and industry need in order to create employment is people who can “hit the ground running” and be productive in the workplace immediately. The key to this is good quality, vocationally oriented education in which school-leavers are exposed to occupations in technological, commercial, agricultural and other fields and receive further post-school training before they can enter the labour market.

How can this be achieved? The Centre for Development and Enterprise’s new research in this area makes it clear that a strong role for the private sector is desirable. We have identified several successful vocationally oriented programmes in which the education or training institution works closely with business or industry.

One example is the Middelburg Higher Technical School near the industrial hub of eMalahleni (formerly Witbank) in Mpumalanga. Partnerships between the school and industry give pupils training opportunities that address two critical shortages – technical and artisan skills – and a diversity of appropriate education pathways after Grade 9 to help develop these skills.

The private sector, including companies such as Toyota, invests heavily in the school, provides after-school training and considers pupils favourably for employment. It has also devised a modular, after-school training course for interested pupils and has appointed teachers to lead this. Once pupils have successfully completed the first modules and their schooling, they can apply for employment at Toyota, where they will complete their training as employees.

Employment is not guaranteed, but pupils who complete the course can apply to any Toyota dealer in SA for a job.

Another Middelburg company, Samancor, a ferrochrome-producer, also uses the school for specific, after-school training. This training is Seta-accredited and focuses on pre-artisan training for Grade 10 to 12 pupils. Successful pupils are employed by the company and given further training once they finish school.

Research on international experience also underlines the importance of private sector involvement in vocational education. Partnership arrangements between the government, education institutions, organised employer bodies and trade unions demonstrate that no one sector can solve training and unemployment problems on its own. Germany and Switzerland are prime examples of successful, dual-track, vocational education systems. In Germany, learning at a vocational school is combined with apprenticeship training at a host company. The success of some of its famous companies may partly be attributed to this partnership.

In Switzerland, most companies are small enterprises, employing fewer than 10 people. Public funding amounts to about 55% of all funding for this sector, while private funding makes up the balance. This suggests considerable business confidence in the education provided – not yet the case in SA.

In Australia, the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions facilitates the transition of pupils into technical and further education. This includes the Community Partnership Brokers Programme, which is aimed at improving community and business engagement with schools, to extend learning beyond the classroom.

Successful outcomes such as these require a high degree of collaboration between the government and industry at the planning stage. Effective partnerships combine a mix of knowledge and skills, drawing on general education, as well as vocational education. One important aspect is that appropriate mathematics and science syllabuses are devised for the technical subjects. Another is that teachers have knowledge and understanding of the workplace and its demands, as well as their own subject expertise.

SA lags far behind on many of these criteria. Strengthening vocational education so that it can play a strong role in economic development and employment creation will require four key elements.

First, the country needs to develop a specific policy framework for expanding vocational education, particularly at identified focus schools. This requires the government to reprioritise the role this type of education should play in our school system.

Second, the role of business needs to be clarified and extended. The businesses involved should meet certain conditions. For example, the company involved should be a leader in its field, and the schooling process should meet the norms and standards of that industry. This will help students become potentially preferred employees.

Third, maths and science education must be improved countrywide.

It is difficult to understand why pupils who want to become artisans and those who want to become engineers and engineering scientists are expected to follow the same maths and physical science syllabus, as is now the case. The great task of making maths and science schooling fit for purpose needs much greater focus, urgency and leadership from the two departments involved, and engagement with the private sector, which has so much at stake.

Fourth, these proposals are based on the assumption that the private sector will be given the opportunity for constructive, meaningful participation and engagement in strengthening and developing vocational education in our school system. If the links between vocational education and youth employment are to be improved, business should be central to any rebuilding.

Until this rebuilding is well under way, vocational and vocationally-oriented education will continue to be seen as second best. The idea that this type of education is inferior should be addressed urgently.

Unless the public and private sectors are encouraged to work together to solve the numerous and onerous difficulties that beset our education system, the result will be poorer education, higher unemployment and lower economic growth.




Building on what works in education, April 2012

CDE recently commissioned research on the international experience of vocationally-oriented education relevant to South Africa. As the third edition of the Building on What Works in Education series, the paper summarises what needs to be done to strengthen vocationally-oriented education in South Africa. Vocationally-oriented education exposes school leavers to engineering, technological, electrical, building related, agricultural and other occupations, but they need further post-school training before they can enter the labour market.

The research indicates that, in the light of South Africa’s critical need for technical and artisan skills and the historical stigmatisation of vocational education, the country needs new policies. These should make vocationally-oriented education (through specialist ‘focus schools’ or through general secondary schools) a much more attractive option within a system of diversified education provision.


 Media Coverage

Teacher management and training need an overhaul

22 September 2011


– Ann Bernstein and Jeff McCarthy, Business Day

South Africa needs thousands more and better teachers

21 September 2011


An examination of teacher supply and demand leads to the conclusion that South Africa urgently needs more and better teachers and that the country’s teacher management and training system needs radical overhaul.


According to Ann Bernstein, CDE executive director: “Many existing teachers are poorly managed and are not teaching effectively. This is partly because many of them have been badly trained. In addition, SA’s teachers are often poorly utilised. For example, there is a shortage of maths teachers, yet many qualified maths teachers are not teaching maths – despite being willing to do so.”


These are among the key findings of a new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), VALUE IN THE CLASSROOM: The quantity and quality of South Africa’s teachers.


“South Africa’s education system is underperforming, especially in terms of maths and science results. When compared to many other developing countries, our expenditure on education is not being matched by results, and research shows decisively that good teaching is vital for better results,” said Bernstein.


The country is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as maths and science. South Africa needs to produce some 15,000 more teachers per year to reach the necessary annual number of 25,000 new teachers. The teacher age profile suggests a looming shortage, and a growing need for greater numbers of younger teachers.


“Although the government has increased its bursaries for student teachers in the past few years, this is insufficient to meet the country’s needs. Far too few bursaries are being offered to talented potential teacher trainees – the country needs several thousand new bursaries per annum for those prepared to study and teach scarce subjects,” said Bernstein.


A quarter or even more of all newly trained teachers do not take up teaching posts in South Africa’s schools, deterred largely by low salaries and the poor image of the profession. Incentives should be introduced to attract and retain better teachers as well as teachers in scarce subjects. International experience shows incentives for teacher performance do work and should be introduced.


“Teaching needs to be made a more attractive profession. CDE is not suggesting all teachers deserve greater rewards. Many – possibly most – teachers are underperforming. But teachers in scarce subjects who are performing should be selectively rewarded. And prospective teachers in subjects most needed for economic growth and national development should be better paid,” said Bernstein.


Another issue is which institutions should produce the teachers of tomorrow. Public tertiary institutions are currently producing about one third of the required numbers.


“The issue is not only whether they will be able to train far more teachers, but whether they will be able to train them well,” said Bernstein. According to one official evaluation, only about a third of the institutions currently training teachers should qualify for accreditation, which – of course – has implications for the quality of their graduates.


In the field of teacher training, private players should be allowed to compete for public funds – harnessing market forces will produce more and better quality teaching training programmes.


According to Bernstein: “Teachers are at the centre of South Africa’s struggling school system. South Africa cannot continue to rely solely on current systems to train more and better teachers. The public sector alone cannot address this vital national need with sufficient scale, quality and speed. A new response is required drawing upon the best of global experience as well as all our national resources, both public and private.”



South Africa can achieve quality schooling for many more people if bold choices are made

7 September 2011


South Africa’s schooling system is failing the majority of young people. Leaders throughout our society, public and private, do not speak about the crisis in education often enough or with sufficient focus on the urgent need for effective action.


“The international evidence is clear. Schooling reform is possible – in as little as six years and from almost any starting point,” said executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), Ann Bernstein.


A new CDE report, released today, argues that far too often the need for systemic schooling reform is reduced to a discussion about individual isolated projects. This approach is totally insufficient for a schooling system that is large and complex, comprising more than 12 million learners, more than 400,000 educators and about 30,000 schools in 70 districts in nine provinces.


“Turning this ‘gigantic ship’ around is probably the country’s most challenging management and leadership task,” said Bernstein.


The CDE report summarises a major workshop on the international experience of schooling reform which involved the Minister of Basic Education, the director general of Basic Education, over 60 international and local experts, and business leaders.


The report explores what can be done to reform the South African schooling system and what can be learnt from successful reform in other countries. The experience of four countries (Brazil, Ghana, India, the United States) was examined; then supplemented by a review of school systems that are improving in over 20 countries; and an assessment of African experience of schooling reform.


“For South Africa to make real progress the country needs a new social compact for quality schooling. This will require clear priorities, the mobilisation of the many different interests with a stake in better schooling, and visionary leadership,” said Bernstein.


The Brazilian experience should provide hope for South Africa. In a society characterised by great inequality, and a population four times the size of ours, political leadership made a major difference to education. Former President Cardoso mobilised public sentiment and political will throughout a vast country. As a result of introducing incentives for teachers, consequences for delivery failures, and a focus on student performance, the country has moved from being ‘bottom of world class’ to ‘ the world’s fastest reforming schooling system’.


Successful schooling reform requires a new approach to the teaching profession. Incentive based pay and regular performance assessment is essential. The key criterion for this assessment should be improved learner performance with severe consequences for failure.


“South Africa will not succeed in turning our schooling system around if we continue to have teachers who are present three to four days a week, teach very little but remain employed and receive the same pay as everyone else,” said Bernstein.


Many countries have experienced similar challenges with unions to those in South Africa but their political leaders were able to improve schooling.


“Teachers should not be made the scapegoat for a system that is badly managed and has the wrong incentives. But South Africa cannot afford to be held back indefinitely. The national interest in better quality schooling for millions of young people is absolutely clear and should take priority over any sectional interests,” said Bernstein.


“Yes, we need teachers in class, on time, and teaching. But words are not enough. The country needs bold political leadership and a new social compact to improve the quality of schooling. South Africa desperately needs much better outcomes.”



SCHOOLING REFORM IS POSSIBLE: Lessons for South Africa from international experience


South Africa does not exhibit an appropriate sense of urgency with respect to the country’s crisis in education. Despite high government expenditure (5-6 per cent of GDP) and very poor outcomes in terms of student performances, the severity of the situation is not sufficiently recognised. In April 2011, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) hosted a Round Table of international experts from four countries where significant schooling reforms have been implemented in recent years: Brazil, Ghana, the US and India. The Round Table is summarised in a new CDE report – SCHOOLING REFORM IS POSSIBLE: Lessons for South Africa from international experience.

Read the executive summary above or read the full report online here.



Wake up, it’s school time

7 September 2011: Read this article at IOL Daily News

The Brazilian experience should provide hope for South Africa. In a society characterised by great inequality, and much larger numbers than South Africa, Brazilian political leadership made a major difference to education.

Some years ago, the president and his senior education officials mobilised public sentiment and political will throughout a vast country.

As a result of introducing incentives for headmasters and teachers, and a focus on student performance, the country has moved from being “bottom of world class” to “the world’s fastest reforming schooling system”.

In South Africa, while some improvements had been made, the public schooling system is failing too many young South Africans.

There are few local education experts who believe the system will improve dramatically over the next five, 10 or even 20 years. And yet international research into educational reform in 20 countries worldwide shows that measurable and sustainable reform is possible within five to six years, and from almost any starting point.

At a Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) Round Table on International Schooling Reform held in Johannesburg earlier this year, one of the international experts was the late Paulo Renato Souza, former Brazilian minister of education, and secretary of education of the state of Sao Paulo.

He outlined steps taken to improve public education in Sao Paulo, and generally in Brazil.

Social participation played a vital role in helping Brazil to implement its new policy. The first thing former President Cardoso did was to launch a programme called “Wake up, Brazil, it’s time for school”, which called on all segments of society to help transform education.

They then took three major practical steps.

The first was to consistently implement an effective assessment system of student performances.

The second was to improve the performance of teachers in the classroom through incentives and training, and the third, to improve school management and assist principals.

Brazil created a uniform assessment system, and established clear performance targets for each school.

These acknowledged that not all schools started from the same positions of advantage, but that there had to be common internationally referenced indicators of performance.

Then there was a bonus system for principals, other managerial staff, and teachers, pegged to students’ performances as well as to repetition and dropout rates.

The bonuses consist of 2.4 times the salaries at schools that reach their performance targets, and 2.9 times the salaries at schools that exceed their performance targets.

These targets acknowledged that schools in poor areas for example started from a more difficult point. But excuses were not accepted.

Poor attendance by teachers, for example, may result in their bonuses being reduced or even eliminated.

In the end the bonuses proved attractive and successful. By 2010, of 227 000 eligible teachers and staff, 210 000 received some kind of bonus.

Brazil also recognised the need to create new career paths for teachers, involving promotion along five new levels, and larger salary increases for each level. Promotion to the next level could involve a salary increase of 25 percent.

This means that the salary of a good teacher can increase fourfold in the course of their career. Conditions for promotion include improved attendance, continuity in the same school, and further studies in the subject being taught.

Knowledge of the subject being taught was seen as more important than general educational training, which was seen as too theoretical.

Rewards for performance and attendance were the most controversial parts of Renato Souza’s administration, and he said he initially had a lot of trouble with the unions. But he appealed to their career interests, as well as to wider society through television and the media so as to stimulate a public debate, and create broader public support for the intended reforms.

He did not defer to vested interests and the orthodoxies of the educational establishment, but persisted with practical measures that showed student results, created opportunities for good teachers and headmasters, and which parents supported.

As regards school management, Renato Souza said that

Brazilians have learnt that good principals play a vital role in improving schools; in fact, he said, Brazilian studies have shown that merely training a principal in general management without taking any other steps can lead to major improvements in the performance of learners.

Good principals actively lead their schools and engage with their communities of parents, who in turn, apply pressure on the school to achieve good results.

Two programmes were launched to stimulate the participation of communities. The first gave state funds to Parent-teacher Associations and the second was a national campaign aimed at stimulating parents’ involvement in schools. The Brazilian assessment system had shown that parental involvement was strongly correlated with performance, so the authorities launched a national day for parents’ participation in schools.

In South Africa, schooling reform is not high enough on the national agenda. It may require similar interventions to those described by Renato Souza. Brazil is no longer at the bottom of the world class in terms of educational achievements, but in many ways South Africa is.

The 2011 Annual National Assessment results released in South Africa in late June 2011 indicated for example that in Grade 6, the national average performance in numeracy was 30 percent. Despite areas of improvement, National Senior Certificate (NSC) results in mathematics have also declined recently. Are such indicators partly because many teachers are absent much of the time, and that many are teaching subjects they know little about?

In the meantime, the costs are mounting. The growing militancy of sections of South Africa’s youth is partly a reflection of their poor education and un-employability.

We cannot allow such a tragedy to continue. South Africa has its own specific circumstances.

The South African education system is large and complex, but Brazil’s with a population of over 200 million is much larger and more complex. Sao Paulo state alone (population 50 million) has almost as many schools as South Africa.

Any reform attempts here are complicated by South Africa’s legacy of apartheid, and past and current issues of race and politics, but Brazil too has a complex legacy of class and racial inequalities.

South Africa should not try simply to replicate what people are doing elsewhere. Nonetheless the Brazilian case may hold many lessons for our own efforts to work our way up from the bottom.

South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education and her Director-General have shown admirable interest in what can be learnt from abroad.

They are also to be congratulated on conducting and publishing the Annual National Assessment this year. They deserve our support as they embark on essential reforms.

By contrast, explaining away historical failure by reference to allegedly unique local circumstances, or acquiescing to apologists linked to vested interests, must not be allowed to continue.

Like Brazil 10 years ago, it is time to say from the top: “Wake up South Africa! It is time to improve our schools!”.

We must follow this up with rewards for performance and regular assessments of principals and teachers in terms of student results. And we must put parents and the wider society in the lead in a new social compact on quality education.

* Bernstein is executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise. This article is based on a new CDE publication, Schooling Reform is Possible: Lessons for South Africa from international experience, available at

– Ann Bernstein and Jeff McCarthy, Daily News

VALUE IN THE CLASSROOM: The quantity and quality of South Africa’s teachers


CDE In Depth, September 2011

South Africa is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as maths and science. Also, existing teachers spend too little time in the classroom and many teach poorly when they are in the classroom.

With research showing overwhelmingly that good teaching is vital for better student results, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) asked four experts to conduct in-depth studies of the supply of, demand for, and quality of South Africa’s teachers, particularly in respect of maths and science.

Their findings are summarised in a new CDE report – VALUE IN THE CLASSROOM: The quantity and quality of South Africa’s teachers. Read the executive summary above or read the full report online here.



Much of SA’s maths and science potential still being wasted

30 September 2010


Despite its importance to the South African economy, about 40 per cent of the potential of the South African schooling system to produce university entrance passes in mathematics and science is being wasted.

These are the findings of a major new study of the performance of the South African schooling system released in Johannesburg yesterday.

Conducted by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, it is based on comparative statistical analyses of Senior Certificate and National Senior Certificate (NSC) results over the past decade.

“While some progress has been made, the research shows that the schooling system is still ‘squandering’ the maths and science potential of many thousands of learners. The schooling system could significantly increase the numbers of skilled people which the economy so urgently needs,” says Ann Bernstein, executive director at the CDE.

The results show that making either mathematics or mathematical literacy compulsory for the NSC was a major step forward. It doubled the number of university entrance level passes in 2008 over the previous year.

However, whereas almost 60 000 learners passed mathematics, an additional some 35 500 who wrote mathematical literacy could have passed mathematics if they had written mathematics instead. This would have resulted in a tripling of the number of university entrance level passes over that achieved in 2007.

Similarly, while almost 34 000 learners passed science in 2008, some 27 000 more learners could have gained university entrance passes in that subject according to an assessment of their marks in other subjects.

The study also found that half of university entrance level passes in mathematics are produced by only 6,6 per cent of schools, and half of science passes by only 5,5 per cent of schools.

This suggests that, if additional resources were devoted to schools just below this top layer of schools, the national performance in mathematics and science could be significantly improved.

“However, the maths and science performances of many schools below the top layer vary greatly from year to year, which makes it very difficult for education planners to identify promising schools outside the top layer,” says Dr Jeff McCarthy, a senior consultant at the CDE. “It also means that parents cannot rely on those schools to perform in the future as they did in the past.”

These ‘disturbing’ findings may reflect an overall lack of professionalism and motivation among teachers, as well as a high turnover of mathematics and science teachers at many state schools.

The study concludes that some progress has been made in respect of maths and science, and should be acknowledged.

“However, some 90 per cent of our schools are still failing to meet minimum performance standards in these subjects, thus undermining the potential of millions of young South Africans, and hampering national development,” says Bernstein.

This means SA has to deal with the ‘tough but absolutely critical issue’ of the accountability of principals and teachers for the performance of their learners. ‘The bulk of the public schooling system is unlikely to improve unless ways are found to link rewards to performance and achievement,’ Bernstein concludes.

This media release relates to CDE’s report, The maths and science performance of South Africa’s public schools: Some lessons from the past decade