Social gradients, early childhood education and schools performing above the demographic expectation: empirical insights into educational issues

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title Social gradients, early childhood education and schools performing above the demographic expectation: empirical insights into educational issues
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2017
This dissertation exploits the wide variety of datasets available on the South African education
system to consider select education issues. The purpose of this is to contribute relevant empirical
research to inform current debates and discussions relating to issues and policies in the South
African education system which might be entrenching the inequalities of the past and thereby
impeding on future improvement.
The first part of the dissertation provides a new perspective on within country educational
inequality among different education systems by comparing data from seven Sub-Saharan
countries and sixteen Latin-American countries. When comparing the effect of socio-economic
status (SES) on education across countries, researchers have always been faced with a trade-off
between the accuracy of the SES measure within countries and the comparability of the measure
across countries. This has often caused measures of SES to be incorrectly used to compare relative
wealth across different countries and contexts. This chapter sets forth a new methodology to
adjust the traditional measures of SES and make them more comparable across countries and
surveys. Furthermore, the comparable SES measure is applied to compare children in equally
impoverished circumstances across countries, sub-samples and datasets to more accurately
identify the most disadvantaged children across the world. More specifically this method will be
applied to the SACMEQ (Sub-Saharan Africa) and SERCE (Latin America) education datasets to
compare the educational outcomes of those students living under the $3.10 a day poverty line.
Most strikingly, the comparison shows that Ugandan and Mozambican children living under the
$3.10 a day poverty line achieve much higher educational outcomes than similarly poor children
in middle-income countries such as South Africa and the Dominican Republic.
Investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD) has the prospect of cultivating extraordinary
potential within individuals and can assist in bridging the social equity gap from a very young age.
Over the past decade Grade R has been the strongest policy lever used by the Department of Basic
Education to early learning. The National Development Plan has, however, called for universal
access to two years of early childhood development prior to entering Grade 1. Chapter three
explores the merits of this proposal given the specific South African context. More specifically,
this analysis intends to bring new information to bear on three matters. The first relates to the
demand-side and aims to identifying participation trends among four- and five-year-olds.
Moreover, an attempt is made to obtain a profile of those learners not attending any form of
preschooling currently.
Stellenbosch University
The second objective is to consider the supply-side and aims to understand the policy space in
which pre-Grade R will function, the quality and quantity of infrastructure already in place, and
the expertise of ECD practitioners. Finally, the implementation of a universally accessible preGrade
R within a constrained system and the requirements for ensuring that it will have a
significant impact on those children most in need are discussed.
Drawing on three uniquely constructed datasets using the 2012-2014 Universal Annual National
Assessments (U-ANAs), the 2013 Verification ANA (V-ANA) and the 2011 School Monitoring
Survey, the fourth chapter investigates the prevalence and performance of poor schools which
manage to perform above the demographic expectation. Overall it is evident that only 5% of all
Quintile 1 – 3 schools, serving only 4% of the learner population in Quintile 1 – 3 schools, manage
to perform at an acceptable level. The study estimates that poor learners who attend these above
average schools, gain up to a year of additional learning relative to their peers in weak performing
schools. Finally the study shows that strong school management and governance and supportive
bureaucratic accountability are associated with the higher performance observed in these

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