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Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa

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  • Nicholas Spaull

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

Abstract

Although racial segregation has been abolished for 18 years now, schools which served predominantly White students under apartheid remain functional, while those which served Black students remain dysfunctional and unable to impart the necessary numeracy and literacy skills students should be acquiring by this level. The present study provides an overview of this dualistic nature of the primary education system in South Africa, with special attention paid to the bimodality of student performance. It argues that there are in fact two different education systems in South Africa and thus two different data-generating processes. These two sub-systems can be seen when splitting student performance by former-department, language, or socioeconomic status. The implications of such a dualistic schooling system are also elucidated, with special emphasis on government reporting and econometric modeling. The recently released SACMEQ III dataset is used for the econometric modeling. The study finds that when modeling student performance separately for the wealthiest 25% of schools on the one hand, and the poorest 75% of schools on the other, there are stark differences in the factors influencing student performance which are large and statistically significant. Only 5 of the 27 factors are shared between the two models for mathematics, and 11 of the 29 factors for reading. This suggests a bifurcated system where the process which converts inputs into outputs is fundamentally different for each sub-system. Ultimately the paper has two logical conclusions: 1) Observing averages in South African education is uniquely misleading and overestimates the educational achievement of the majority of students, and 2) Modeling a single schooling system when there are in fact two school systems can lead to spurious results and misleading policy conclusions.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicholas Spaull, 2012. "Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa," Working Papers 13/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers165
    as

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    File URL: https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2012/wp132012/wp-13-2012.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2012
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Nic Spaull, 2011. "A Preliminary Analysis of SACMEQ III South Africa," Working Papers 11/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    2. Servaas van der Berg, 2007. "Apartheid's Enduring Legacy: Inequalities in Education-super- 1," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(5), pages 849-880, November.
    3. Servaas van der Berg & Cobus Burger & Ronelle Burger & Mia de Vos & Gideon du Rand & Martin Gustafsson & Eldridge Moses & Debra Shepherd & Nicholas Spaull & Stephen Taylor & Hendrik van Broekhuizen & , 2011. "Low quality education as a poverty trap," Working Papers 25/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. Yamauchi, Futoshi, 2011. "School quality, clustering and government subsidy in post-apartheid South Africa," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 146-156, February.
    5. Debra L. Shepherd, 2011. "Constraints to school effectiveness: what prevents poor schools from delivering results?," Working Papers 05/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    6. Paul Glewwe, 2002. "Schools and Skills in Developing Countries: Education Policies and Socioeconomic Outcomes," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 436-482, June.
    7. Murray Leibbrandt & Eva Wegner & Arden Finn, 2011. "The Policies for Reducing Income Inequality and Poverty in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 64, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    8. Stephen Taylor, 2011. "Uncovering indicators of effective school management in South Africa using the National School Effectiveness Study," Working Papers 10/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Primary schooling; South Africa; SACMEQ; educational inequality; student performance;

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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