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ReSEP conference shapes education policy
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 17/09/2019

The 2019 Quantitative Education Research Conference which drew around 100 researchers, policy-makers and PhD students recently kicked off at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) during the university reses.

The two-day conference was hosted by ReSEP, a research group on socio-economic policy situated within the Department of Economics, and was partly sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Zenex Foundation.

Now in its fifth year, this annual event offers a valuable opportunity for researchers and stakeholders to share and discuss recent empirical findings in quantitative educational research and policy that is relevant to the South African context.

Prof Servaas van der Berg, the lead researcher at ReSEP and incumbent of the National Research Chair in the Economics of Social Policy, said in his introduction that the one thing that stands out is how much more they as researchers know now than they did five years ago.

“Five years ago education performance levels were at a very low level but at least now there has been progress. We can see that in international assessments and in a more sophisticated analysis of matric data. This is important while we explore the available information to help us understand some of the problems in our education systems such as those associated with early reading.

“There has also been a lot of research and interaction between researchers and policymakers. That is the most important part of this conference over the next two days - that researchers, policymakers and others with an interest in education debate things and do so in an open and productive manner."

Van der Berg and Chris van Wyk, ReSEP researcher, then started proceedings with their presentation entitled, “What we can learn from the data underlying the Data-Driven Districts (DDD)."

Van Wyk said the four years of data of learners allows them to identify learners who progress through the education system without any repetition, those that have repeated and learners who have dropped out of the system. Van der Berg said that drop-outs and repetitions are serious issues in South Africa, with drop-outs still relatively high before Grade 12.

“If one uses the data underlying the DDD to identify patterns of progression, we see that Grade 10 is a period of large drop-outs. We can also identify the children who drop out at that stage, e.g. are they overage, etc. This kind of data allows us to use current performance, say in Grade 4, to predict whether children are going to repeat before you get to Grade 6, how absenteeism adds to drop-out numbers and the importance of subject choice and the implications of those choices for Grade 12 performance."

He added that this underlying data holds immense promise for research and education policy management.

Sean Reardon, a professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, delivered the keynote address. His discussion on “Race, Class and Educational inequality in the US", shed light on the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) at the Stanford Centre for Education Policy Analysis. Seda is the first nationwide archive of education test score data in the USA, including over 300 million standardised test scores. Using this data, SEDA published annual data on student achievement and achievement gaps for every public school and school district in the USA.

​“It is designed to provide scholars, policymakers, educators and journalists with information on patterns of educational opportunity and outcomes across the US, with the expectation that it will inform and improve educational policies and practices," said Reardon.

Other topics presented and discussed at the conference include “School Leadership and local learning contexts in South Africa"; “Are South Africa's teachers among the best paid in the world? A critique of existing methods to compare pay across countries"; “South Africa's national education plans: Overview and some issues"; and “The cost of repetition in South Africa".

  • Visit the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) at
  • Photo by Daniel Bugan: Prof Servaas van der Berg (right), lead researcher at ReSEP and incumbent of the National Research Chair in the Economics of Social Policy, with Prof Sean Reardon of Stanford University.