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Research to improve learning in South Africa

ThinkstockPhotos-530411744 - Primary school in Karatara

OU researchers have just started a four year research project to improve learning outcomes in South Africa.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the project is the first of its kind to look at the roles of accountability, capacity and trust in improving the country’s public primary education system.

The OU element of the research is led by Co-Investigator, Dr Jacqueline Baxter, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management in the OU’s Faculty of Business and Law.

Dr Baxter comments: “We are looking for findings to help us better understand the conditions in which accountability leads to system improvement; particularly how capacity and trust permit accountability to have a positive impact within this particular culture.“

Previous researchers in the field have highlighted South Africa’s widening performance gap between rich and poor students and its high dropout levels - especially among black Africans. The project will build on recent research which argues that a lack of trust is a barrier to improved learning outcomes.

The researchers will look at how the relations between accountability, capacity and trust produce (or fail to produce) a pattern of change in learning outcomes over time and create a divided, unequal system. For example, teacher unions can reject inspections of teachers and block the publication of assessment data, and limited capacity prevents key stakeholders from effectively using the data that is available.

Dr Baxter adds: “Problems of lack of accountability and capacity in the South African education system create real issues in terms of system improvement.” 

This project received £81,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Collaborators with the OU are University College London and JET Education Services South Africa (Principal Investigator: Dr Melanie Ehren and Co Investigator: Andrew Paterson).

Read more about Dr Baxter’s research at the OU.

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