Migration and Development

downloadA very interesting interview with Michael Clemens, migration expert from the Centre for Global Development, a US think thank.  What would happen if Europe (quite utopically) would decide to open up its borders?  Some key extracts:

On why people migrate:

Safety and opportunity depend mostly on what country you live in, and 97 percent of humanity lives in the country they were born in. For those of us born in safe, prosperous countries, such a random lottery seems quite satisfactory. Most migrants are people who have simply decided that they will not let lottery results enforced by others determine the course of their lives.

On the impact of migration on the host country:

I would go as far as to say that this is a consensus opinion among economists. That is saying a lot, because economists are known for putting caveats on everything. But all the serious evidence we have points to large gains in overall economic activity from reduced barriers to labor mobility. Ninety-six percent of American labor economists agree that the economic benefits of US immigration exceed the losses.

Unfortunately, this research is rarely used as the basis for a debate.  Instead, nasty arguments like ” if we allow them, many more will come”, tend to be accepted as truth.  What I didn’t know, is that research shows that immigration increases wages for low-skilled labour, rather than depressing them:

Research has shown that natives acquire more skill when immigration rises [by specializing in occupations requiring more complex tasks and less manual labor]. And firms adjust their investments when immigrants are present, shifting away from technologies that eliminate low-skill jobs for both low-skill immigrants and low-skill natives. Most simply of all, foreign workers are not just workers, they are also consumers. Immigrants at low wages tend to consume products, like fast food and budget clothing, that are made and sold by other low-wage workers.

This relates to the work of Ricardo on comparative advantages in trade. Countries with a lot of labor relative to capital, for example, will tend to have a comparative advantage in labor intensive goods production. Apart from human rights and social justice arguments, letting in more migrants makes economic sense, in particular in greying Europe.  Rather than fearing that immigrants will plunder social security coffers, the question is whether European welfare systems will collapse without immigrants:

A comprehensive review by the independent OECD in 2013 found that the average immigrant household in Europe contributed over £2,000 [$3,000] more in taxes than it took in benefits.

The most interesting argument in my eyes, is how often a mindset that considers migrants as people who somehow not belong where they are, is used in case of cultural tensions.  The tensions are explained as a result of migration, rather than as a responsibility of the host country.  The mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Clemens clarifies the point with a good analogy:

Suppose a woman is attacked by men on the street, as she walks to work. What caused the attack? It depends on your assumptions. Many people in the world do not believe that women have the unqualified right to work or to walk down any street. These people might say that the cause of the attack was that the woman’s family allowed her to take a job and walk around unguarded. If you believe that women’s rights to work and travel are beyond question, you might identify a different cause of the attack: The cause of the attack was that men decided to attack her.

Likewise, when activists hold rallies to unmistakably threaten immigrants with violence, many might describe this as social conflict “arising” from immigration. This view requires you to already have decided that migrants don’t have the right to be there—for the same reasons that saying attacks against women arise from their presence on the sidewalk requires you to have already decided that women don’t have the right to walk on the sidewalk.

Finally, how about the effects on the origin countries?  Brain drains leaving countries with few qualified doctors and engineers.  Or, the important role of remittances, many times bigger than aid, on development? Clemens underlines that immigration is different from actively recruiting people in developing countries:

So if we’re talking about immigration policy, the question “Does migration substantially harm low-income countries?” is the same as the question, “Does forcibly stopping people from leaving low income countries substantially help those countries?” To put it mildly, social science has absolutely no evidence of such a effect.

People in developed countries often see the wealth and opportunities in their country as a right, rather than as a stroke of luck, as if they have any credit in being born in a rich country.  Given the fact that countries such as Lebanon (4 million people) and Jordan (6,5 million people) each can take one million Syrian refugees, a good starting point for European countries would be to increase the numbers they’re willing to accept each year.  Articles and arguments such as this deserve to be widely read.

Insider Accounts on South African Education

IMG_1696When it comes to education, South Africa is a hard nut to crack.  Inequalities in the system are enormous. Socio-economic status remains the most important determinant of educational outcomes in South Africa.  Educational quality in historically black schools – constituting 80% of enrolment – has not improved since political transition, despite large resource transfers to such schools.  A recent study found that when comparing 27 factors affecting school performance in dysfunctional and functional schools, only 5 were overlapping between the two groups, confirming the notion of two education systems within one country.

This also corresponds with an urban-rural divide.  Most ‘well-performing’ schools are located in towns. Long ago, these used to be “whites only” schools. Most underperforming schools are located in townships and rural areas. These schools have to deal with many issues. The division between the town and township schools is one of the legacies of Apartheid.

Two internship students spent their internship in two of the notoriously ill-equipped and poorly performing township schools and regularly wrote down their impressions.   Their impressions resonate well with the findings of the recently published report from the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU).  This (allegedly withheld) report provides an outspoken analysis of the education system, based on numerous visits and interviews.  We have linked the two sources, quoting from the students’ writings and linking them to findings of the NEEDU study.

First, no resource is more poorly used in South African schools than time.  The NEEDU report highlights high levels of teacher absenteeism and late coming in schools.  A fifth of teachers are absent on Fridays, rising to a third at the end of the month.  In many schools, principal and staff fail to build systems which drive the work of teaching and learning:

Our students wrote:

“We had the impression the principal does not check which teachers are present at what time at school. There is a register which teachers should sign upon arrival and departure. However, this is not a good indication since teachers can sign it the day after or when they didn’t arrive (in time).  Many teachers in our schools are quite relaxed about getting to class in time. They go to their classes 5 minutes late, 15 minutes late or sometimes not at all, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.”

Moreover, schools face extracurricular disruptions. According to NEEDU, 28% of teachers and principals face these disruptions frequently and another 38% occasionally, in particularly in large rural schools.  Late coming by teachers sets a bad example for learners and learner late-coming is a serious problem in 40% of schools and a moderate one in a further 35%.  Lessons are also often interrupted:

“Staff meetings often take place during school hours, whilst the teachers should be teaching. Learners are just left in the classroom without any form of guidance, tasks or supervision. In our schools, we haven’t seen any systematic plan in place to cover for absent teachers.”

The NEEDU report also refers to the fact that teachers consider the generous allocation of sick leave for cases of prolonged sickness as a right to be taken in full.  Ample time for system-wide assessment, including the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) in September further reduce time for teaching.  Additionally, time in classroom is often not used effectively, resulting in low ‘time on task’.  As the students recall:

“While a teacher is writing exercises on the blackboard, learners are idling, and they are only allowed to start copying once the teacher is finished. If learners finish their exercise before others are ready, they wait until everyone is finished. Again they sit idle until the correct answers are written on the blackboard, after which they copy.”

This shows the potential for small, incremental interventions with potentially huge impact on learning, much as what Doug lemov advocates for in ‘Teach Like a Champion’.

Under the Integrated Food Security Strategy, 9 million learners from grade R to grade 7 receive a daily meal at school.  For many it’s their only meal per day.  Unfortunately, the delivery and management has been a hit-and-miss affair in recent years.

“Many learners only get their first meal for the day at school after half past 10. When you are hungry it is difficult to focus.  And why distribute the food during periods teaching time? Why not distribute food for all learners during the long break?”

Another challenge the students observed was the lack of content knowledge and teaching skills in many teachers.

“The lack of content knowledge leads to teaching mistakes. We have seen this happen. We saw bright learners ask some questions about these mistakes, but teachers reacted angrily and ignored the mistake made. Teachers seem to be confident despite their lack of content knowledge.  The HOD for mathematics had very little mathematics understanding. It must be extremely difficult in such a position to motivate, oversee, guide and improve the other teachers.”

This lack of content and pedagogical knowledge with teachers has been extensively documented in recent years.  Grade 6 math teachers in rural schools scored second from the bottom for their content knowledge in a study of 14 African countries, outperforming only their Zambian counterparts.  The World Economic Forum ranks South Africa’s primary education system 132nd out of 144 countries—and last in mathematics and science (some reservations on the ranking here. I don’t agree with them, mainly because the quality of an education system includes the cost efficiency.)  The reasons for this lack of competence are diverse.  The NEEDU report dedicates a lot of attention to post provisioning within the education system:

“HODs and principals…are promoted to positions…without necessarily exhibiting superior subject knowledge, pedagogical skills or management capacity.”  “A very large part of the problem is that there is pressure to appoint officials to promotion posts using considerations other than merit. Criteria for evaluating teacher performance do not include measures identified in the research literature as constituting effective teaching, such as time on task, effective use of textbooks and materials, good communication, motivation and giving positive feedback.”

South Africa spends 6,2% of its GDP on education, more than any other country on the continent.  Principals get monthly sums for every student in their school. The money is intended to improve the school and get resources for the learners.  However, the students had many questions with how funds were spent:

“During our stay there was a problem with the water supply. Both of our schools couldn’t pay the water bills and because of this, water was disconnected. Food could not be cooked, toilets could not be flushed … How is this possible?”

The NEEDU report highlights the high ratio of personnel vs non-personnel costs.  On average, 86% of funds are spent on personnel, reaching ratios of higher than 90% in some provinces, leaving little room for expenditures on infrastructure, books and other learning materials.   The problem is old and the NEEDU reports cites rising salary costs, excess teachers as a result of urban migration, pressure from organized interest groups, policy ambiguity and inadequate information management as culprits.

Despite a long list of challenges, the students thoroughly enjoyed their time at their respective schools.  One element they appreciated was the sense of camaraderie and involvement among staff:

“Every morning all school staff gathers in the staff room to sing a hymn together and pray together. We found that this habit created a good team feeling. Thereafter the principal makes some announcements, mostly about administrative and logistical issues such as due dates for handing in documents, but sometimes also about issues that directly relate to the quality of teaching and learning. Other staff members can also make announcements. It is actually a nice way of giving everyone a chance to share information.”

The principal once raised the issue of corporal punishment which was still used by many teachers in the school. Most classes in a township school have 50 or more learners. The teachers have limited skills for classroom management. Teachers seldom differentiate their approaches. One of the reason being that there are too many learners to adapt to, but it also shows a lack of teaching skills. Many learners have problems to concentrate, especially in the morning.

Corporal punishment in schools was prohibited by Law in 1996.  However, statistics from the General Household Surveys 2012 indicate that 2.2 million learners (15.8%) experienced some kind of corporal punishment in schools.  Our students encountered the practice as well, deeply unsettling them and confirming the sense of disempowerment that many teachers feel, seeing corporate punishment as the only way to discipline learners:

“Methods of punishment we saw were being hit by a wooden stick on the hands or with the back of a blackboard wiper on the fingers, standing up with hands in the air for the whole lesson, or kneel down on the floor while making exercises in their workbook. The worst thing about this is learners seem to be used to this, and don’t care that much. They even laugh when other students are being hit. When we tried to discuss this with the teachers, they tried to avoid the conversation in every possible way. Alternatively, they said that corporal punishment is the only intervention that helps to discipline learners. There was no real openness to alternatives to reinforcement and punishment.”

After spending months in a township school it is easy to despair.  After all, media are filled with tales of South Africa’s education crisis.  Nevertheless, not all is gloom.  Many more black and coloured children are getting at least some formal education.  Around three-quarters of those aged 4-6 and 98% of those aged 7-15 are in full-time schooling.  Heavy investment in system-wide assessment has jolted districts and provinces into action.  Recent ANA results for numeracy and literacy hint that learning outcomes might be slightly improving.

Overall, these observations confirm our focus on improving learning outcomes through strengthening systems for professional development such as Professional Learning Communities, enhancing instructional leadership and improving subject advisors’ maths content knowledge.