The World Economic Forum has again released its bizarre set of opinion-based rankings of education quality. The Department of Basic Education is disappointed that these rankings continue to be published even though they are flawed, and not based on empirical evidence obtained from research.
The latest Global Competitiveness Report released by the WEF has again ranked South Africa last out of 140 countries in mathematics and science education. This year the WEF has announced, for example, that the quality of maths and science education is better in Zambia (ranked 81) and Zimbabwe (ranked 54) than Spain (ranked 84).
There is an obvious explanation for these strange rankings. The report bases the rankings on a single question put to business executives in each country. The question, which is answered using a 7-point scale, is as follows: “In your country, how would you assess the quality of math and science education in schools?”
At best therefore, the WEF education rankings should be regarded as a satisfaction index. So we can conclude that Spanish business executives are less satisfied with their maths and science education than are Zambian business executives with theirs.
It is unfortunate that the WEF publishes their flawed perception-based rankings when there are reliable international assessments that actually test representative samples of students.
The OECD regularly conducts its widely respected Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests mathematics, science and reading performance of students. Qatar ranks 63 out of 65 countries in the rigorous PISA testing, yet without even blushing the WEF ranks Qatar 5th out of 140.
In contrast to the situation in many poor countries and failed states that beat South Africa in the WEF education rankings, business executives in South Africa are regularly confronted with sobering data on education outcomes and widespread coverage of this in the media.
This is because the Department of Basic Education has chosen to participate in various local and international assessments of educational performance and to be transparent about the results of these.
Although the level of South Africa’s performance in these studies is cause for concern, we are clearly not the worst in the world. Importantly, we have improved our average results whilst improving completion of Grade 9 amongst young South Africans. In 2002, around 80% of young South Africans were completing Grade 9. By 2011 that figure had become 88%.
It will be important to continue to monitor progress in the education system’s ability to provide opportunities to acquire foundational literacy and numeracy in the early grades as well as advanced mathematics and science skills. For this reason, we should continue to participate in rigorous international assessments based on actual testing and we should continue with and improve the design of our own Annual National Assessments.
We certainly do face a tremendous challenge to improve the quality of education in South Africa. However, the WEF’s conclusion that South Africa’s maths and science education is the worst in the world is clearly wrong.
The method used is completely inappropriate and it is a serious indictment against the WEF that they continue to publish such a self-evidently flawed set of rankings.
Enquiries: Elijah Mhlanga – 083 580 8275