Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 74

Higher education must
change students’ agency in
the world
“Higher education must change the
person, and it must change their
capacity to act in the world; what
they can do, and how they do it,”
says Professor Jenni Case, who is
based at the Centre for Research in
Engineering and Science Education.
Her book, Researching Student
Learning in Higher Education: a
social realist approach, won UCT’s
Meritorious Book Award for 2015.
Change and agency are at the
heart of the work, which leaps
beyond conventional educational
theory and tackles crucial aspects
of students’ access and success in
higher education. Case began her
research in the early 2000s, when
Crisis in education in West Africa
must be addressed
It is widely recognised that job
creation is a crucial aspect of
development, and that broad-based,
high-quality education is a valuable
input for pro-poor development.
Unfortunately, in many West African
countries, the majority of the
population still cannot read or write,
or do simple mathematics. Worryingly
low levels of educational quantity
(how many children are able to go to
school), as well as educational quality
(how many of the children who are
in school acquire basic literacy and
numeracy skills), indicate that there is
a crisis of education.
“This must be attended to if growth, and
inclusive growth, are to pull people out
of poverty and into the labour market at
a sufficient rate,” says Adaiah Lilenstein
of the Development Policy Research
Unit. Her research is based on five
West African countries (Benin, Burkina
Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo).
Her findings are based on the Grade
5 regional assessment programme for
West Africa, called PASEC. The results
show that the rate for access to literacy
and numeracy (i.e. the proportion of the
population that both go to school and
acquire basic literacy and numeracy
skills at a Grade 5 level) was under
50% for all participating countries, and
between 10% and 20% for most. The
pattern of access and quality issues
she spent a year in class with thirdyear chemical engineering students
at UCT. Her interviews gave her a
real sense of their alienation from the
higher education system – and how it
sometimes fails them.
“There’s an assumption that if
we ‘fix’ the first-year transition,
everything will be okay,” says Case.
“But third-year engineering is really
tough. The students are already
dealing with their evolution as
20-year-olds, living with the multiple
legacies of apartheid, dislocated
from their home backgrounds,
and trying to cope with one of the
university’s toughest courses − with
frighteningly little margin for error.”
Based on a story by Helen Swingler. 
Image by Michael Hammond.
differed between countries. “However,
all countries still had disastrously high
levels of the three indicators – nonenrolment, drop-out, and lack of
learning within school,” says Lilenstein.
“With such low rates of literacy and
numeracy, how can these countries
be expected to create valuable
employment for all their citizens?”
Lilenstein asks. Getting education
right is a crucial first step in the road
to eradicating unemployment and
poverty, and must be considered a
priority by national governments and
donors alike.
The full article was published by
the World Bank’s Jobs and
Development Blog.
Grade 5 access, literacy and access to literacy rates
Burkina Faso
14% 22%
Ivory Coast
Completed grade 5 with basic literacy
Completed grade 5 without basic literacy
Never enrolled
Enrolled initially but dropped out before completing grade 5

story Development Policy Research Unit Development Policy Research UnitPASECfull article

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