Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Exceptionality: A case study of South African participation in internationally bench-marked standardising processes in education

Fri, March 13, 9:40 to 11:10am, Washington Hilton, Floor: Concourse Level, Lincoln West


South Africa has been participating in international benchmarking exercises such as TIMMS and PIRLS since the late 1990s. The nature of its participation, however, has been surrounded by ambivalence and contestation. It decided to withdraw from TIMMS for a period after two cycles of poor learner performance. Its readmission into TIMMS took place on the basis of significant concessions granted to it in relation to the criteria used for the rest of the world. What these concessions mean in relation to the questions benchmarking seeks to understand – comparability on the one hand, and universalization on the other – is important to understand. What educational and political discussions took place in the country around these developments? What understandings of sameness and difference were at play in these discussions? If South Africa was able to present itself as being exceptional what was its claim to exceptionality based on? And, importantly, what were the gains and losses at the local level arising from the negotiations between South Africa and the Institute for Education Sciences which manages it. In this presentation, on the basis of engagements with some of the major policy-makers in South African education and a critical review of the documentation of, I look at the substance of the contestations in the country that have taken place around benchmarking, some of the outcomes and what the lessons to be taken away from this case might be.