In the field of education, perhaps more than in any other sector of the economy, politics are substituted for analysis.
George Psacharopoulos, Greek education economist (1996)


My Facebook page Martin Gustafsson's Take on Data, started in 2016, can be found if you click here, but it is now also replicated on the current website here. My e-mail is

Before the list of my own things, here's a terribly important data-rich source for the researcher studying the history of education in South Africa. It is Buckland and Fielden's "Public expenditure on education in South Africa", a 1994 World Bank report which seems available nowhere else as an e-copy. I got it scanned many years ago when I was working with RTI International. Note, it is large (29 MB).

Another thing. The IIEP style guide is no longer available online, so I've uploaded it here. I've often recommended students to use it.

2023. "Explaining improved learning outcomes in South African primary schools". This book chapter, co-authored with Department of Basic Education colleague Stephen Taylor, draws from this earlier working paper.

2023. "Marginalized learners in international and regional test data: The extent of floor effects". With Bilal Barakat as co-author, this earlier UNESCO report was developed further and published in Comparative Education Review. E-mail me if you don't have access to the journal.

2023. "Projections of educators by age and average cost to 2070: Final report". Work for the Teacher Demographic Dividend (TDD) project. The Excel model can be found here. The initial 2022 version of the work is still available here. The report with provincial details by Bianca Böhmer and myself can be found here. My TDD presentation at the 2023 Conference on Quantitative Education Research (QER) is available here

2023. "SoNA Reaction: The Economic Perspective". A podcast where I'm interviewed by Mathabo Tlali on various education topics.

2023. "Trends in learning proficiency in the last twenty years: How close are we to reliable regional and global SDG 4.1.1 trend statistics?". A report for UIS, quite a sobering one, both with respect to likely trends and the quality of data.

2023. "Education is improving but the message is hard to convey". An article for Econ3X3, a nice 'economics lite' open access journal aimed in part at journalists.

2022. "Projections of educators by age and average cost to 2070: A first report". Work for the Teacher Demographic Dividend project. The Excel model can be found here.

2022. "The data and politics of accountability for learning in South Africa". A rather 'busy' presentation made at the 2022 Quantitative Education Research (QER) conference in 2022.

2022. "The politics of improving learning outcomes in South Africa". A paper for an interesting political economy series, by the RISE programme, spanning several countries. But working on the politics of schooling is not easy, I was reminded. Myself and my co-author, Nick Taylor, attempted a dialogical approach to cater for the fact that our views on many issues differ. But that is not an easy approach to get right. In the end, the paper is more two separate inputs by the two authors than something dialogical. Then RISE produced a separate executive summary which myself and Nick were not very happy with, in part because we felt it did not reflect our views well (in addition, the authors of the summary were given an earlier and rather different version of the paper to summarise!). So I would definitely recommend looking at the abstract in the main paper, rather than the executive summary. Or read our paper in full!

2022. "What a decade of PIRLS results reveals about early grade reading in South Africa: 2006, 2011, 2016". A book chapter by Surette van Staden and myself.

2022. "What lies behind South Africa's improvements in PIRLS? An Oaxaca-Blinder analysis of the 2011 and 2016 data". A paper done with Stephen Taylor. A subsequent version of this became a chapter in a book.

2022. "Inaccuracies in Zero Dropout’s op-ed on school participation trends". An input into the dropping out polemics and confusions. Locally saved copy here.

2022. "Learning losses during COVID". A presentation made at the 2022 Early Grade Reading Research Indaba. Locally saved copy here.

2022. "The COVID-19 pandemic, enrolments, dropping out and attendance explained". Locally saved copy here.

2022. "Pandemic-related losses in contact time across seven provinces according to SA-SAMS data". A report done for the Department of Basic Education. Locally saved copy here.

2021. "Assessing learning proficiency levels and trends for Sustainable Development Goal 4.1: A focus on Africa". A report for UIS.

2021. "A teacher retirement wave is about to hit South Africa: what it means for class size". An article I did for The Conversation with Tsekere Maponya from the Department of Basic Education.

2021. "Quality schooling for everyone: Financing questions and the primary school accountability conundrum". This was meant as a response to an article in the online New Frame news site which criticised the thinking of people like myself working in the Department of Basic Education. I submitted this response and got no response, and then in mid-2022 New Frame stopped operating.

2021. "By how much has school participation declined as a result of the pandemic?". A report prepared for the Department of Basic Education.

2021. "Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on school enrolments". A report prepared for the Department of Basic Education.

2021. "Global school disruptions and the pandemic: Developing countries less likely to close schools than before". A report using the UNESCO school closures dataset.

2021. "Pandemic-related disruptions to schooling and impacts on learning proficiency indicators: A focus on the early grades". A report produced for UIS, which in a way extended the projections I produced previously to take into account the pandemic. The Excel file with the background calculations is available here.

2020. "Broadening second-chance Matric opportunities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic". A report produced for the advocacy group Youth Capital.

2020. "The argument for returning to full daily attendance". An exploration of recent UNESCO data and WHO guides.

2020. "The debates around South Africa’s school exam results need a richer flow of data". An article I did for The Conversation. This is in part based on a report I did for the advocacy group Youth Capital (see above).

2020. "Patterns in the COVID-19 cases among learners and staff in Gauteng schools: Analysis of school-level data to 8 July". A report prepared for the Department of Basic Education, with the collaboration of Albert Chanee from the Gauteng Department of Education.

2020. "Eliminating global learning poverty: The importance of equalities and equity". A journal article co-authored with Luis Crouch and Caine Rolleston.

2020. "Figuring out what the WHO is really saying about schools and the pandemic". A Daily Maverick article I wrote.

2020. "How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting educational quality in South Africa? Evidence to date and future risks". A paper prepared for the CRAM initiative, with DBE colleague Carol Nuga Deliwe

2020. "African countries with more extensive school meal programmes have re-opened schools earlier". A short analysis which uses OxCGRT data to map which countries have re-opened their schools (I haven't seen such a map anywhere else yet), and some global school nutrition statistics.

2020. "Some notes on school measures in a few countries to limit infections". The result of some desktop analysis into how schools in a few countries are dealing with social distancing, teachers with co-morbidities, and related issues.

2020. "Floor effects and the comparability of developing country student test scores". A background paper for the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report of UNESCO, available here. There are split tables and an unclear graphic in the final background paper published by UNESCO, so a copy without those problems is posted here. A poster presentation for the CIES 2020 conference, based on the paper, and produced with Bilal Barakat, can be found here.

2020. "Are South Africa’s teachers among the best paid in the world? Using household assets as a proxy for monetary pay". A paper produced with my DBE colleague Tsekere Maponya.

2020. "Education and skills for the economy and links to labour markets in South Africa". A report for the National Planning Commission I worked on with Stellenbosch colleagues Servaas van der Berg and Kholekile Malindi. It's on the NPC website, but for some reason it has also been included in the UNESCO IIEP Planipolis library, which normally only includes plans and policies (our report is an analysis).

2020. "What the shifting evidence on Covid-19 means for school reopenings in SA". My article in the Daily Maverick.

2020. "Basic education and the coronavirus". A compilation of some key statistics and policy sources as at 27 April.

2020. "How does South Africa’s Covid-19 response compare globally? A preliminary analysis using the new OxCGRT dataset". An analysis of this dataset as it stood in mid-April. A further analysis I did, using data as it stood in mid-May, is the following: "Common questions about South Africa’s Covid-19 response answered using the international OxCGRT dataset".

2020. "A revised PIRLS 2011 to 2016 trend for South Africa and the importance of analysing the underlying microdata". This analysis informs the following story in The Conversation: "New evidence supports the belief that South Africa’s education is not all bad". The matter was also dealt with in a Sunday Times article with a title "Professor proves South African kids know their stuff". I completely distance myself from the title, which is so obviously incorrect, and is not in line with what the article says. The article is behind a paywall, but the full text can be found here.

2020. Three things I did for UNESCO Institute for Statistics during 2019 are introduced in a UIS blog post here. I still can't quite understand the UIS's use of the term 'benchmark', to include the concept 'target'. They also use it to mean 'standard', which is the usual usage. But that's the UIS terminology now. There are two reports, "Evidence-based Projections and Benchmarks for SDG Indicator 4.1.1", and "How fast can levels of proficiency improve? Examining historical trends to inform SDG 4.1.1 scenarios". Thirdly, there is an Excel tool which projects future levels of proficiency among children based on a number of assumptions, for instance the assumption of how well a country can emulate actual speeds of progress seen in recent times - the tool is available here.

2019. "The case for statecraft in education: The NDP, a recent book on governance, and the New Public Management inheritance". A working paper in the Stellenbosch series.

2019. "Are South Africa’s teachers among the best paid in the world? A critique of existing methods to compare pay across countries". Presentation by myself and Tsekere Maponya at the 2019 Quantitative Education Research Conference in Stellenbosch.

2019. "Arguments for the GEC". Why I think the introduction of the Grade 9 General Education Certificate (GEC) is a good thing.

2019. "What youths do and what their highest qualification is: Patterns in the 2017 General Household Survey". A presentation prepared for a YANDiSA training event held at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Excel file available here.

2019. "Pursuing education imperatives of the NDP and SDGs What are the opportunities and pitfalls we face in building censal and sample-based monitoring of learning outcomes at primary level?". My presentation to students at Treasury's Winter School on public economics of 2019.

2019. "The scope and limitations for school principal action: What the local and global evidence point towards". A presentation made at the conference of Gauteng Province branch of the South African School Principals Association (SAPA) in May 2019.

2019. "TIMSS, SACMEQ and PIRLS: Data issues". A short technical guide to understanding holistically the South Africa trends in these programmes.

2018. "Costs and benefits of different approaches to measuring the learning proficiency of students (SDG Indicator 4.1.1)". A report I produced for UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

2018. "Review (from a policy perspective) of the book The politics and governance of basic education: A tale of two South African provinces". A review of a recently published book.

2018. "What the household data say about participation in ECD institutions". A short report on what numbers one should and should not trust when it comes to participation in pre-school. This was used by Africa Check when they investigated the true number of children in ECD sites - see their results here.

2018. "Better ways of using education spending ratios to advance equity in tough budgetary times". A PowerPoint presentation made at the 2018 Conference on Quantitative Education Research at Stellenbosch.

2018. "Treating Schools to a new administration: Evidence of the impact of better practices in the system-level administration of schools". After many iterations, over many years, this work, done with my colleague Stephen Taylor, is now in the Journal of African Economies. E-mail me if you don't have access to the journal.

2018. "Standardised testing and examinations at the primary level: Current thinking and practices". A paper I put together to help me and others understand some of the politics and technicalities between standardised testing in South Africa and around the world.

2018. "An overview of education policy 2007-2017". An early version of what would become a book chapter.

2018. "Understanding the sharp primary level enrolment increases beginning in 2011". A paper on enrolment and birth trends we did not expect to see.

2018. "Worldwide inequality and poverty in cognitive results: Cross-sectional evidence and time-based trends". A RISE working paper produced with Luis Crouch, long-time colleague and mentor.

2018. "Joining the dots: why education is key to preserving the planet". A review of an interesting book.

2017. "Enrolments, staffing, financing and the quality of service delivery in early childhood institutions". An input for a Unicef-funded project.

2017. In late 2019, a series of reports I produced together with Nick Taylor on data use in the basic education sector were published in the Department of Basic Education's research repository, the relevant link being available "here". I've also uploaded separately copies of the introductory report (here), the Western Cape report (here), the KwaZulu-Natal report (here), the Grade 12 performance indicators report (here), and the final concluding report (here).

2017. "Legislation and progress in basic education in South Africa" and "Have Grade 12 outcomes become more equitable between 2002 and 2016?", two reports of mine which fed into a consolidated report by Servaas van der Berg and myself found here, which in turn fed into a larger report found here.

2017. "Rotten apples or just apples and pears? Understanding patterns consistent with cheating in international test data". A paper analysing SACMEQ data, produced with my colleague Carol Nuga Deliwe.

2017. "Comparing data tells a story about the unusual birth surge in 2004". Article in Business Day. Locally saved PDF available here and the version before a few edits I didn't approve of (!) is available here. In 2018 the full analysis behind this article was accepted, with some changes, in the Department of Basic Education's newly launched journal Basic Education Matters. The paper before changes can be found here.

2016. "Understanding trends in high-level achievement in Grade 12 mathematics and physical science". This was produced for the Department of Basic Education.

2016. "Teacher supply and the quality of schooling in South Africa. Patterns over space and time". This and the next paper produced for Presidency's PSPPD initiative.

2016. "Treating schools to a new administration: Evidence from South Africa of the impact of better practices in the system-level administration of schools". A reworked and expanded version of a 2013 paper, co-author Stephen Taylor.

2016. "The uphill battle of establishing accurate performance trends for schools". Article in City Press (online version only). Locally saved PDF available here.

2016. "Education trends point to notable improvements being made". Article in Business Day. Locally saved PDF available here.

2015. "Higher education policy challenges". Opinion piece in a newsletter of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA). Locally saved PDF available here.

2015. Slide presentation "School administration and student assessment: A comparative analysis using SACMEQ data". Presented together with Carol Nuga Deliwe at the SACHES conference in Bloemfontein in October 2015. This is work-in-progress, leading partly towards Carol's Masters dissertation (for which I am a co-supervisor). A journal article is also planned.

2015. "An incomplete, misleading picture: Friedman makes a mistake in lending credence to economist Ricardo Hausmann's hypothesis on 'education myth'". Letter to the editor published in Business Day. Locally saved PDF available here.

2015. "Huge benefits from GEC". Article in Pretoria News, written with Carol Nuga Deliwe.

2015. Slide presentation "Realities versus data noise: Comparing ANA across years, and to Grade 12 results and levels of poverty". Presented at an Umalusi conference in Pretoria in June 2015. Locally saved PowerPoint available here.

2015. "Enrolment ratios and related puzzles in developing countries: Approaches for interrogating the data drawing from the case of South Africa". Article published in International Journal of Educational Development (2015: 42: pp. 63-72). A very much expanded version of my 2012 enrolments and population working paper. E-mail me if you don't have access to journal.

2015. "Measuring pupils' progress can drive economic growth". Article in Business Day. Someone else chose the title, which I think takes my argument too far, but this happens when you publish in newspapers! Locally saved PDF available here.

2014. Slide presentation "Mapping South Africa’s internal migration patterns in the 1999 to 2013 period using school enrolment data". Presented at the DataFirst conference in Cape Town in September 2014.

2014. My PhD dissertation, titled "Education and country growth models". The MS Word versions of Part I, Part II and Part III also available. The 'growth simulator' Excel tool that accompanies Part I can be downloaded here.

2014. Slide presentation "The human capital model and the role of education policies". An example of a series of talking slideshows I'm developing for my students at Wits University. The original PowerPoint file is available here, the script here, and a guide on how to put together this kind of talking slideshow is available here.

2013. "Treating schools to a new administration: The impact of South Africa's 2005 boundary changes on school performance". Paper co-written with Stephen Taylor.

2013. A Stata spatial analysis tutorial pack for Stata users wishing to develop mapping and spatial analysis skills, with a special emphasis on the South African schooling system.

2013. "Martin's Excel training exercises". Excel file with Excel tips and tricks applied in an education planning context.

2012. "The gap between school enrolments and population in South Africa: Analysis of the possible explanations". Graph data are available here and a slide presentation is found here.

2012. "All textbooks deserve attention". Article in the Mail&Guardian.

2012. Slide presentation "The use and abuse of indicators". Used during training conducted in the Department of Basic Education, Pretoria. The file is 4.3MB in size because it includes some slides with audio. A couple of videos with the lecture is available here.

2012. Excel VBA-enhanced tool: "Tool for long-range educator cost projections". Uses inputs on educator categories, salary notches, demographic trends, attrition and joining patterns to project the cost of educators to a country over the longer term and trends in key indicators such as teacher pay relative to GDP per capita. If you use this tool or have any inputs on it, please let me know.

2011. "The when and how of leaving school: The policy implications of new evidence on secondary schooling in South Africa".

2011. "More countries, similar results. A nonlinear programming approach to normalising test scores needed for growth regressions". The Excel file for this paper can be found here. A later version of this paper is published in the journal Studies in Economics and Econometrics (2013: 37: 2: pp. 93-111).

2011. "Thermometer, pill, placebo or virus: The ongoing debate on when to use standardised assessments and how.". Work-in-progress paper co-written with Qetelo Moloi and presented at 2011 Kenton Education Conference in Cape Town.

2011. Slide presentation "Economics of education: Where is this thing coming from?". Used during training conducted at the School of Education, Wits University, Johannesburg.

2010. Slide presentation "Characterising the South African education system". Presented to the International Academy of Education group in Stellenbosch, September 2010.

2010. "The costs of illiteracy in South Africa". Paper co-written with Servaas van der Berg, Debra Shepherd and Cobus Burger. This paper is referenced in Patrinos and Psacharopoulos's "Education: Past, present and future global challenges".

2010. "South Africa’s economics of education: A stocktaking and an agenda for the way forward". Paper co-written with Thabo Mabogoane. A later version of this paper is published in the journal Development Southern Africa (2012: 29: 3: pp. 351-364).

2010. "Policy note on pre-primary schooling: An empirical contribution to the 2009 Medium Term Strategic Framework".

2010. Presentación "¿Qué nos puede enseñar una comparación entre países en cuanto a las inversiones educativas?". Utilizada en una clase en INCAE, San José de Costa Rica.

2009. "Managing the teacher pay system: What the local and international data are telling us". Paper co-written with Firoz Patel.

2009. "At last, a real test of quality". Article in the Mail&Guardian co-written with Thabo Mabogoane.

2008. "What we can learn from a comparison of the schooling systems of South Africa and Argentina". Paper co-written with Alejandro Morduchowicz.

2008. "Using the hierarchical linear model to understand school production in South Africa". A more polished version of this paper is published in the journal South African Journal of Economics (2007: 75: 1: pp. 84-98). That journal article was considered to be amongst the 79 most useful articles from developing countries in the period 1990 to 2010 focussing on linkages between school factors and learning outcomes, according to Glewwe, Hanushek, Humpage and Ravina's "School resources and educational outcomes in developing countries: A review of the literature from 1990 to 2010"

2008. "The labour market significance of the new Grade 9 certificate". Paper co-written with Andrew Bartlett. Locally saved PDF available here.

2007. Slide presentation "The financial implications of meeting government targets". Input made at an education policy workshop.

2007. "Educación y cohesión social". Paper escrito con Luis Crouch y Amber Gove. Una versión más limpia fue publicada como capítulo en Schwartzman y Cox (eds., 2009), "Políticas educativas y cohesión social en América Latina". Santiago: Uqbar Editores. Uma versão em Português está disponível aqui.

2006. "Post provisioning: Conceptual framework, analysis of the data and way forward". An old report which became kind of resuscitated with the 2022 Teacher Demographic Dividend (TDD) project. Locally saved copy here.

2006. "School production modelling to strengthen government monitoring programmes in developing countries". Thesis submitted for a Masters degree.

2006. "Measuring educational inequality in South Africa and Peru". Paper co-written with Luis Crouch and Pablo Lavado and published as a book chapter in Holsinger and Jacob (eds., 2008), "Inequality in education: Comparative and international perspectives". Hong Kong: Springer.

2006. "Undoing the apartheid legacy: Pro-poor spending shifts in the South African public school system". Article co-written with Firoz Patel and published in the journal Perspectives in Education (2006: 24: 2: pp. 65-77). E-mail me if you don't have access to journal.

2006. "Financing vocational education and training in South Africa". Paper Paper co-written with Pundy Pillay. A more polished version of this paper is published as a book chapter in Maclean and Wilson (eds., 2009), "International handbook of education for the changing world of work" (Springer).