Nic Spaull is a Senior Research Fellow at the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) group at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Informed by a background in economics, he researches and publishes articles on assessment, accountability, literacy, and educational policy in South Africa. Spaull was recently a Thomas J. Alexander Fellow at the OECD and is currently Co-Principal Investigator for a project titled “Leadership for Literacy: Understanding resilience and exceptionalism in high-functioning township and rural primary schools in South Africa” funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Spaull has his own blog, which includes a recent interview with him by Nali Bali as well as links to his research.
In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Spaull shares his perspective on key capacity and accountability constraints in South Africa, his ideas on high-leverage improvements to teachers’ professional development, and his urgency around policy-relevant research to promote educational change. Spaull also highlights the importance of asking and addressing some of the context-specific questions that are particularly relevant in developing countries. As he puts it:
I think the most important issue is the same as it has always been: conducting policy-relevant research using the most rigorous methods, to provide the best advice we can to those in elected office. I’m excited that there are still fields in education—particularly in developing countries—that remain completely un- or under-researched and under-theorized. Things like understanding how decoding might be different in agglutinating African languages, or whether the reading fluency-comprehension relationship is different in African languages than in English. For example, the oral reading fluency norms that have been established in English are not applicable to agglutinating African languages where prefixes and suffixes are added to a root-word creating a longer single word. Even things like lists of high-frequency words by language – these don’t exist for our African languages. We really don’t know the answers to these questions and won’t have them until we spend time, energy, and money doing that research.
This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also interviewed with Louis Volante.