Learner-to-school ratio meaningless

Johannesburg - The learner-school ratio (LSR) used by the basic education department is not an accurate way to evaluate education quality, according to an SA Human Rights Commission report released on Thursday.

"I suppose we can be polite and say this is not a useful measure, or we can be less polite and say it's a downright misleading measure," said Conrad Barberton, who with Carmen Abdoll from Cornerstone Economic Research, wrote the report on behalf of the SAHRC.

According to the report, the LSR raised the question of whether its use was creating a "perverse incentive" that drove provincial education departments to close small schools.

"It doesn't measure access, it doesn't measure availability of space, it's measuring nothing. The question is why is the department using this particular measure rather than the [learner]-to-classroom ratio [LCR]?" Barberton said.

The report, a review of school infrastructure spending and delivery, found that of the 26 789 public ordinary schools in 2000, only 24 255 remained in 2012.

In the Free State 47% of schools, a total of 1 187, had closed. In other provinces, 31% of schools in North West, 12% in Mpumalanga, and 10% in the Eastern Cape had closed.

Using the LCR, and knowing the number of existing classrooms would provide more accurate data when assessing backlogs in "instruction spaces" within schools, districts, and provinces.

Another problem was that the department had not publicly released data on the number of existing classrooms. The latest available figures pertained to 1996 and 2000.

According to the report, all provincial education departments had published infrastructure project lists for 2012, but in different formats.

"The Eastern Cape's list is unstructured and difficult to understand, while the Western Cape's list provides properly structured and useful information," the report reads.

This pointed to a lack of leadership by the basic education department in specifying and enforcing appropriate reporting formats and information requirements.

On inappropriate school structures, or "mud schools", in May 2012 the department said it was targeting 496 such schools for infrastructure improvement.

However, the department's own provincial breakdown indicated there were 492 such schools.

In April 2013, the department indicated it was targeting 510 such schools.

"We have no idea whether these numbers are correct," Barberton said.