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Ultimately, there are only two ways to improve the world – through technology and through behaviour change.
This publication focuses on the latter.

What drives people and what dispirits them?

What ignites new passion, new ideas, new commitment in people, and what stands in their way?

Far too often people are viewed as the ‘problem’ in development; through the lens of the Human Factor, we see them as development’s greatest asset.

t seems only fitting to dedicate our first edition to the very people who hold the potential of our children in their hands, several hours a day, five days a week. In the pages that follow we look at South Africa’s education system from the perspective of teachers. Suffering from an ailing reputation in a struggling system, we take a journey into some of the country’s most impoverished classrooms to see what it’s really like to be a teacher in South Africa today. We take you into the hearts and minds of those who participate in and contribute to our education system, by sharing their daily experiences and candid reflections.

We then explore how Zimbabwe has managed to retain a handle on its own education system that, year after year, storm after storm, continues to stand strong and proud; a country where teaching is once again considered the ‘noble profession’.

What we don’t do in this issue is offer a neat set of takeaways or convenient roadmaps to change – there are plenty of experts who’ve already studied our education system systematically and in much detail, providing solid recommendations for policy and system reform.  So, rather than telling you what to think, this publication aims to give you lots to think about. 

The education system is typically portrayed through highly technical terms, and in fragmented ways, so our aim has been to stitch together the daily realities of those working and learning in it, each with their own story to tell. Our hope is to cultivate a space where we can look at our teachers and the education system with less judgment and more compassion, less blame and more broad-mindedness; to draw out insight and inspiration from a wide range of people – including some who never thought they had a contribution to make.

Wherever there is a movement for change, you will find at its heart people who care. A sense of identity, purpose, belonging, possibility in life and agency – these are the levers for mobilising society, and they are embodied in people, not programmes.


  1. Department of Basic Education. 2017. School Realities 2017. Access here
  2. Stats SA. 2016. General Household Survey 2015. Access here
  3. Grant, L. & Otter, A. 2018. Twelve years in South Africa’s schools. Access here
  4. Stats SA. 2017. Education Series Volume III: Educational Enrolment and Achievement, 2016/Statistics South Africa. Access here
  5. Van den Berg, S, & Gustafsson, M. 2017. Quality of basic education: A report to Working Group 1 of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation. ReSEP, Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch. Access here
  6. Reddy, V., Visser, M., Winnaar, L., Arends, F., Juan, A and Prinsloo, C.H., and Isdale, K. 2016. TIMSS 2015: Highlights of Mathematics and Science Achievement of Grade 9 South African Learners. Human Sciences Research Council. Access here (no link)
  7. National Treasury. 2018. Budget Highlights. Access here
  8. Cohen, M. 2017. SA spends higher proportion of budget on education than US, UK. Fin24. 5 January 2017. Access here
  9. UNICEF. 2017. Education Budget South Africa 2017/18. Access here
  10. Ibid.
  11. Reddy et. al. 2016.
  12. Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. 2017. PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study. Access here
  1. Ibid
  2. Weybright E.H., Caldwell, L.L, Xie, H., Wegner, L. & Smith, E.A. 2017. Predicting secondary school dropout among South African adolescents: A survival analysis approach. South African Journal of Education, 37(2). Access here
  3. Spaull, N. 2015. Schooling in South Africa: How Low-quality Education Becomes a Poverty Trap. South African Child Gauge 2015. De Lannoy A, Swartz S, Lake L & Smith C (eds) 2015. Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. Access here
  4. Gustafsson, M. 2011. The when and how of leaving school: The policy implications of new evidence on secondary schooling in South Africa. Working Papers 09/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics. Access here
  5. The Citizen. Education Department dismisses claims of teachers leaving South Africa. 4 October 2018. Access here
  6. Savides, M. South African schools have 5 139 teachers who are unqualified or under-qualified. TimesLive. 6 June 2017. Access here
  7. The Citizen. 4 October 2018
  8. Ilifa Labantwana. 2018. A plan to achieve universal coverage of Early Childhood Development Services by 2030. Access here