Stephen Taylor

Education Economist

Born to two teachers and a grandfather who founded a school, it probably does not come as a surprise, that Stephen Taylor works in the education sector.

The direction he went in is quite different, though. Instead of teaching pupils, Stephen decided to go into government and spends his days cracking the whip on education policies.

Born in Cape Town, the 31-year-old studied economics at Stellenbosh University, ending up in 2010 with a doctorate in the economics of education. While studying, and between hockey practice, he also worked in the university’s Research on Socio-Economic Policy Unit.

Here he gained experience doing consulting work for the basic education department, the National Planning Commission, the Botswana ministry of education and the World Bank.

After finishing his doctorate he was snapped up by the department of basic education and got into analysing large education datasets, such as the matric exam results and the Annual National Assessments, to measure the influence of the department’s programmes on outcomes.

He does this because “all too often, research and policy do not speak to each other: education researchers are often working at a level of abstraction that is removed from decisions that policymakers face, while policymakers are usually too busy to engage with research findings”.

If he was asked how one eats the elephant that is South Africa’s education crisis, he would tell you that we need to first work out which forms of support to teachers, which programmes and which plans are actually working before we throw even more money at any of them.

The one good thing about working in a sector faced by such huge challenges, he says, is that “I know that just about whatever I do spend time on can make a meaningful difference”. — Victoria John