Statistics-based evidence is key to realising the vision expressed in South Africa’s Constitution and to creating the visibility needed to deal with the current impediments to economic growth and development, Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission (NPC) Trevor Manuel said on Monday.
“What the NPC would want is for discussion on the state of play and options opened to the country to be informed by evidence. We will need tomes of accredited and relevant statistics,” Manuel said at the launch of the Institute of Certificated and Chartered Statisticians of South Africa (ICCSSA), in Johannesburg.
Last week, the NPC released its initial two documents, the first being the elements of a vision statement, and the second being a diagnostic of key and current challenges in South Africa.
Manuel said that it was important for announcements about change to be based on empiricism, rather than on mere aspiration, as an empirical basis was "more important" than an ideological one for mapping out the country’s growth path and overcoming key challenges identified in the reports.
In dealing with the shortfall of statisticians in the country, Manuel said it was necessary to undertake a significant amount of retooling of country’s troubled education system.
He pointed out that some 15% of all grade 12 students passed matric with the “bare minimum” of 40% in 2010. Further, when asked to write the same examinations, about 40% of teachers managed to pass grade one to four examinations and 33% passed grade five to six examinations.
“The skills emerging from our schools make it difficult to train individuals. There are multiple challenges that must be dealt with,” Manuel said.
He called for a broad-based discussion on the problems with the education system, so as to ensure that the gaps prevalent in key professions, including the statistical sector, could be tackled.
He was particularly concerned about current inadequacies in mathematics – a subject that was a prerequisite for many tertiary-level qualifications and for adding statistical capacity.
But the statistics community itself also needed to restore trust in the profession, while increasing the number of individuals who entered it.
Manuel said that the launch of ICCSSA was vital in that there were many challenges that required the oversight and professional assurance of a body steeped in ethics and the methodological standards of a craft that is frequently complex for those outside of its inner workings.
Manuel signed the charter for the new institute on Monday, which is an associate body of the South African Statistical Association.
The ICCSSA would promote the professional status of practising statisticians in the private and public sector and influence policy in all spheres of statistics, including its application in business and public sector institutions.