Project description

Passmark is an independent data journalism project focused on education in South Africa. At Passmark we believe that data is key to understanding the state of education in the country but we also know that the data that is available often isn’t easy to access or make sense of. Passmark works to create a clearer picture of the state of education by both collecting publicly available education data and building our own datasets. These datasets are then used for analysis and as a base for both text stories and interactive visualisations to highlight key areas within education in South Africa. These outputs are aimed at equipping educators, learners, parents and education activists with solid and reliable data that can be used to improve the delivery and quality of education in the country.

Passmark is primarily self-funded, though one of our major investigations (Asbestos in Gauteng’s schools) was partially funded by a local investigative journalism grant.

In order to gain the widest possible audience for Passmark’s work, we regularly partner with a mainstream publisher that exposes our work to a far larger audience than we would alone. These partnerships have proved highly effective in both gaining a broader audience as well as reaching key stakeholders in the education sector. One such partnership resulted in Passmark winning the major national online journalism award for 2017.

We have also seen tangible results for our work with many education-related organisations using our data to inform their strategies.

We deliberately chose to present our stories in an interactive visual format because it has the largest impact and makes it easier for large and complex issues to be communicated. Our “12 years in South Africa’s schools” story, for example, highlights and explains a critical part of the education failure in South Africa. Its conclusions are not necessarily unique, and many academics have highlighted these issues before, but presenting the information in a visual format made it significantly easier to see the points of failure.

What we don’t do at Passmark is to simply release data and expect the reader to make sense of it. We believe that data needs to be presented in such a way that it is explanatory and that it can walk a reader through the keys points of the data so that they ultimately understand it better.

At Passmark we believe that high-quality, well-researched data-backed stories and visualisations are a key part of driving a better understanding of the major social issues in our country. By creating high-quality work we hope to not only produce better understanding of education in South Africa, but also help to drive and grow the appetite in the country for high-quality data journalism.

What makes this project innovative?

Passmark is unique in the way it treats data and storytelling about education in the country. While there are many academics focused on education, journalists that write about education, and NGOs that work in the education space, Passmark combines rigorous data analysis with high-end visualisation and storytelling to make education issues understandable to the broadest possible audience, from pupils to parents to teacher and education officials.

Passmark is particularly unique in the journalism sector because much of the education news coverage in South Africa is reactive and driven by public statements by education officials. Passmark instead works to verify the data being issued by the various education departments in order to build a more comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening in South Africa's education sector.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Passmark has quickly gained a profile within the education sector and has gained thousands of readers in a relatively short time. Because Passmark's work exists both on the Passmark website as well as on the sites of partner publishers it is difficult to quantify the total impact but we do know that some of our work has reached tens of thousands of readers and continues to grow as Passmark becomes a repository of reliable education data.

Passmark also has an impact in ways that are less measurable. For example, we have been approached by a number of education-related organisations that are eager to partner with us on larger projects. We also know that data we release via Passmark makes its way into public discussion on education issues. And some NGOs in the sector have used the data to inform their own strategies.

Source and methodology

The starting point for most of Passmark's work is publicly available data released by the various education authorities in South Africa. This data is then cleaned and verified using separate research and by cross-checking multiple sources of data. Education data released in South Africa tends to be incomplete, messy and is often not easily accessible. Depending on the issue we're working on we typically start with a base dataset, usually from official sources, which we then supplement with additional data that we collect independently. We also verify the data using sources such as public statements by ministers, annual reports, parliamentary hearings etc.

Technologies Used

We use a broad range of tools to analyse and create our stories. The tools we use depend on the type of story we're trying to create. For less customised stories we tend to use tools like Tableau, PiktoChart, CartoDB, Google Earth, InfoGram, and Fusion Tables. Where we want a more custom visualisation we usually build them from scratch using things like D3.js, Leaflet.js and other Javascript visualisation libraries. We also use Sketch for graphics and Screenflow for video and animations.

Project members

Laura Grant


Additional links


Click Follow to keep up with the evolution of this project:
you will receive a notification anytime the project leader updates the project page.