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 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 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.