Literacy In Schools and Early Childhood Development: briefing by Department of Education

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

25 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Makgate (ANC, North West)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education spoke on the current state of literacy based on evidence from public schools using certain major predictors of performance. The Department's strategy to address the literacy challenge included increasingly strengthening measurement to provide credible evidence to inform necessary interventions and support to improve performance in literacy as an important foundational skill. Statistics showed appreciable increase in performance where there has been focused interventions and regular measurement. Comparisons between Grade 3 and Grade 6 showed improved literacy performance. The types of interventions and teaching resources were explained. The Committee discussed the reliability of the Department's statistics plus the authenticity of the research process involved in gathering data. The Committee was also interested in the impact of tuition language policy on literacy and the effectiveness of teaching resources in delivering quality education.

The Department also briefed the Committee on the general progress to date on its Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme. It explained the major challenges, how it was meeting the target of Universal Access to Grade R by 2010, the practitioner support and resources that it was providing, areas of priority focus and current status. The Committee discussed the ECD programme in terms of the quality of education in rural schools, service conditions for education practitioners and the mechanisms for planning and monitoring to ensure the success of the programme.

Meeting report

Literacy in Schools: briefing by the Department of Basic Education
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director General: Department of Basic Education thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present on such an important topic. He expressed his appreciation for the Committee's approach to literacy in schools and commended the Committee's focus on literacy and numeracy which were the foundation on which achievement in education was built. He referred to the unfortunate incident of the shooting of a Western Cape school principal and expressed regret that it appeared that she had wanted to bring change and stamp out drug trafficking and violence at the school. He handed over to Ms Tyobeka.

Ms Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director General: General Education, spoke about the current state of performance in literacy, based on evidence from public schools using certain major predictors of performance. She outlined the Department's strategy to address the literacy challenge using systematic evaluation and the provision of teaching resources to improve the quality of learning. The Department was increasingly strengthening measurement to provide credible evidence to inform necessary interventions and support and improve performance in literacy as an important foundational skill. Achievement of high quality learning outcomes was periodically measured against contextual factors of access, equity and quality that might impact on learning and teaching. National priority at the basic education level was on literacy/language and numeracy/mathematics and these were monitored through periodic systemic evaluations and annual national assessments.

In terms of available evidence and the Department's observed levels of achievement, baseline studies showed average scores of 30% in literacy at Grade 3 level (2001) and 38% in language at Grade 6 level (2004). Annual national assessments showed that 2 out of every 5 Grade 3 learners achieved average scores of 50% and above (Levels 3 to 4) in literacy. The corresponding proportion at Grade 6 level was approximately 1 out of every 5. Localised tracer studies indicated appreciable increases in performance where there had been focused interventions (eg provision of basic learning-&-teaching resources) and regular measurement. The distribution of achievement showed that the lowest performance was in the largest (previously disadvantaged) provinces of Eastern Cape and Limpopo. However, there were individual rural schools in these provinces that had been identified that tended to over-perform in relation to their socio-economic circumstances.

The major predictors of performance were teaching practices (59%), language of learning (49%), school resources (49%), access to learning materials (28%) and time on task (20%). The Department was strengthening assessments at Grades 3, 6 and 9 and schools were directed to set improvement targets and monitor performance towards the 50% target of 2011. Deserving schools would be assisted to administer the tests to ensure evenness of measurement.

A Foundations for Learning Campaign (FFLC) was launched in March 2008 to energise the system around the teaching of literacy and numeracy – starting with Grades R to 6 – specifically to do the following:
- provide structure around properly sequenced and paced content for teachers in these key learning areas;
- assistance with assessment activities covering entire curriculum & assessing different skills envisaged by the curriculum;
• ensure maximum time on task;
• provide critical resources for effective teaching; and 
• provide support for under prepared teachers in all grades.

To support teachers in the classroom, the Department had supplied all schools with the following:
• the FFL Gazette: expectations in respect of basic resources;
daily teaching activities and assessment;
• FFL Assessment Frameworks: milestones, that guided teachers to pace learning and teaching and monitor learner performance;
• Quarterly Assessment Activities: to assist teachers to assess learners and monitor their progress on a quarterly basis;
• Lesson plans for each quarter to provide teachers with guidance on how to approach Literacy and Numeracy teaching and learning;
• ReadRight Supplements: to provide useful tips and support not only to teachers and learners but to parents as well – and make Literacy and Numeracy promotion everyone’s business.

The Foundations for Learning Grade R Toolkit would be sent to all schools with Grade R by November 2009. This comprised all the basic resources a Grade R teacher needed in a year for effective teaching; Lesson plans for all terms for Grades 1 – 6 would be sent to all schools for the start of the 2010 academic year (scheduled for distribution by November 2009); National assessments for all Grades 1 – 9 to be conducted again at the end of 2009. A programme of support by districts would be developed with district advisors for a qualitative focus on improving outcomes.

Mr Hindle added that the Department could make arrangements for Committee members to be provided with a box of the Grade R toolkit.

The Chairperson explained that most of the Committee's questions would be focused on members' experiences in their respective provinces.

Mr S Plaatjie (COPE, North West) asked with regard to the issue of systematic evaluation, how the sampling was done. He wanted to know if it was done randomly or if it was purposive. He was concerned that if sampling was random and say rural schools were picked then this could cause a dip in the graph in terms of the results of the evaluation. He was also concerned that current language policies did not adequately facilitate a smooth transition for learners instructed in their mother tongue to the use of English and that this too contributed to low levels of literacy in certain areas.

The Chairperson asked how realistic the Department's method of sampling was and whether it relied on the areas that researchers were able to access. The Chairperson had reservations about how this research was done.

Mr Qetelo Moloi, Director: Systematic Evaluation in the DBE, responded that sampling was done on the basis of all the schools that were registered on a database of all schools in the country. The information extracted from the database ensured that each type of school was proportionally represented, that is stratifying the data according province. Therefore if say rural schools were 10% of all schools then there would be no way that a rural school would be represented by a figure representing anything more or less than 10% in the statistics. Scientifically speaking, their sampling and accessibility to data were not a problem. The Department participated in international studies who sampled independently but also showed the same results.

Mr S Plaatjie (COPE, Northwest) commented that the standardised tests were not meeting their objective since they appeared repetitive and were not taken seriously by schools in terms of the way the tests were administered.

Ms Tyobeka agreed that there were key challenges around the effective implementation of the curriculum and that a report had been compiled on this issue. It would be improper, however, for the report to be tabled before the Committee before it had been formally adopted by the MECs.

Mr T Mashamaite (ANC, Limpopo) wanted to know with respect to the Department's assessment whether it was based on the number of schools or if there was another measure which they relied upon. In relation to how the schools performed in terms of the target of 50%, he asked if the Department had their own target separate from this to benchmark their performance at say a higher level.

Mr Mashamaite (ANC) requested clarification of the meaning of the submission that teachers were “unprepared”.

Ms R Rasmeni (ANC, North West) asked for the Department to elaborate on critical resources and the issue of under-prepared teachers.

Ms Tyobeka responded that under-prepared teachers referred to historically unprepared teachers who had not received adequate training as a consequence of apartheid-era education policies and the resulting under-investment in quality of black teachers. Although a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system had been introduced for teachers the lesson plans were a more immediate way of addressing skills shortage by equipping teachers with the resources that they required to provide quality education to learners.

Mr Mashamaite (ANC, Limpopo) asked if the toolkit was intended for use in 2009 or if it would be for 2010.

Ms Tyobeka responded that the toolkits were for 2010 but would be distributed at the end of this year.

Ms B Mncube (ANC, Gauteng) commented that the Department had good intentions about the lesson plans and the intention behind the Gazette but it had not been understood by some teachers who felt that it increased their administrative duties at the expense of teaching time. There seemed to be poor support provided to teaching staff by District Officers in implementing the lesson plans and assessing their value. There was a growing perception amongst teaching staff that this initiative added unnecessarily to their workload. She asked therefore whether there was advocacy for teachers so that these initiatives would not simply gather dust.

Ms Tyobeka responded that this perception had since dissipated because of the acceptance by labour unions of the view that assessment would be used for progression and that teachers had to be more focused on the needs of learners rather than their own labour demands.

Mr M De Villiers (DA, Western Cape) asked whether there was a correlation in terms of the curriculum and the test made by the Department.

Ms Tyobeka responded that there was a fine fit between the curriculum and the Department's tests. If teachers were not testing these things then it meant that that they were not covering the full curriculum. The Department did not test Grade R children since they were too young. The other grades were tested in accordance with what the Department expected the curriculum to deliver.

Mr De Villiers (DA, Western Cape) asked whether the Department had undertaken a comparison of the provinces to determine what teachers in provinces such as Gauteng were doing to improve the performance of learners in that province and whether their methods could be used in other provinces with lower rates of performance.

Ms Tyobeka responded that poorer provinces were the ones that were a lot more rural than say Gauteng and they required more money from government since they faced a greater number of challenges related to under-development in rural areas. This was not the case with provinces such as Gauteng that were highly urbanised.

Mr De Villiers commented that school principals were making less use of senior staff and that there was a need to promote better teaching methods.

The Chairperson asked the Department to tell the Committee how confident they were that whatever they put in place, they would have proper monitoring mechanisms in place to track progress and identify problems.

Ms Tyobeka clarified that sampling was not done in all schools, however their systematic evaluation through annual testing worked alongside to provide more data on the state of literacy and numeracy in all of the country's schools.

The Chairperson was also concerned that there was a problem of parents not participating in school activities when it was necessary for their children's success for them to provide that support.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) briefing
Ms Palesa Tyobeka submitted that after 1994 South Africa had accepted the moral responsibility to address significant inequality in opportunity by strengthening focus on the earliest years of childhood development and had adopted the international definition of Early Childhood Development as focusing on children from 0 – 9yrs. She referred the Committee to White Paper 5 on Early Childhood Education which stated that the Department of Education accepted that providing ECD for children younger than five years required a combination and a variety of programmes that drew in several departments and levels of government, nongovernmental organisations, Community Based Organisations, families, parents and children (White Paper 5 p61). There were three main roles players: Department of Education, Department of Health and Department of Social Development. Ms Tyobeka presented on the general progress to date of the implementation of ECD, highlighting improvements in access to services for young children such as birth registrations and immunisation.

Ms Tyobeka presented on the mandate of the Department and explained that their main focus was to ensure quality of ‘educational experience’ in community sites through ensuring quality in programmes and training of practitioners. The Department was also focused on providing a quality programme for the sites and had developed National Early Learning and Development Standards and materials for parents and caregivers on how to stimulate their children.

There were major challenges, however, in the form of the lack of accurate and verifiable data on ECD sites across the country. This limited the Department of Basic Education’s ability to audit practitioner numbers and competency levels and to cost and mount a realistic practitioner development programme. The Department also could not plan, develop and distribute adequate support materials for enhanced programmes at the sites and there was also lack of proper monitoring of the basic requirements for practitioners towards quality practice.

The presentation also focused on a variety of matters related to the conditions of service of practitioners.

Ms D Rantho (ANC, Eastern Cape) lamented the poor quality of education in some rural areas in the Eastern Cape citing unavailability of learning space and overcrowding and asked the Department to consider ways of improving these problems at some schools.

Ms Mncube (ANC, Gauteng) commented that service conditions were good in certain provinces such as Gauteng. However there were still problems such as victimisation of teaching staff by management and poor service conditions. She mentioned irregular salary disbursements and bureaucracy which created layers that made it difficult for teachers to access their pay on time.

Mr De Villiers (DA) commented that he had been impressed by the Cuban example during a visit when he was a part of the Portfolio Committee on Education. The focus of the ECD sector should not only focus on care but had to concentrate a lot more on learning.

Mr De Villiers submitted that the ECD budget had to be separate. Grade R had to be budgeted for separately from Grades 1-6. He wanted to know if this was the situation in the Department.

Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Director: ECD, responded that that the budget structure was separated as evidenced by the break-down of the ECD Programme 7 into sub-programmes.

Mr Mashamaite (ANC, Limpopo) commented that the Department's presentation had focused on challenges but had not made any suggestions for solutions. There seemed to be a lack of proper monitoring and no proposals.

Mr Hindle agreed that he had identified challenges; however, if they looked at the challenges around Grade R they were addressing those. Another challenge for the Department was that many of the issues raised by the Committee were related to spheres of provincial and local government responsibility which the particular functionaries of those structures were better placed to respond to. It was also important to appreciate that the ECD was part of an integrated programme of development which involved several government departments working together.

Ms Samuels responded that the complexity of working with other departments could not be under-estimated. For instance the Department of Social Development had a database of 11 000 sites whilst the DOE only had 2 000 leaving a gap of 9 000 sites. This was a big gap and there was a need to ensure that these sites were registered. This would perhaps require that the issue had to be escalated to Cabinet at some point to address some of the legal requirements around those entities. There was a need to conduct an audit and upscale information to have data for realistic planning and monitoring.

The Chairperson issued a statement condemning incidents of violence in schools. She urged communities to have a sense of ownership by providing protection to teachers and rooting out perpetrators of violence and crime.

The meeting was adjourned


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