Foundation for Learning Campaign; Department's briefing, Workshop Report adoption

Basic Education

07 September 2009
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Basic Education on the Foundations for Learning Campaign. The Campaign was a response by the Minister to perceptions in the system of unacceptably low levels of literacy and numeracy in the country. The main anchor for this campaign was to provide clear directives and expectations for quality education at primary level, for every teacher, principal and manager in the system.  The focus of the campaign was mainly on the key activities that led to good numeracy and literacy, to ensure that by 2011 no school should obtain less than 50% in external assessments. Further details of how this would be done were tabled.

Members asked for definitions of school resources and how they affected learning. They questioned why some schools that were poorly resourced performed better than others that were well-resourced. Members asked if an evaluation was done to ascertain why this happened, what had emerged, and if these lessons were going to be extended to other schools. They asked for copies of the document “Schools That Work” and examined also the “Kids Up” programme that was being run in some of the poorer schools.  Members asked if the language of instruction of children at the foundation phase affected their performance during assessments, how monitoring was done at schools, and if schools were provided with a guide to this process. They queried if the learner-teacher ratio was a factor in student performance, how the 50% performance standards had been set, how the Department was intending to communicate with schools, what the schools should expect to receive and why problems had arisen in the past. Members proposed that the Department initiate a feedback forum to facilitate the flow of information between the National Department and provinces.

The Committee approved the Committee Report on engagement with the Department of Basic Education on 11 and 12 August.

Meeting report

Ms Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director-General: General Education, Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee on the Foundations for Learning Campaign. The Campaign was a response to what was perceived in the system to be unacceptably low levels of literacy and numeracy, mainly at the General Education and Training (GET) level. The Minister launched this Campaign in March 2008 as a call for a commitment to support all schools in the country. The main anchor for this campaign was to provide clear directives and expectations for quality education at primary level, for every teacher, principal and manager in the system.  The focus of the campaign was mainly on the key activities that led to good numeracy and literacy, to ensure that by 2011 no school should obtain less than 50% in external assessments. Further details of how this would be done were tabled (see attached document)

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked how this programme differed  from the ‘Breakthrough to Literacy’ programme that was used in the provinces before.

Ms Tyobeka said that the programme ‘Breakthrough to Literacy’ was used to introduce children to literacy in the home, in their home language. After 1994 many parents had indicated that this was not what they wanted, as they wanted their children to learn English. The curriculum statements were now being used to rectify the problems. 

Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked for ‘school resources’ to be defined, and asked if lesson plans were provided to schools for the whole year.

Ms Tyobeka said that resources did affect learning. The critical resources essential for learning were materials required for teaching and resources that children needed to learn. The basic resource package therefore spoke to the teacher, the learner and the classroom.  

The Chairperson asked what the problems were that led to low literacy and numeracy levels detected before the start of the Foundations for Learning Campaign (the Campaign), and how the Department had reached the conclusion that the teaching process was the main problem.

Ms M Kubayi (ANC) asked if the schools that performed well, but were poorly resourced, were evaluated to find out how and why this phenomenon had occurred.

Ms Tyobeka linked this answer to the Chairperson’s question on the levels of improvement as per the Campaign. Schools in poor areas did have good teachers. The major predictors of performance as outlined in the presentation had been used to ascertain that the Department had not provided the kind of structured support that schools needed to perform better, hence the need for the Campaign. The Department had provided a document to schools called the ‘Schools That Work’ programme, to provide the information needed about schools in poorer areas performing well.

The Chairperson asked for copies of the ‘Schools That Work’ programme, as this would assist Committee members to understand terminology used in schools and provide specific details about how schools operated.

Ms Tyobeka said that this document would be provided to the Committee.

The Chairperson asked if the language children were tested in was a contributing factor to how bad or good their results were.

Ms Tyobeka said that children were being tested in their home language. 

The Chairperson asked how monitoring was done in schools

Ms Vivienne Carelse, Deputy Director-General: Office of the Director-General, Department of Basic Education, said that the Foundations for Learning Campaign was linked also to the critical process of monitoring and evaluation. There had been recent discussions with the Presidency around plans for 2010. The details of these discussions would emerge; but they were broadly around clarifying what stationery schools should use at different levels, and the actual exercises that should be done, as opposed to using workbooks with fairly prescriptive details about what the elements of monitoring would entail. Monitoring would then be described in a more uniform way. The foundational elements and fundamentals were captured in these publications that teachers had been given, but at the same time, through the  process of rolling out the whole programme, more details were beginning to emerge that pointed to parents even being able to take workbooks and see what stages their children had reached. This therefore combined the practical exercises given in the classrooms to materials that informed both the pedagogic process and the child’s individual experience. The whole Foundational Programme was actually based on what each learner’s pace of achievement was, in relation to what should be generically possible and evident  in the classroom. The process of monitoring and evaluation was giving the Department more points to consider.

The Chairperson asked to what extent issues were being followed through in 2009.

Ms Tyobeka said that the Department had provided something that could be used for monitoring as a guide for better performance.

Ms Kubayi asked if the Department had evaluated the schools performing badly in bad conditions.

Ms Tyobeka said that the ‘Schools That Work’ answered this question as it was based on what the Department had seen in schools that were working and the conditions for their success.

The Chairperson asked if the Department had focused on schools that were able to perform well without having the resources that were normally required for good performance.

Ms Tyobeka said that various outcomes were found in different proportions in different schools. The Department had found, during assessments, that a key determinant was teaching practice. Another programme that had worked was the ‘Kids Up’ programme, and in schools in poor areas, a combination of improved teaching practice and the Kids Up programme complemented each other. Different factors normally came into play regarding performance.

The Chairperson said that the teacher-learner ratio could also be a factor that made a great difference, and added that the manual '`Schools That Work’ could possibly answer the question.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) said that the situation in Limpopo, where English was taught at the Grade R foundation phase, needed to be corrected.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) said that no mention was made of governance in schools, but only to the situation in classrooms.

Mr Makhubele asked how the 50% was achieved in performance, asked whether it was a proportional figure, and asked why this performance level had been chosen.

Ms Tyobeka said that there were multiple issues at play, one of which was more stringent promotion and progression requirements. She thought it most likely that the Department would reach the 50% target, and pointed out that because children were expected to do well, then the targets could not be set below 50%; if low benchmarks were set then expectations might also be low.

Ms Tyobeka added that the Campaign tried to achieve clarity on what everyone in the system was supposed to be doing. It was not dependent on additional resources, but was rather focused on implementation.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) reported that when doing oversight visits he found that documentation had not been given to curriculum advisors and other school officials in some districts.

Ms Tyobeka said that monitoring was very important, as some schools did receive documents but did not open or read them. The Department had tried a different approach and had sent documents directly to schools, with backup copies to districts. Some documents came back marked “address unknown”. One of the problems here was that the Department had problems with the addresses in its database.

The Chairperson said that the Department had basically lost a year because its plans had not been implemented in all schools. The Department had an opportunity in 2010 to make a difference, but the difficulties lay in past bad practices and not dealing with those challenges. The Department needed to rectify backlogs, to allow a degree of re-alignment to the point where targets could be dealt with.

Ms Carelse said that the planning done needed to take account of cross-sectoral interests within the Department, nationally, provincially and inter-provincially. There was a quantitative measure of how many books could reach schools, and other quantitative elements, such as monitoring and oversight functions, and being able to test what provinces were doing with the materials that they had. There was also the challenge of who was doing oversight in that province. There was a need to address how information was communicated. The first challenge was improved communication between the Department and schools and the second challenge was the element of human development, like learner-teacher ratios. Intersectoral planning was very important, taking into consideration the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) process and its feedback. The Committee would get this, and the Department was committed to better monitoring and evaluation.

Mr D Smiles (DA) asked if the culture of learning was integrated into the Department’s current approach.

Ms Tyobeka said that with the different campaigns, appeals were made to ensure integration of the culture of learning, based on advocacy aligned to the quality of learning and teaching. The Foundations for Learning Campaign worked at a different level in that it attempted to provide permanence and lift the profile, but also maintain the permanence of the imperatives of the Campaign.

Mr Smiles said that for the medium of instruction the Department should use the principles of Kha Ri Gude.

Ms Tyobeka said that the Department no longer engaged in international assessments, as it might be de-motivating for the learners of this country.

Mr Smiles asked what the Department was going to do to regarding resources and management to sustain the momentum of the Campaign, as it was ending in 2011.

Ms N Gina (ANC) asked if parental involvement was included in the Campaign.

Ms Tyobeka said the Department was exploring creative ways of reaching out to parents as part of the Campaign. The challenge was to find the right vehicle.

Ms Gina asked if the achievements with the ‘Kids Up’ programme could be used as examples for other schools so that processes could complement each other.

Ms Tyobeka said the ‘Kids Up’ approach was being used. Since this programme served the poorest communities, the Department had prioritised, giving them resources because non-fee paying schools were also included.

Ms Tyobeka acknowledged the inputs from the Committee and said that the focus on improved performance could not be postponed to beyond 2011. The Department was doing its best and would continue to strengthen its attempts.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked if there was a uniform approach to lesson plans.

Mr Makhubele asked if there was a process in place to phase out undeveloped or underdeveloped teachers. Higher Education produced teachers who were not always appreciated.

Ms Tyobeka said that the Department was working on unqualified and under qualified teachers and many teachers were upgrading themselves. The last audit had shown that the numbers had been reduced dramatically. Many unqualified and under qualified teachers were found in the Foundation phase, as some provinces, especially KwaZulu Natal, would rather have unqualified teachers than no teachers at all. Many teachers actually had post graduate degrees but did not have the teaching qualification. The great problem was the under-utilisation of teachers. Ms Tyobeka said the Department was working closely with Higher Education institutions because teachers were not trained for the school context at these institutions.

Mr Makhubele proposed that the Department have a feedback forum to facilitate the distribution of documents and receive feedback.

Ms Tyobeka said the Department had an internet portal called Two-Tone, because a key element of the Curriculum Implementation Review Process was to talk to teachers across the country and get them to respond.

The Chairperson asked if the Department could outline what documentation was supposed to be in schools, and by when it should reach the schools.

Ms Tyobeka said that all Primary schools should have the Gazette, the  Assessment Framework or milestones document, and the Quarterly Assessment Activities for literacy and numeracy from Grades 1 –6. All schools should have written the Annual Standardised Assessment for 2008, and should have analysed their performance. All primary schools in Quintile 1, the poorest 20% of schools, should  have lesson plans for Grades 1 to 3 for term 1.  The Department intended to check in January 2010 if all schools in all quintiles had lesson plans for Grades 1-6, and whether they had written the standardised test. By November 2009, all Grade R schools would get the Grade R resource kit.

Ms Gina advised the Department to ensure that all schools were provided with question papers for examinations or assessments as they struggled when these were not provided.

The Chairperson asked why there were schools lacking these question or assessment papers.

Ms Tyobeka said that this task had to be left to districts and provinces, who were not equipping schools with what they needed. For Grade 3, schools were supplied with this documentation electronically because the National Department did not have the funds to perform this task nationally.

The Chairperson asked the Department for information on what the norms and standards for resources were, so that the Committee could understand what schools should or should not have. The Department was also asked to explain what the burden on teachers was regarding monitoring and evaluation,  if the inspectorate system was still in operation,  why school resources impacted on school performance, and the focus on ratios between learners and teachers. She noted that the Committee needed to focus on learning issues and speak further with the Department about what it was planning to do about the backlogs.

Ms Carelse said that a Skills audit was being carried out and this had flowed from the Teachers’ Summit held recently. This was another critical step and developments would be shared with the Committee.

Committee Report on its engagement with the Department of Basic Education in Pretoria on 11 and 12 August 2009

The Committee reviewed the report and discussed grammatical name changes.
The Report was adopted, with the necessary adjustments.

The meeting was adjourned.


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