National Curriculum Statement Task Team Report, Disruption of matric exams: Minister's & Department of Basic Education's briefings

Basic Education

16 November 2009
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, and officials from the Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee on the report of the Task Team on the National Curriculum Statement.  The review arose out of criticism of the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement CS, teachers' work overload and learner underperformance in local and international assessments. The Minister announced that from 2010 learner portfolios would be discontinued, teachers would require only one administrative file and the number of projects required by learners would drop to one per learning area. A set of clear, coherent curriculum and assessment documents would be developed, communicated and implemented in 2011. The department was seeking to shift the focus of teachers from being fully administratively compliant but having little time to spend really teaching, to one where effective teaching ensured that pupils were learning. It was looking to provide a uniform set of grading descriptors for all grades and to reassert the role of textbooks. A portion of the budget was specifically allocated to fund textbooks for grades 1 to-6.  A comprehensive communications strategy would accompany changes to ensure that all stakeholders were informed in time and to minimise uncertainty.

Members asked a range of questions dealing with the challenges facing rural and Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN) schools, teacher shortages, the process of developing a catalogue of approved textbooks, the role of the curriculum advisor, the pass requirements for 2010, teacher-learner ratios and centralised oversight and monitoring by the Department.

The Minister then briefed the Committee on disruptions to the matric exams in the Western Cape, which were to be dealt with as a criminal act, and arrests had been made. A Court interdict restricted those who were causing the disruption from coming closer than 300 metres to the schools. A date for the rewriting of papers at the two affected schools would be given.

Meeting report

 

National Curriculum Statement Task Team Report: Briefing by Department of Basic Education
Mr Edward Mosuwe, Assistant Deputy Director General, Department of Basic Education, presented the report of the task team on the National Curriculum Statement (NCS). The Task Team was to identify challenges and bottlenecks in NCS implementation and suggest how these could be addressed through practical interventions.

Three key issues were identified, being the contribution of NCS documents to teacher overload, identifying problems in the transition between grades and phases, and the need to question whether there was clarity and appropriate use of assessment. Two other areas, teacher support and training and support materials, were added to the review.

The task team held public hearings and interviews with all stakeholders. Emerging from these was the need for a single overview policy document, the need to organise learning area documents around the knowledge to be learned, assessment requirements, and the need to keep all documents simple and coherent. In addition, the number of learning areas in the foundation phase needed to be reduced and priority had to be given to English as a first additional language (FAL). It should be taught from grade 1, as this would be the  language of learning. Separate special guidelines should be developed for LSEN and multigrade class learners.

The task team recommended that there be uniform grading descriptors for grades R to 12 and that annual external assessments of mathematics, home language and English (FAL) be conducted in grades 3, 6 and 9. To reduce the workload on learners and teachers, projects must be reduced to one per learning area and learners portfolios were to be discontinued. The Department should provide targeted in-service training and development and the higher education institutions (HEI) should align their teacher training programmes with the national curriculum.

The task team also called for the nature of classroom and school support by the subject advisor to be specified. It suggested that the role of the textbook should be reasserted, and in this regard called for the development of a catalogue of textbooks aligned to the NCS, and for the provision of textbooks to all learners.

The Minister placed the review in context. She outlined how Bantu Education and the Christian National Education of the old administration could not continue, and had been replaced with new values informed by the new Constitution. These values were the outcomes desired by the Outcomes Based Education (OBE)  system and they would remain. However, the manner in which the outcomes would be obtained was being reviewed.

Ms Palesa Tyobeka, Deputy Director General, Department of Basic Education said that the reduction in teacher's administrative workload was done to provide space for quality teaching to take place.

Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director General, Department of Basic Education, added that the workload had led teachers into a teaching routine that was administration-compliant on the one hand, but that real learning was not taking place. All the interventions now were aimed at shifting the emphasis from administrative  compliance back to learners doing their learning, and to provide support for teachers in this regard. The Department would embark on a communication campaign to reduce any confusion that these changes might engender. Previously, teachers were only oriented to the curriculum. However, the Department wanted to embark on a process of teacher development with regard to the curriculum. This implied a shift from one-off meetings to sustained engagement with teachers.

Discussion
Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked how the teacher - learner ratio would be affected.

Ms A Mda (COPE) said the success or failure of a curriculum depended on the willingness of teachers to make it work. It was her observation that there was a lack of monitoring of teachers. The Department could not continuously introduce new curricula without monitoring their implementation.

Ms Mda also said that she was under the impression there was a lack of interaction with learners in hearings that were held.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens wanted to know if teachers were required to teach, or to be facilitators of learning, and how they were actually attending to teaching.

The Minister said that the Task Team and Department would request an opportunity to make a full presentation to the Committee on the broad changes they wanted to make. The Department wanted teachers to continue doing what they were currently doing, but the Department’s input would help to streamline and reduce their administrative workload. She recognised the central and pivotal role that teachers played and to this end sought to have a full branch in the department devoted to teacher support and development.

Mr Soobrayan added that the Department wanted to develop teachers to implement the curriculum using appropriate methodologies and learning support materials to attain the outcome envisaged. The Department gave guidelines to the content of the teachers file.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) wanted clarity on the process of how textbooks became part of the national catalogue of textbooks.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC)  also enquired how the Department was intending to deal with the shortage of textbooks.

The Minister noted that the Department would also consult with the provinces in determining the national catalogue of textbooks from which schools could draw.

Mr Soobrayan added to the Minister’s comments on textbooks by saying that the adjusted budget had made an allocation to the Department specifically for textbooks for grades 1 to 6.

Mr Mpontshane asked how authority and accountability would be encouraged in the system as it had been lacking in the past.

Mr Soobrayan said the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit would be a key mechanism for monitoring and evaluating. It would be dealing with accountability too, as development and accountability were intertwined.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) wanted clarification on whether all levels - including foundation, intermediate and senior phases - were subject to the minimum 5 hour per day teaching time.

The Minister responded that the number of teaching hours was set at 5 hours to help schools attain effective teaching and ensure curriculum coverage. 
 
Ms M Kubayi (ANC) wanted to know how the Department was going to deal with the diversity between Model C, township and rural schools. He noted that there was still lack of access to resources like libraries, computers and Internet access.

Ms Kubayi asked if rural schools faced different challenges.

Mr Soobrayan said that the Department did look at support and teacher supply for rural schools.

Ms Kubayi asked whether it was the Department’s intention to make English (FAL) compulsory and what were the implications if, for example, an Afrikaans school wanted to use African language as its first additional language.
 
Ms Tyobeka noted that English (FAL) was an attempt to provide support for learners whose home language was not English, although it would be their language of learning. It would in no way impinge on the rights of other language groups or school governing bodies.

Ms N Gina (ANC) wanted to know how the Department would control educational support by Non Government Organisations (NGOs) that might lead to contradictions with the curriculum, and confusion among teachers.

Ms Tyobeka said that NGOs offering their services would have to register with the Department to ensure the quality of the programmes they offered.

Ms Gina asked for more clarity on the reduction of learning areas in the intermediate phase, asking whether it was a complete removal or whether parts of a learning area would be incorporated into another phase, and when this would be implemented.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked if learners would be moving away from predetermined outcomes.

The Minister said that learning areas could not be reduced this year. In reviewing other countries’ educational systems she had been surprised to see that many focussed only on the core skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. The Department would first consult broadly, but there would be a definite reduction as learners currently covered many learning areas but knew very little in depth.

In 2010 the Department would develop a detailed syllabus for implementation in 2011. In regard to the oversight function of the Department, she said that the Department determined the curriculum and that they would meet with the provinces to ensure the communication of one curriculum, not many interpretations, right down to teacher level.

Mr Soobrayan noted that the volume of projects was reduced to one per learning area.

Ms Gina asked what model would be used to implement in- service teacher training.

Ms Tyobeka said that the Department had already developed catalogues for the FET band, was finalising the catalogue for grades R to1, and was calling for submissions for grades 2 to 3. Teacher development would be addressed according to the context in which it was found. She said that for example rural schools would generally have less qualified teachers and therefore require more support.

The Department was looking at introducing programs where teachers registered to acquire professional development points over the course of a three-year cycle.

Mr Mosuwe said one of the recommendations was that the department develop a range of projects per learning area taking into account the different contexts, and would be made available to teachers in 2010.

Ms Linda Chisholm, Special Advisor, said that centralised oversight had been recommended in 2002 and because it had not been put into practice, there had been multiple interpretations of the Revised National Curriculum Statement. She said that the report recommended that the DG, in September of every year, announce the one curriculum and assessment standard that would prevail, to prevent a recurrence of multiple interpretations of the curriculum.

Mr Z Makhubela (ANC) said he saw teacher shortages as a major challenge that should be attended to with some sense of urgency.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if teachers were curriculum developers or if they were part of the curriculum development process.

Mr Soobrayan said teacher shortages varied from area to area. He said that it was not a question of teachers not being curriculum developers but of a balance being attained. Sometimes too much was expected of teachers and in any event, as a system, basic content had to be provided.

Ms Tyobeka said the Department had difficulty understanding the complaints of teacher shortages as it had a database of qualified, unemployed teachers, both local and foreign, and despite the complaints, nobody seemed to be employing people from this database. Their bursary programme had recruited quality students to quality programmes, but there was not full placement of those students.

Mr D Smiles (DA) said he would like to see the five-year plan of the Department, even if it was in draft.

Mr Soobrayan confirmed that this would be sent.

Mr Smiles recognised the Department’s efforts at supporting the teachers but asked what other support, apart from school nutrition and health checks, was being offered to learners.

Ms Gina said the department should concentrate more on aligning the HEI teacher training programmes with what was required in schools. She said LSEN schools did not get the support required and were being left behind.

The Minister noted that in regard to HEI, the Department was currently refining the norms and standards for educators and were looking at the curricula of HEI and how responsive they were.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked when the subject allocations for grade 1 to 6 would be finalised.

The Minister responded that she was committed to reducing the learning areas. However, this was not necessarily to be implemented in 2011 as there were issues that would have to be very carefully studied because there were implications for teacher deployment and publishers for example.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked how a third language should be accommodated, time-wise, where Education Departments expected schools to offer a third language.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens noted that pass requirements had been announced for implementation in 2010 and 2011, and asked whether these would remain in force.

The Minister said that the minimums prescribed to schools were not to decrease standards, because even the best performing schools were complaining about work overload. They sought to enhance standards. She said the pass requirements would be implemented, but with certain condonation guidelines given to schools until the work being done on the curriculum and assessment policy documents was finalised, so that they would be operational in 2011.

Ms Mushwana said that while teacher workload had been addressed, the circuit inspector level also had a heavy workload, and he wondered if the curriculum advisors could not share some that work.

The Minister said that curriculum advisors would be part of two processes, one providing curriculum support whilst the other revolved around their deployment to districts, and what their roles and responsibilities would be. The Department was also expecting districts also to play a support role to learners, not just academically, but also in terms of sport and other activities.

Ms Vivian Carelse, Deputy Director General, Department of Education, touched on funding issues. For the next two years, R250 million had been set aside for approximately 1 200 posts targeting poorer schools who had over 40 learners in a class. A comprehensive communication strategy was being developed to disseminate the curriculum not only to the teachers but to the public as well.

Minister’s briefing on matric exam disruption in the Western Cape
The Minister briefed the Committee on disruptions to the matric exams by Congress of South African Students (COSAS) learners. She was informed of the disruptions by the local MEC for Education and they agreed that it should be dealt with as a criminal act. The police were called out to arrest whoever was responsible. Her office was instructed to condemn the actions in the strongest terms. A court interdict was sought and granted to restrict COSAS learners to remain 300 metres away from the schools.

It appeared that finishing schools that were found to be unproductive and expensive to run had been given notice that they were to be discontinued. The State's obligation was to offer learners 12 years of schooling, whilst anything beyond that was not a Constitutional right, but a luxury. The damage the disruptions caused was assessed, and dates for the rewriting of the papers would be given to the two schools affected. She had reported the incident to the Presidency, who concurred with the actions taken.

The meeting was adjourned

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