Education access & delivery challenges: Public hearings Day 2

Basic Education

17 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued with the hearings on challenges to and access to education.

The Westcliff School of Skills was a school that focused on children who had a backlog in their learning and ran four-year programmes that first focused on catching up on problem areas in numeracy and literacy, as a bridging year, and then allowed students to spend half the time on academic work and half in vocational training. Westcliff suggested that the National Curriculum Statement should be altered to take the need for such schooling into account, as well as to cater for the dire shortage of artisans in South Africa. There was a need for the subjects covered by Further Education and Training Colleges to be made available at lower levels and for the colleges also to offer assistant artisan training. Technical curricula needed to be introduced in phases. Assessment techniques needed to be adapted, and learners should be able to gain a formal certificate.  Members asked when vocational training could best be introduced, and stressed that this should also be available to children who had special skills or talents, not just those who learned differently. They agreed there was a need for equal streams of education in practical and academic subjects. Members questioned the use of multiple choice exams, believed that the challenges in the pass rate had to do with the same curriculum being used for regular and technical schools, and asked that reports from school principals be relayed to the Department.

The Primary Science Programme, an NGO, had experience in and trained on curriculum change and its impact, offering teacher training and support, particularly to primary school teachers. PSP stressed that there was a need to rectify primary education first, which meant that more support was needed there, as it was too late to try to address issues at high school. Greater coordination with government was required.  PSP’s programmes were structured to meet teachers’ identified needs, including textbook work, and the teaching methods were outlined. There was a need for greater resources, particularly for teachers in the sciences. Members asked for clarity on content knowledge, the numbers of people and schools that PSP reached, the difference between curriculum specialists and curriculum developers and whether in-service contracts were being awarded to the wrong people. The scope and method of testing was questioned, and Members explored whether curricula should be developed from university level down, or from primary grades up. The relationship with the Department and PSP’s involvement in other projects was queried.

Social Surveys Africa had undertaken a study on access to education, including an extensive literature review, qualitative research, a national survey of 4 400 caregivers and consultation with various stakeholders. The presenter focused on attendance of learners in the 7 to 18 year category, and those learners still in school irrespective of age. Attendance in the former group was high, although problems with drop outs manifest in the Further Education and Training Phases and for learners in their late teens and early twenties. Pregnancy was the major reason why girls left school, often caused by disengagement from education and other social problems, although proportionally more teenage pregnancies occurred after leaving school, but boys primarily dropped out through lack of interest in and disengagement from school and poverty. Disabled youth were often not catered for by their schools. It was taking too long for learners to get through the school system, and statistics and context for repeaters and drop outs were given. Repetition rates are very high in South Africa. The presenter also agreed that any problems stemmed from a serious lack of preparation in the basic education phase, which created issues further down the line at FET level. The School Nutrition Programme helped to ensure that children attended school regularly. There was a need to look again at the requirements of school attendance linked to the Child Support Grant, the need to think about focusing on ensuring all youth get an excellent education up to grade 9, rather than an obsession with Matric, research on learners over 18 who were still in the school system and more alternative eduction pathways, such as vocational training, artisanships etc. Members asked how the survey addressed those who chose to drop out rather than repeat, for clarity on the categories of disability, whether some who had been classified as having learning disability needed special teaching only, and asked for more clarity on teenage pregnancy and the Department’s response to this, and the value of repeating grades.

Bergville Primary School, in the Drakensberg, noted that it had recently been involved in a consolidation programme with a farm school, and the requirements that the school had set, as well as the problems it experienced, were outlined. The submission was a compilation of issues that the staff at the school had raised. The curriculum content from Grades 3 to 4 was inconsistent, computer training needed to receive more attention and more guidance was needed on how to structure certain programmes over three grades.  Social Science teachers had requested a separation of history and geography. The Department’s requirements for detailed lesson plans for every lesson were unduly onerous and resulted in less time being devoted to the actual teaching. Attendance at Grade R and proper readiness before entering Grade 1 was essential to a child’s development. The Department was often seen as a “barrier” to schools’ work. There was a need for psychological guidance and subject advisors. Members questioned the experiences in consolidating with the farm schools, questioned the curriculum problems, and asked if lesson plans provided by the Department did not assist.

University of the Free State presented findings on the impact of school readiness on school performance. Screening for school readiness would identify problems with learning and performance and the researchers suggested that testing for readiness should be done early in Grade R to enable the teachers then to focus on any problem areas and correct them before Grade 1 entry. Screening should be taken into communities. The goal was to empower teachers through training and use of the tool, which was developed in 1990 and was currently being translated into all languages. Norms should be provided so that teachers could state in which areas there were problems. It was suggested that all children on welfare and support must be screened. Members asked about the testing, saying that the Department did not currently have the resources to do so, nor to rectify issues identified, but it was clarified that teachers could often give the assistance required. Members asked if the University trained Grade R teachers and taught them to use the tool.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said that it had been a difficult task for the Committee to decide who should be invited to give oral presentations. Even those who had not been invited to do so could and should still send in their written submissions. All submissions would be taken into account. The public hearings were only one part of the entire process. Oral presentations offered new perspectives, and were called for when the Committee felt that further interaction was needed. Most submissions had focused on issues of access over issues of quality. She highlighted that the Committee would try to work to its deadlines, and, after considering all submissions, would create a report to be tabled before the Department.

Westcliff School of Skills submission
Mr J van Schalkwyk, representative for Westcliff School of Skills, explained to the Committee that Westcliff School of Skills focused on children who had a backlog in their learning. He noted that, without correct placement, the children in this school would not have reached their current levels. He suggested that they did not perform adequately in mainstream schools because the tempo was to fast. This affected their self-esteem and confidence. Learners in his school were practically orientated, but had a curriculum backlog and had struggled with cognitive disabilities. He stressed to the Committee that the school did not function as a “dumping ground” for problem children and should not be seen as such. He noted that a number of the learners were highly intelligent and skilled, but simply struggled to make clear their thoughts. This frustration could and had caused behavioural problems. He explained to the Committee that his students struggled with reading and writing. He noted that generally they came from a low socio economic background, mentioning broken homes, alcohol and drug abuse and a variety of disabilities. He stressed that it was important for the school to repair the damage their students had undergone before considering training and teaching, particularly in the area of curriculum backlog. In order to attend the school a child had to be 14 or older, must had failed twice, or, if they had failed once, there must also be evidence of no progress such as a psychological report. He noted that older learners would be placed at their appropriate academic level but would start their vocational level at phase one.

Westcliff School offered a four years course. The first year was a bridging year working to narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy and in the second to fourth year students would spend 50% of their time on academic work and 50% on vocational training. He explained that vocational training provided a practical application for academic learning. The students often experienced more success in this area than in academic subjects. After school, the learners often found placement in the private sector. A vocational programme supported and developed the learner’s skills. He explained that teaching revolved around bridging the gap in academic subjects where basic issues existed and then exposing learners to vocational areas. Learners would spend up to 5 weeks in a variety of vocational areas, and would be placed in specific workshops. The bridging was based on a confidential test that learners would take, so that the level of their literacy and numeracy skills could be assessed. Learners were then placed according to the test. At the end of the year they would be tested again to see if the gap had been narrowed, and their final academic placement would then be made.  The school regarded the first year as the bridging year.

He illustrated to the Committee how poor the reading and numeracy skills were when the students entered the school, and how these compared to the improvement post-bridging. He highlighted that the school did not teach technology because learners gained vocational skills and because it was necessary to cut some subjects to complete the bridging. The School was aware of the current debates whether the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) should still remain compulsory for schools such as Westcliff, and said that he was aware this was a major issue for the Committee. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had suggested that NCS remain compulsory but he stressed that this would prove extremely problematic for schools such as Westcliff. He put forward an alternate proposal focused on vocational skills training, which made space for academic work learned in an applied environment. He argued that if the NCS was to stay compulsory it would need to be adapted for technically orientated learners. He noted the dire need for artisans in South Africa, in light of the fact that most artisans in South Africa were around 55 years of age. He suggested that the availability of only an academic curriculum was severely debilitating, contributing to future unemployment and crime. He suggested that this also influenced the number of drop outs. He argued that if NCS was to continue it must reduce the number of compulsory subjects, to ensure that repairing of previous learning gaps could take place. He stated categorically that the current curriculum failed the type of learners at schools similar to Westcliff.

He noted that Further Education and Training (FET) was, problematically, focused on Universities and Colleges. His students would never be able to attend university, although they might attend a college, but it would be far harder for them to become artisans through the college route. He suggested that it was necessary for the FET colleges to offer other courses for assistant artisans, so that these learners could be taught to be an assistant artisan, and then progress after a number of years to become a full artisan. He reiterated that such students would not cope with the normal route.

Currently, his learners received no nationally endorsed certificate. They completed their learning but had to leave the School with only the papers that Westcliff School could provide. He repeated that Westcliff focused equally on academic and technical streams and teaching methods and the curriculum were adapted to suit learners. He suggested that technical curricula needed to be introduced in phases. Schools like his required different techniques for assessment – including adaptation of written tasks for those who had difficulty in reading and writing, such as using multiple-choice questions. He also suggested that ideally, assessments should be carried out on a one to one basis, and a continuous basis. He repeated that students understood concepts but struggled to communicate them, and were often nervous when faced with tests.

He outlined the vocational options offered, which included spray painting, woodworking, metal work, panel beating, maintenance, hairdressing, institutional management, computer typing and a large portion of co-curricular work. He suggested that learners doing co curricular work, such as playing rugby on a Saturday morning, should also be assessed on this, to ensure that learners could find successes somewhere in his or her life. After four years the learner should be able to receive a special education school certificate, indicating what they could do vocationally. He reiterated that his students often found successful placements in the private sector. Up to 40% left the school directly into a job, were happier, well adjusted, developed a positive sense of self, increased their productivity and experienced success and acceptance. Even those who did not find employment would still be able to undertake their own work from home.

The Chairperson told Mr van Schalkwyk that in a recent meeting, principals of schools from the Cape Flats had informed her that children there were simply not coping with basic education. These children were still very young, and could not therefore attend a school such as his. She asked if he had any ideas on an alternative model of schooling, starting at a primary school level

Mr van Schalkwyk acknowledged the problem, and noted that special classes or units were now being created in primary schools to provide for these children. He stressed that vocational training could not be done at a primary school level as it was expensive and requires artisans with skills

The Chairperson noted that a vocational stream should not just be available to children with learning disabilities or those who learned differently. She suggested that this should also be available to children with skills and talents that required nurturing. Vocational training was also important for those who would never reach higher education because they must develop skills to support themselves and their families in future. . She suggested there was a need for two equal streams of education - one practically orientated, and one academically orientated

Mr van Schalkwyk stressed that it was impossible for all students to attend university. He suggested the NCS curriculum needed to be adjusted to include the technically minded. He argued that the fact that it currently did not do so played a major role in matric pass rates, as some learners were often not academically minded.

The Chairperson asked for his opinion on the suggestion that technical training should simply be an FET College programme, and that academics should be done until Grade 9.

Mr van Schalkwyk argued that primary school teaching should be academic, but secondary schools should start focusing on technical skills, even before a student reached FET age. He suggested the FET curriculum was extensive and that it was impossible for a student to achieve the FET and vocational training. He suggested training in schools should provide this gap.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) suggested that the pass rate in physical science was so low last year because the curriculum was the same for regular and technical schools, posing a huge problem. She questioned the use of multiple-choice questions and suggested that in future when a learner was given multiple-choice questions an explanation should be provided along with the answer. She also asked about the type of certificates learners would receive once completing vocational training and what their job opportunities were.

Mr van Schalkwyk noted her concern over multiple-choice and said that this requirement was already in place. He informed the Committee that the learners received two certificates on completion of school, one stating the academic side, and the other stating what the student was capable of doing in workshops. The private sector looked at the technical certificate. Westcliffe College did not look for jobs for their students, but rather provided job shadowing which usually ended in employment.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) questioned the breakdown between what was considered academic and vocational, and what was in each category. He also asked for clarity on the teaching staff, asking whether they were teachers, artisans or artisans who were also teachers. He also asked for an explanation for the phasing-out of metal work

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked if the presentation related only to the Western Cape or the entire country.

Mr van Schalkwyk clarified that learners would first do the theory and then combine it with practical, technical and drawing skills. He suggested that this kept children attentive. He noted that theory was necessary but that this should be adapted. Most teachers were artisans but a number of them had completed teaching courses whilst working for the school. He stressed that teaching was informal, and was intended to teach learners to use their hands, so those with artisan skills had to pass on their knowledge. He suggested that metal work was being phased out because the school was aware that there was less of a demand for it in the work place. He informed the Committee that this presentation had been sent to the national department and that he would be presenting on it again in the coming week.

The Chairperson acknowledged that principals from schools were meeting to try and streamline vocational training within academic training. She suggested that once this was done, they should give a report to the Committee, which could be fed into the national process

Mr van Schalkwyk informed the Committee that their suggestions would be available within a few weeks.

Primary Science Programme (PSP) submission

Ms Zorina Dharsey, Science Facilitator, Primary Science Programme (PSP), presented on the Western Cape Primary Science Programme. She informed the Committee that PSP was a non-government organisation (NGO) that had been in existence since 1985, and had first-hand experience on curriculum change and the impact it had on teachers and their work. She informed the Committee that its focus was the classroom, particularly quality teaching and learning, and so it focused on teacher training and teacher support. The teacher training focus was primary school teachers. She stressed that PSP believed was that the education system should be getting it right at primary school level first, which meant developing and training primary teachers and providing adequate support. For this to happen greater coordination with government was needed. PSP fully supported the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme. If the groundwork of the child was solid it could only make the job of the primary school teacher easier.  Although PSP was aware that the current emphasis and focus in learning was on high school, she argued that this was far too late to start trying to correct issues. She explained that children were naturally curious in their early years and this needed to be developed early on, if the issues around education were to be rectified. Current statistics of how many scientific scholars the country was producing made it clear that there was a serious issue.

PSP’s programme was structured according to the needs identified by the teachers with whom it worked. Teachers required help when dealing with content components, how to teach, and methodology components. The only way to provide this was to do a form of on-site mentoring, which was done in person and in an encouraging manner in order to ensure that teachers were not alienated from the process but rather provided them with space to accept support and acknowledge it. She noted that PSP acknowledged teachers as professionals, offered guidance, support, team teaching and provided materials. She suggested that current textbooks could not help a teacher gain a thorough understanding of the content, if the teacher did not already have a basic background in the subject. Materials had been developed with teachers so that teachers gained a greater understanding of the information and methodologies.

She explained that when training, PSP would train teachers in a workshop environment, developing concepts and content. From there they would move into the classroom, observing lessons and providing resources. PSP worked in some of the most disadvantaged schools, particularly those that lacked science and maths specialists. PSP had witnessed significant improvement, through using its methods, where it was involved in schools; it did a pre and post-test with the teachers. PSP’s focus was to take basic knowledge and couple it with scientific knowledge, in order to ensure it made sense. PSP attempted to acknowledge, affirm and thereby empower teachers, which in turn would allow them to become more able to accept and negotiate curriculum change. Teachers gained confidence through gaining knowledge from this process.

PSP noted the need for greater resources, particularly for teachers in the sciences. She suggested that government needed to coordinate processes of teacher development, particularly in terms of the service providers. Curriculum advisors must be trained to ensure that they could offer the support the teachers required. She also argued that training had to be focused on the most needy schools, and a definite and regularly monitored programme should be in place.

The Chairpersonvoiced concern about the suggestion that teachers were lacking knowledge with regard to content. She also asked for clarity on what schools PSP reached and how many people it reached.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for explanation of terms such as ‘curriculum specialists’. She asked whether PSP trained teachers to become curriculum developers

Mr J Lorimer (DA) questioned whether there were instances where the wrong people were getting in-service contracts, and how often this happened

Ms N Gina (ANC) questioned what schools were being focused on, and how teachers were tested. She enquired as to the scope of the tests

Ms Mashishi asked for clarity on training for curriculum advisors, and whether this was more important than training educators in the classroom. She also asked if this was the first proposal PSP had made to the Department

The Chairperson mentioned a contradiction, which had also been raised in another presentation, in regard to synergy. A suggestion had previously been made that curricula should be created from first year university downwards, as opposed to the suggestion of primary grades upwards.

Ms Dharsey replied that, in terms of curriculum and theory, teachers had all round teacher training in specific areas. However, when they picked up a textbook they did not understand it as a guide, and struggled to work with it if they did not have the proper background knowledge. She stressed that teachers needed help in discerning between the science that they were going to do and the background to that science. She also noted that many teachers lacked specific backgrounds, due to their own school education, which had not covered areas of the current curriculum

Mrs Rose Thomas, Science Consultant, PSP, informed the Committee that it was decided that whenever PSP had any involvement with teachers they would first test them and set up a course based on the needs identified by the teachers and the tests. There were normal exam type questions looking at basic knowledge and practical knowledge.
 Ms Mascha Ainslie, Manager/Trustee: PSP, stressed that information and the curriculum had changed since teachers had attended school, requiring them to look up information, which was not always a simple task. She also stressed that the PSP had been in partnership with the Department for years. She informed the Committee that PSP had been working with about 200 schools

The Chairperson asked for clarity on how PSP would discern which teachers needed training.

Ms Dharsey clarified that the PSP was involved in different projects. One was the cluster project which focused on science teachers in schools. PSP was aware that the need was wider than science, and that there were also issues in terms of maths and languages. PSP attempted to integrate training in these areas into its science work. Teachers worked with the PSP to identify the issues which would eventually form the focus of the workshops. She stressed that PSP did not compel teachers to attend workshops but these were voluntary. Professional work-shoppers encouraged principals to be more democratic when selecting teachers taking part in programmes.

 Ms Mascha Ainslie, Manager/Trustee: PSP clarified that curriculum specialists could be considered as people who worked outside the Department, whereas curriculum advisors worked within the Department. She informed the Committee that developing a curriculum was a difficult task and teachers needed support in this regard.

Ms Dharsey told the Committee that there were no courses available that trained teachers to become curriculum advisors. Teachers went from their own education to the classrooms and did not often have support to develop a curriculum. PSP helped in this regard. It suggested that teachers should attend standard curriculum-training courses before designing a curriculum

Ms Thomas spoke to the question of curriculum development from Grade 12 downwards. PSP believed that children were the centres of the work done, and she reiterated that their interest needed to be sparked from the primary phase and developed. She agreed that there was a need for a stream of development running from primary, though high school, into higher education. She said that, regardless of technical or academic fields, basic maths and science were integral. The context of teaching was also raised as important. There was a need to get primary school education right in order to straighten out education as a whole.

Ms Ainslie told the Committee that they had received a number of tenders but that she was of the belief that often the right people are not given the tender. This was due to lack of discussion and debate around quality and pricing was given a preference.

Social Surveys Africa (SSA) submission
Ms Bev Russel, Chief Executive Officer, Social Surveys Africa, explained that her organisation (SSA) had undertaken a study on access to education, which encompassed four phases. These phases included an extensive literature review, formal research, a national survey of 4 400 caregivers and consultation with various stakeholders. Although it was a big study with a number of interesting findings, her presentation would be focusing on the attendance rates for 17-18 year olds. In South Africa there was a very strong culture of school attendance. However, there were problems in the 18 to 25 year old age group, where more than half of those attending school, some of whom could be 25 years old, did not ever achieve their matric. She noted that the study raised a number of highly complex factors that produced this situation.

Ms Sarah Meny-Gibert, Consultant Researcher, SSA, repeated that the study showed that for a middle income country, South Africa had an extraordinarily high attendance rate in the 7 to 18 age category. The media focus was often on how many of these learners actually achieved their matric. There were isolated cases where children were out of or were not attending school in the compulsory school going age (7 to 15). Often, vulnerable children were kept out of school, such as those with disabilities. Where learners in the 7 to 15 age group were out of school, in most cases their siblings were in school – so drop out for children in this age was for particularly marginalized or vulnerable children within poor households,. It was commonly believed that a girl learner would become more susceptible to pregnancy after leaving school, and although this was true, it still must be remembered that pregnancy was also the number one reason for girls leaving school.

She stressed that drop out in South Africa was really something that hit hard in the Further Education and Training (FET) phase. Poverty was originally the overarching context for dropping out of school, but fees were no longer the main issue. Poverty as a reason for dropping out was the main reason for male dropouts, although disengagement and a lack of interest was also a factor. Disengagement was also a factor for girls although often the primary cause of pregnancy was a result of a process of disengagement from education through other pressures in the household and community.

Disabled youth were a major vulnerable area that was largely under explored. 63% of caregivers with disabled children did not feel that the school their child was attending was catering for their disability. Learners who were considerably older than their peers, or those who had repeated a number of times were also considerably vulnerable to drop out. She informed the Committee that 14.4% of learners aged from 7 to18 left school owing to having failed a grade. The essential point made by the research was that it was taking a long time for learners to get through schooling. In the foundation phase of schooling, 21.3% of learners had repeated a grade, with 31% of learners repeating in the intermediate phase, rising to 50% in the FET phase. 9% had repeated three times or more. Repetition in the school system had lead to a large number of over-age learners within the education system. These learners were far more vulnerable to not completing their schooling. A Grade 12 teacher could be teaching children ranging in age from 15 to 26, which put an extraordinary demand on the teacher and the learners. She argued that this was a major under-explored issue within the schooling system.

She explained that boys were more likely to repeat than girls, which was on a par with international findings. Learners in former homelands, such as areas in Limpopo, were more likely to repeat. Children who did not have English as a home language, particularly African first language speakers, were also suggested as far more vulnerable. She said that black children in South Africa were six times more likely to repeat than white children, but she added that race was often a veil covering a number of issues. She noted that 84% of white learners were accessing model C or private schools, in comparison with only 11% of black learners. She also noted that the higher the level of education of the parents, the lower the vulnerability to repeating. She stressed that this directly correlated with the legacy of apartheid.

She agreed with the previous suggestions that many problems stemmed from a serious lack of preparation at a basic education, which created issues further down the line at FET level. She stressed that the SSA was of the belief that the major vulnerability lay in the FET phases.

She focused on the Child Support Grant’s draft requirement that receipt of this grant would be linked to proof that a child was attending school, but argued that this could be highly detrimental, and could even cause an increase in drop out. The important point that the SSA wished to communicate to the Committee was that the system was incredibly inefficient, and that it took far too long for a learner to get through it. She also stressed the need for greater research on learners who, although they were over 18, were still in school. She suggested that, due to the continued bad matric results, the focus perhaps needed to change to ensure that all learners acquired excellent Grade 9 results. She also noted the need for more alternative pathways for learning, such as vocational training. She argued that low completion rates would continue until learners were adequately prepared for their FET grades, particularly in matric. She also briefly mentioned the fact that since schools were under pressure to achieve good matric results, over-age learners were often side lined or pushed out in Grade 10 or 11.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on how the Survey group dealt with those repeating, as opposed to those who instead of repeating would choose to drop out. She also questioned to what extent degree repeating a grade actually solved the problem with the student.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) questioned whether Social Surveys Africa suggested that there were not enough schools, or not enough provision in the schools of the right kind of schooling opportunity

Ms Gina questioned what SSA thought about accessing children with disabilities. She also asked for their thoughts on the programmes and provisions in place, when seen against what their research had highlighted, particularly in areas of drop out and pregnancy

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if the SSA was aware that the National Department encouraged those who had left school because they were pregnant to return to school after giving birth, and she asked if this was reflected in the number of over-age learners

The Chairperson asked for clarity with regard to disability, essentially whether the SSA meant cognitive or physical disability.

Ms Meny-Gibert replied that in terms of disability there was a major access problem for those children who were acutely disabled. Often, children in this category were “hidden away”, and caregivers struggled to get them to the correct school. In the schools teachers were over burdened, and if a child required a special kind of teaching he or she would often be categorised as disabled, when in fact all that child required was specific teaching to address the problem.

Ms Meny-Gilbert then expanded on the teenage pregnancy issues. SSA was aware of the Department’s response but questioned what systems were in place to be able to provide for this. Pregnancy was often the end result of a disengagement from schooling, and in this case learners were less likely to return to school. Most teenagers became pregnant after leaving school. One means to combat children leaving school or disengaging was to provide extras for them to engage with, such as extra curricular activities. In terms of poverty, drop out and the school nutrition programme, she highlighted the effectiveness of the school nutrition programme in ensuring regular school attendance. Although this did not prevent drop outs, it did help to ensure that at least learners would arrive at school. She also highlighted the success of the no-fees policy, but said that there continued to be questions around how this was being implemented, especially since it appeared that some children were still being threatened with withholding of report cards when they could not pay. She stressed that there were a number of issues affecting schools and drop out, and these were different across the board.

She noted that the main issue was whether schools could prepare learners to be successful in the future. She stressed the need for access to alternative schooling and informed the Committee that the SSA was researching these issues currently, particularly with regard to over age learners.

She was hesitant to give a definitive answer on the value in repeating phases, but suggested that value was probably being depleted. She stressed the need for remedial action and a return to a focus on the fundamentals in education. With regard to dropping out and repeating, she suggested that issues lay with learners not understanding the teaching at all, older learners who felt humiliated by still being in the classroom, and teacher and learner teasing. Many learners who repeated or were dropping out were those with learning disabilities. She also stressed that some schools were pushing learners through to a stage that they failed during the matric examination, while others were being held back, and that this seriously affected figures

Bergville Primary School
Mrs Gina Green, Principal, Bergville Primary School, noted that this school was located in the Drakensberg mountains. Although the population of its surrounding town was quite small, it serviced the larger rural areas near it, which had a population of roughly 20 000. The school was a polar-medium school, with about 400 learners. It was a former model C school. She informed the Committee that one of the school’s recent claims to fame was that it was currently involved in a Consolidation Programme with farm schools, and that a farm school was recently consolidated into the school.

Her submission was a compilation of issues raised by her staff on a regular basis. In terms of curriculum content she suggested that the jump in the number of subjects required by learners from Grade 3to Grade 4 was far too large. She suggested that some subjects became amalgamated and that others be introduced far later. Perhaps more attention needed to be given to computer training, starting at a Grade 1 level.

She noted that her science teachers had requested that should the NCS policy document be revised, the curriculum content should be broken down by grade. She also told the Committee that the social science teachers had requested a separation of history and geography, due to the fact that children struggled to separate the two themselves. She raised an issue with the Department’s requirements that teachers draw up work schedules and lesson plans and instead suggested that teachers should be allowed to use a ‘day book’. Teacher development should happen out of school hours, as it created disruption in the school and made it difficult for schools to find substitute teachers.

She informed the Committee that her school’s experience of the Department of Education was less than favourable, and even referred to the Department as a barrier to the schools’ work. She stressed the need for psychological guidance in schools, highlighting that she had had to plead and beg for people to come to the school and assess the children. She also noted the virtual non-existence of subject advisors from the Department. Lastly she stressed the need for children to be old enough when attending Grade 1, and argued that attendance at Grade R was essential to a child’s development.

The Chairperson asked for clarification on what the consolidation of a rural or farm school meant and what challenges the school had faced.

Mrs Green explained that her school was approached by the Department of Education (as it was then named) in 2009, to absorb learners at a farm school 35 kms away. These children would have to stay in the school’s hostel. The school laid out its own requirements, including that the school control the children’s transport. The school was surprised that the main issue facing the children was health care. Many children were malnourished and the school had to educate the parents about health grants and had to get the Department of Health involved. Within the hostel the school had experienced issues with standards and norms of behaviour, which they had had to deal with severely. There were also issues around culture, with rural children being more traditional and superstitious. She commended the Department of Education for ensuring their education.

Mr B Skosana (ANC) asked about the school’s issue with curriculum implementation, as he thought that it was quite clearly laid out. He also asked about why the school had issues with lesson plans.

Mrs Green explained that in the National Science Policy Document, the issue was with content in the intermediate phase, as it was unclear how to divide the content over the three grades required. She noted that this was different in the Social Science document. She also explained that she was not suggesting that the teachers should not have a plan, but that the idea of having to write out a plan for every lesson was an unnecessary burden. She noted that teachers in her school utilised a lesson book, which ensured that there was no repetition. The point of a lesson plan was to make sure teachers had taught everything. However the amount of time required in writing up a plan for every lesson meant that the teachers did not get to the teaching itself.

Ms Kloppers-Louren asked if Mrs Green was aware that the Department was going to provide lesson plans for every Grade

Mrs Green noted that these were received, but that they were very broad in order not to align with any particular textbook, and still required a lot of work from teachers.

University of the Free State (UFS) submission

Dr Erna van Zyl, Senior Lecturer, University of the Free State, presented on her findings on the Impact of School Readiness on School Performance. She explained that school readiness could be understood as a certain level at which the child would benefit from and handle formal schooling. School readiness could be understood as school maturity. She stressed that children need to be ready in totality before they entered school. She pointed to research that suggested that school readiness directly influenced school performance.

Screening for school readiness would identify problems with learning and performance. In line with this, she stressed the belief that all learners in South Africa should be tested for school readiness in Grade R. Screening would allow for teachers to understand learners’ levels of school readiness and begin to help them. She suggested that screening should ideally be taken into communities, since many people did not have money for a psychologist or assessments. She also noted that the schools’ district based support team no longer tested children, and currently the children would move from Grade R to Grade 1 without any screening.

The UFS’s goal would be to empower teachers through training. She noted that all Grade R teachers who had had four years basic teacher’s training could be trained in use of the tool. They would be able to then return to their own schools and screen their own children, identify problems and begin to rectify them. She suggested that if a child went to Grade 1 and was not ready, the problems may start out small but eventually would become unmanageable. She suggested that this was how children arrived in high school with reading issues. Currently it was very difficult for teachers to decide which children should be kept back. She suggested that the only solution would be to provide teachers with some sort of norm. This norm would also allow for teachers to state clearly in what areas problems were visible. This was especially important at such a young age where problems usually influence each other

She noted that the screening instrument had been in use since 1990 and was in the process of being translated into all the official languages. She suggested that children in Grade R should be screened near the beginning of the year, possibly in May. The screening then would bring to the fore any major issues, and the teacher would then be able to help the child in the areas where he or she was struggling, in order to get it ready for Grade 1. She stressed that the screening was not a means to keep children back, but was rather a tool to identify problems and deal with them in time. She suggested that trained teachers could offer a service to the school, and could improve its infrastructure. She also suggested that these teachers would aid the District Based Support Team in that they would be able to provide a basic psychological service to the school. She also noted the need for children on welfare to receive screenings and support. She noted that learning problems often led to behavioural problems, causing juvenile delinquency. She said that learners who were screened and were ready for formal school should be able to read and learn and pass.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on the submission, particularly in the area of testing. She suggested that in order for testing to take place the Department would need to introduce testing support structures, and it did not currently have the resources to do so. She also suggested that a number of professionals would be needed to rectify issues identified with the learners.

Dr van Zyl clarified that not all children would require professional intervention. Often, the teacher would be able to help the child by providing extra work focused on the areas of need identified by the test. She agreed that some children would need therapists, but she also stressed that teachers could provide more in Grade R.

The Chairperson asked whether UFS trained Grade R teachers, and whether this screening tool and its interventions were taught as well. She also asked what the teacher could do in a case where a child struggled with perception

Dr van Zyl stated that currently UFS did train Grade R and taught on use of the tool. In terms of perceptions, she explained how the learning process would be tailored according to their need, using forms such as blocks.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens suggested that the lack of school readiness tests was a very real contributing factor to South Africa’s high drop out rates

Dr van Zyl suggested that if a norm were to be provided with which teachers could work, this would make it far easier for them to explain how and in what way certain children were struggling. She also reiterated that the test was not designed for discriminatory purposes such as keeping children back, but rather to help them reach their full potential

The meeting was adjourned.


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