Education access & delivery challenges: Public hearings Day 6

Basic Education

27 July 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Issues raised included the need for more practical training for student teachers, the re-introduction of teachers colleges to promote the level of teaching and the dignity and status of teachers, the establishment of dedicated space and equipment for libraries at all schools with qualified teacher librarians, an improvement in the efficiency and performance of the educational system, and revisiting the models of how schools could be run taking into account international best practice models from countries like Finland, Holland and England. Also raised was the vast amount of work that had to be covered at primary school level. This led to the inadequate consolidation of the important foundation material and to the discouragement of learning. There was a need for a massive literacy and numeracy programme from grade R similar to that implemented in Cuba and Korea. It was submitted that learners and teachers needed more time to teach and learn without rushing the process.

Members asked why universities could not be used for training teachers, how the attitudes of teachers towards inspectors could be changed, whether school district offices could be reformed and whether they were necessary, what were the statistics on interference by unions on appointments to schools, should the Department develop lesson plans and post them on a website for access by all, and if more detail could be provided of instances where equipment and textbooks were seen to be locked away and unused.

The hearings would be followed up by a debate in the National Assembly, whose recommendations would be forwarded to the Department for implementation.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the hearings followed on from an invitation extended in November last year for interested parties to make submissions to the Committee. The House would debate it and recommendations passed by the House would go to the Department for implementation. She said the Department was free to act on anything which might be raised in the hearings without having to wait for the report to be published as the publication might take some time.

Focus Basic Education. Aspects Affecting Quality Outcomes. Submission
Dr A Ismail, Principal, Dr Yusuf Dadoo Primary School, said that student teachers spent too little time on practical training, in his view it should be at least once per week. The Management capacity of schools should be upgraded and the administrative staff should all be trained on school administration software to reduce the administrative burden on principals. All schools should have section 21 status to assist with school maintenance issues. Schools needed to be provided with guards to prevent vandalism and theft.
There should be immediate intervention to see all schools have a school library and qualified school librarians with software to catalogue and classify the books and in this regard it would be advisable to introduce a diploma in school librarianship as there was a link between libraries and the manner in which pupils produced their work. There should be an improvement in the establishment of physical education teachers at schools. He recommended that oral testing of phonics, spelling and oral communication occur at grade one level. The foundation phase should have a low teacher to pupil ratio.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) asked how often vandalism problems had occurred at Dr Ismail's school.

Dr Ismail replied that fortunately they had had only three burglaries as they used the school governing body (SGB) funds to have three guards; they also received support from the neighbourhood watch paid for this from school monies.

Ms M Kubayi (ANC) asked what the functions of the SGB were and what the level of discipline in the school was.

Dr Ismail replied that he had outstanding support from the SGB and had a committed staff with no late coming and no discipline problems.

Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked if Dr Ismail had a plan for the appointment of librarians and establishment of libraries as promoted in the one school one library slogan.

Dr Ismail said that in the previous dispensation there had been a school library management diploma. He himself had done an intensive course in school librarianship. He was not saying they should build school libraries, but that there should be a dedicated space and a qualified teacher-librarian in every school, not just money given for books.

The Chairperson asked why universities could not be used to train teachers, as there was discussion on whether there was a need to reopen teachers colleges.  She said that subject inspection was a controversial issue. She asked what their worth was and why Dr Ismail would promote their re-introduction. What was the makeup of his school in size and diversity and what was its teacher ratio? Was it a feeder school to places further afield? Could he clarify what he meant regarding a school's maintenance of its buildings and its section 21 status? Was there a problem in the way that Grade 3 pupils were assessed currently and what were his concerns?

Dr Ismail replied that teachers colleges were necessary to train teachers just as medical schools taught doctors. With college training, teachers would bring back the dignity to teachers as the job of the teachers colleges was to teach teachers to teach. In universities this focus was lost as they mingled with other faculties. He said that teacher development started in colleges. On the subject of inspection, he said that what were needed were qualified subject advisors to guide teachers when they needed it. Most of the school’s learners came from informal settlements with 40% being Indian or Coloured. The school population assimilated well and there was a good learning atmosphere. Maintenance should be provided for all schools. They had applied for Section 21 status so that the budget should be given to them to carry out minor repairs. They enjoyed good relations with business who supported the school. He said he was referring to grade 1 not 3 and that before a child got formal work he or she should be tested orally to see if he or she could do it.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked how the attitude of teachers towards inspectors could be changed to one of acceptance.

Dr Ismail said that they had Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) inspections internally, but no external inspections except district inspections. He suggested that subject inspectors should be introduced who looked at the teaching of the subject rather than the individual.

Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS). Submission
Mr Paul Colditz, Chief Executive Officer, Federation of South African Schools (FEDSAS), said that he spoke from the perspective of the successful FEDSAS schools, of which member schools had an overall pass rate of 96.35%. South Africa had one of the worst performing education systems in the world, not because of its structure or a lack of funding or access to education but because of a rather serious problem of performance and efficiency. It was necessary to learn from international experience.

Mr Colditz encouraged the Committee to read the McKinsey Report, an investigation of the world’s best performing school systems. The report concluded that the best school systems got the right people to become teachers – “the quality of a teaching system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”; developed these people into effective instructors – the only way to improve outcomes was to improve instructors; and put in place systems and support to ensure that children could benefit from instruction and raise their standards.

FEDSAS recommended that the system needed to encourage success. There was a need for a new model of schools which had greater autonomy to run their own affairs. Excellent models to learn from were to be found in Finland, which had the most successful schooling system in the world. Money from the Education budget was not reaching the schools.

Mr Colditz quoted an ex-official in the planning section of the education department, who was reported to have said that large sums were lost and not accounted for in the system. On the role of officials in the district and provincial offices, Mr Colditz said that if one closed those offices nothing would happen to education as they were making no contribution and district offices were not having any impact. Officials in the district offices had related to him that they had been three years in a position but had not had a job description and that they had applauded when he had pushed, at a conference, for the district offices to be closed.

Mr Colditz said that if he used the Free State as an example, the district office budget for its officials probably accounted for a billion rands which could be diverted for use by schools. There was a need to review the  structure and role of district offices. He said that it was teachers who made the difference yet the figures for teachers’ leave of absence were horrific. Even the President had said last year that the majority of teachers were teaching three hours instead of the six and a half they were supposed to.

Mr Colditz supported the call of Dr Ismail for the reopening of teachers colleges. At primary schools he had been involved in, they had given preference to college graduates because they taught better. Dr Muawiya Gallie of Pretoria University had found in his studies that the higher the academic qualification, the lower the educational performance of the school because teachers became more involved with their academic careers. He was glad that the National Education Evaluation Development Unit (NEEDU) council had been established as that type of structure was needed.
Mr Lorimer said that Mr Colditz had not offered a solution for uncommitted teachers. Were schools districts necessary and could they be reformed?

Mr Colditz said that in Finland, for example, the status of teachers was higher than other professions like medicine and law. Teachers had to be paid properly and had to be disciplined. Where were the district officials who were supposed to monitor teachers? The structure and function of districts or circuits should be distinguished. Their functions were not properly identified as to what they were supposed to do. What functions could they perform that well-functioning schools could not? Their task was the funding of the schools and the prescribing and monitoring of the implementation of the curriculum.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked if he had statistics on the interference of certain unions in the appointment of teachers and of teachers having to attend training and other workshops during school hours. What was the view of his organisation on the issue teaching being declared an essential service?

Mr Colditz said he did not have statistics regarding interference by unions but their problem had been the hundreds of disputes regarding teachers where appointments were turned down with no justification. If teachers were to be regarded as professionals then they should not be in workers unions but in professional associations. As long as they were in workers unions their image and status in the eyes of people would not change.

Ms Mushwana (ANC) asked if FEDSAS membership was open to any school and could he explain the pass rates in his document.

Mr Colditz said any school could become a member.

The Chairperson asked who FEDSAS schools represented. “Were they essentially white schools?” She said that in many districts there was one official for 600 schools. The previous day they had heard a submission by the General Motors South Africa Foundation which had mooted circuits which had closer ties between schools, the Department, and support systems, and advised that the circuits should not be office based. She said Mr Colditz’s suggestion that schools have greater autonomy running their own budgets was a radical solution and was one that would not fly. Could he expand on the topic of different levels of pay to teachers in such a model?

Mr Colditz questioned what was regarded as a white school. He said that there was maybe one school that had a fully white membership. FEDSAS schools, the majority of which were ex-Model C schools, were all integrated. They had schools based in townships which accounted for 30% of their membership. Autonomous school models were flying successfully in England, Holland and the USA and they operated within a regulatory framework.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked if he could elaborate what he meant by the political motive of education officials. Was he implying there was no professionalism?
Mr Colditz said that the officials were not implementing policy or law. They either had a wrong interpretation of the law or policy or they had the wrong perceptions of what the policy said. FEDSAS dealt with issues like this on a daily basis in regard to appointments, admissions, language policy, and race issues. FEDSAS would not interfere where the SGB did not comply with the law and welcomed reports where their members did not comply with the law so that they could assist those schools. In most instances education officials interfered with disciplinary procedures at schools. The  only had one right and that was when a child was expelled but they interfered in extra curricular, in extra mural and in finance matters and brought abut conflict. They pressurised already full schools which had waiting lists to accept pupils not even on the waiting list.

Livingstone Primary School. Curriculum Content. Submission
Ms Karyn Coetzer HOD, Livingstone Primary School, said her school’s contribution focussed on learning and teaching in the classroom. The school was concerned that there was a vast amount of content to be covered in the early levels. Teachers had to rush through teaching and “teaching for testing” was happening. The Department had to give learners and teachers time to teach and learn without rushing the process.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said the many problems mentioned boiled down to the way in which the curriculum was drafted. She had given a speech calling for the establishment of a national curriculum development unit to develop the curriculum scientifically. The problems encountered by the presenter were because the curriculum was not getting piloted through initially. What was her view on this matter that the curriculum should be done scientifically by professional school curriculum developers?

Mr Makhubele asked to what extent the presenter’s submission was comparable to international standards.

The Chairperson asked what her experience in developing her own lesson plans was. Should the Department develop all the lesson plans and have it published on a website where teachers, learners and parents all had access to it.

Ms Coetzer replied that the curriculum should be looked at again. Attempts to improve education looked at improving results and then the curriculum tried to do more to achieve that outcome, but then did not achieve that goal because in doing more work teachers scratched the surface and did not deeply establish the concepts being taught.  She was relieved to have the amendments to Outcomes Based Education (OBE) but she was concerned that concepts in technology were going to be included in science. Regarding lesson plans, she said she was referring more to the plethora of worksheets being used in classrooms, what was termed “worksheet disease”.

Thandulwazi Saturday School. Submission
Mr David Gear, Director, Thandulwezi Saturday School, said the baseline test results for numeracy they conducted were scary, showing that grade 10, 11, 12 learners were probably at the grade 6, 7, 8 levels. Their students were voting with their feet and shifting from maths core to do the maths literacy course. The students were failing badly in maths core instead of passing well in maths literacy. The school needed to be aware of the social background of their learners.

It was a national disgrace that there were so few functioning libraries at schools however it would be a mistake to think that putting technology into a school would automatically improve the school. This would only occur if the school was functioning properly. Learners were not learning about technology when doing technology projects; they were only doing lots of cardboard cut-outs which pointed towards the need for teachers to be better trained at colleges so that projects given could be relevant.

There was a good argument for vertical integration at schools through a system of houses as in the English tradition as this was also good for discipline, rather than the current grade level system which was horizontal in  nature. Teachers were in the business of hope (for the aspirations of their learners) and a massive numeracy and literacy program was required just like the ones in Cuba and Korea.

Cell phone technology had potential to be utilised in the teaching process. Girl child safety was recognised as a problem. The idea of a Learning Community, where schools in a community acted as a unit and shared resources could be a solution in certain areas. For example 1 computer technician, 1 librarian and 1 sports coach to cover primary and high schools in a community could make a difference for all as one of the reasons for successful schools being successful was the peripheral activities which made kids want to be at school.

Mr Lorimer asked if the low level of base line knowledge could be fixed in the limited time available to them.
Could the model be rolled out to other schools?

Mr Gear said the base line was done informally. He said the programme was based at an independent school and the opportunity was there for others to do same.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that maths literacy was an unfortunate name for the subject. In her view it should be a compulsory subject for all learners.

Mr Gear said his general experience of core maths was that it was quite difficult and valuable in sciences. If learners scored less than 60% then they should consider doing maths literacy. He added that maths literacy was language loaded.

The Chairperson asked how many schools from which learners attended these classes had gang related issues or was it across the board. Were gang related issues more widespread than the usual perception that it was mainly a Cape Flats issue? She invited him to communicate specific instances where equipment, for example textbooks and computer were at schools but were not being utilised.

Mr Gear said that 2 200 learners were registered from 212 schools in Gauteng, but not all could attend regularly for financial reasons .He said that “gangs” was perhaps too strong a word but children repeatedly said that drugs were a pervasive presence at schools. He said he had personally seen piles of textbooks still in plastic wrappers and computers locked up in schools in various areas around the country.

Maths Centre. Dynamic Solutions: Correcting, restoring & advancing Maths, Science, & Technology Teacher and Learner performance in South Africa. Submission
Ms Sharanjeet Shan, Chief Executive Officer, Maths Centre, gave a background of the organisation which was donor funded and ran projects to fill knowledge gaps of learners and teachers. It was represented in all nine provinces and in the Western Cape was in partnership with the Department in a project involving 250 schools. These schools were participating in an eight year project that would later cover all primary schools. Most of their projects were of three to five year duration.

Ms Shan said that education was lacking in South Africa because of poor curriculum coverage by teachers; teachers below or just above the level of the children; the slow pace of teaching and learning; failure to proceed to more abstract methods of solving problems; the expectation (cognitive demands) of the children were very low; the lack of conceptual progress in lessons; insufficient written work; inadequate writing and reading practice; and lack of feedback to learners. She said there were four key areas for maths and science teaching to flourish. Reading, writing, drawing and representations in maths and science were only at 10 % of the proper level. Language inadequacy was a big problem, especially of mathematical concepts. One million learners entered schools but only one third left in Matric. It had to be asked what happened to the other over 600 000 learners who left without a certificate. For the long term, the eight areas mentioned needed to be examined carefully.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked what Ms Shan’s solutions to the language problems were

Ms Shan said that the Maths Centre initially gave special English language lessons, but through a Human Sciences Research Council study had discovered that there was no link between the English language lessons and improvement in maths and that the Centre needed to focus specifically on the maths and physics definitions which learners needed to understand

The Chairperson said she had been lead to believe that mother tongue education was  vital to entrench concepts, yet the Maths Centre used English to establish concepts in English, not necessarily the mother tongue.

Ms Shan said that language was a contentious issue and that learners had to learn in English as beyond grade 3 teaching was not in their mother tongue. Cognitively they had to understand and use English terms and use translations to assist in this understanding.

A representative of the Department said that systemic evaluation was conducted in the language of the school, whatever the grade.

The Chairperson asked what methodology the Maths Centre used and how did it measure their success rate.

Ms Shan said schools were identified by the donor. The Maths Centre would approach the district office and in partnership choose 10-15 semi-functional schools to assist. The Centre’s intervention included two to three class visits, two to three workshops, after school classes, and Saturday classes. There was one full time field trainer for every 10 schools. The trainer was based at the Centre not the school. Teachers and learners were assesses to ascertain their knowledge gaps and a report containing the analysis was presented to the school together with an action plan. At the end of the term, assessment and an analysis of results were reported to the school, donor and the Department. There was a monitoring mechanism to oversee the whole process.

The meeting was adjourned.


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