Education access & delivery challenges: Public hearings Day 7

Basic Education

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

The Committee continued with its public hearings on access to and delivery of quality education in South Africa. Faithway Christian School, which was a poor and rural school dependent entirely upon fees to pay for its costs, faced many challenges yet had, for the past 12 years, achieved 100% matric pass rates.  It noted that the present curriculum was doing the learners a disservice, and could be improved by placing more emphasis on English as the language of instruction. Teachers were expected to do far too much administrative work. The school recommended that stronger emphasis needed to be placed on reading, writing and spelling. The frequent changes to prescribed textbooks were problematic in poor communities. It said that Government should look at a way of bridging the divide between wealthier schools and their poorer counterparts, possibly through co-option. Members asked what had resulted in the school’s success, especially given the challenges presented by the OBE system, whether the school catered only to English-speaking pupils, and how government-funding would then affect the school’s status.

Meredale Primary School faced challenges around overcrowding, lack of adequate and cohesive support from the Department of Education and students having to have Afrikaans as a subject. In order to deal with bullying within classrooms, especially at Grade 1 where the ages of pupils ranged from five to eight years, the school separated learners. It recommended that schools should also be allowed to appoint the teachers they felt were best for the position. Members asked for comments on the experiences around inclusive education, the process around the employment of teachers, and the necessity for more remedial classes.

The Siyahamba Foundation for Academic Excellence had done research which showed that learners were not being taught learning skills. This Foundation had therefore released both a learner’s manual and a teacher’s manual, which emphasised aspects such as developing a positive belief system, improving memory, effective mind management, improving reading and writing skills, reducing anxiety and managing stress. Members asked if the success of this book was proven, whether the focus was on generic learning skills or was subject specific, whether teachers were currently trained at university in different learning theories and whether a similar book would be available for younger learners.

Projects Abroad noted that research conducted at disadvantaged schools in the Western Cape had noted a number of challenges, which included inadequate resources, social ills, including gangsterism and substance abuse, forced promotion of learners, and lack of technical-skills training for learners. Problems with the Outcomes Based Education system included lack of standardisation of knowledge, the overwhelming administrative workload placed on teachers, unrealistic timeframes within which to teach content, and problems arising from inclusive learning. There was also a poor relationship between the Department of Education and schools and educators. Projects Abroad recommended better consultation with educators, improving working relationships, replacing or revising the OBE system, the need for constant re-training and personal development of teachers, creating technical schools, the re-introduction of sports and creative subjects, creating well-resourced libraries, better learner safety and an independent school inspectorate. Members asked how many schools had been interviewed, where they were situated, why Department of Education officials were not interviewed during this research and whether there was not a need to look at different models for technical skills.


Meeting report

Quality Education in South Africa: Access and delivery: Public hearings
Faithway Christian School submission
Ms Jacqueline Huxham, Educator, Faithway Christian School, said that Faithway Christian School (the school) was a poor and rural school that shared many of the problems being experienced by other schools. Despite this, the school had, for the past 12 years, achieved 100% Matric pass rates and was the best-performing school in its district. Being a private school, it relied on school fees for funding and the payment of teachers’ salaries, but the funding from its predominantly poor community was small. All teachers, irrespective of seniority, were paid the same salary. Many resources such as sports playing fields, science laboratories and computers were, as a result, beyond the school’s reach. Although the school performed well despite these factors, the curriculum was doing the learners a disservice. The curriculum could be improved by narrowing and deepening the syllabus at the foundation phase, placing particular emphasis on English as the language of instruction. Teachers had to keep onerous administrative records. Class sizes should also be kept as small as possible. Currently, as good teachers were often promoted to higher positions, this meant they were lost to learners who needed them. The School suggested that instead, teachers should be promoted through a two-tier system whereby they taught and performed their managerial duties. Schools had to assume the roles of parents in cases where there was very little emotional support given to learners at home. This would go towards ensuring that these children developed adequate social skills. Maintaining effective discipline and imposing boundaries was also important.  Between Grade 4 to 7, strong emphasis had to be placed on reading, writing and spelling. At high school level, the OBE system had resulted in learners lacking in the basics of grammar. Stopping the “rote learning” system had also disadvantaged these learners. Group learning had also presented challenges. The regular changing of textbooks was, especially within a poor community, a major challenge. Government should look at a way of bridging the divide between wealthier schools and their poorer counterparts, possibly through co-option.

Discussion
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked what had resulted in the school’s success, especially given the challenges presented by the OBE system.

Ms Huxham answered that teachers had, to a large extent, not followed those OBE rules that they felt would disadvantage their learners.
 
Ms Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked for an indication of the school’s fees, and the teacher: learner ratio.

Ms Huxham answered that these fees were dependent on the Grade. Grade 0 learners paid about R300 monthly for Grade 0 learners, up to around R700 at matriculation level. The teacher: learner ratio was between 1:7 and 1:25.  

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) asked whether the school could afford to become a public school.

Ms Huxham answered that there was no real desire for the school to be a private school. The school was built in that area as a result of there being no other English-medium school in the district.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked whether only those willing to be educated in English were enrolled. He asked how, if the school became government-funded, it would differ from a public school.

Ms Huxham said English was the medium of instruction at the school. There were other schools in the district where isiZulu was the medium of instruction.

Meredale Primary School Submission
Mr Graham Murray, Principal, Meredale Primary School, said that some of the challenges faced by his school included overcrowding, lack of adequate and cohesive support from the Department of Education, and students having to have Afrikaans as a subject. There were also occasions where children between five and six years of age, in Grade 1, were sharing the same classroom with much older children, up to eight years old, who had failed their previous attempts at this grade. In order to deal with this, the classes were split according to the month of birth, which had the knock on effect of reducing bullying.

Meredale recommended that schools should also be allowed to appoint the teachers they felt were best for the position. Teaching should be listed as an essential service in order to limit strike actions that resulted in teachers being removed from classes.

Discussion 
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for more details around the issue of bullying.

Mr Murray answered that this was mainly influenced by differences in learners’ physiques. As a result the school tried as far as possible to separate learners of different sizes. This had proven to reduce the incidences of bullying. Teachers needed to be vigilant around this issue in order to stem it.

The Chairperson asked what the school’s experience had been around the issue of inclusive education. She also wondered what the process was for employment of teachers.

Mr Murray answered that there was a district psychologist who assisted in this regard. The main problem was the size of the classes, which precluded individual attention being given to those learners who most needed it.

The Chairperson asked whether teachers were requesting more remedial classes.

Mr Murray answered that the need for this was unfortunately on the increase.

Siyahamba Foundation of Academic Excellence Submission
Mr John Higgins, Chief Executive Officer, Siyahamba Foundation of Academic Excellence, said that the research Siyahamba had conducted had found that teachers did not teach learning skills to the learners. A programme that looked at the teaching of learning skills would improve educational outcomes and results. As personal development skills were also of importance, Siyahamba had released both a learner’s manual and a teacher’s manual. These books adopted a non-religious, non-political and holistic approach, and were written in simple and understandable language. They included modules on developing a positive belief system, improving memory, effective mind management and improving reading and writing skills, reducing anxiety and managing stress.

Discussion
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether there were any statistics to show whether the book had been effective. She asked whether the focus in the book was on generic learning skills, or whether it was subject-specific.

Mr Higgins answered that although people had found the book very effective the foundation needed money in order to conduct proper research around this. The approach was a generic one which could be applied to all subjects. The foundation would like to see the book introduced at tertiary level too.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether teachers were currently being trained around different learning theories at universities.

Mr Makhubele asked about the cost of the book.

Mr Higgins answered that the price depended on the amount of books ordered.

The Chairperson asked whether this book should not also be targeted at a younger audience.

Mr Higgins answered that the foundation hoped to expand this to lower grades.

Projects Abroad Submission
Mr Lyndon Metembo, Social Justice Coordinator, Projects Abroad, said that his organisation had focussed on disadvantaged schools in the Western Cape when conducting its research. In addition to being under-resourced, these schools also experienced challenges with the funding system. Such challenges included the fact that schools added to the no-fee list could suffer significant drops in their level of funding, and that some schools with greater financial needs were in the same quintile as wealthier and better-resourced schools. In addition, a deficit in human capital had affected the quality of education provided, social ills such as gangsterism and substance abuse affected learners’ ability to learn, forced promotion of learners was problematic, and there was a lack of opportunities for learners who were technically inclined. Problems with the OBE system included the lack of standardisation of knowledge, the overwhelming administrative workload placed on teachers, unrealistic timeframes within which to teach content, and problems arising from inclusive learning. There was also a poor relationship between the Department of Education, schools and educators. This was shown in lack of respect for the teachers, a loss of faith in government and a breakdown in communication.

Projects Abroad recommended that educators needed to be consulted in matters related to education, and there was a need to improve the working relationship between the different levels within the education system. It also recommended either replacing or revising the OBE system, the need for constant re-training and personal development of teachers, the creation of technical schools, the re-introduction of sports and creative subjects, creating well-resourced libraries, securing learner safety in relation to gangs, and the introduction of an independent school inspectorate.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked how many schools had been interviewed and in which areas these schools were situated.

Mr Metembo answered that eight schools in Khayelitsha, Langa, Lavender Hill and Athlone were interviewed.

Mr Makhubele asked why Department of Education officials were not interviewed as part of the research.

Mr Metembo answered that this was not done owing to time constraints. This was, however, seen as a concern. 

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for more details around the re-introduction of creative subjects.

Mr Metembo answered that teachers had referred to the need for art classes. There were a number of NGOs willing to engage and work with schools in order to address this need.

The Chairperson asked whether it was not desirable to look at different models for skilling technically-minded learners for tertiary education and future employment.

Mr Metembo answered that there was indeed a need for more accommodating models.

The meeting was adjourned.



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