Quality of and access to Education: Further deliberations on public submissions

Basic Education

06 September 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued going through written submissions sent to it during the public hearings.
Many of the issues raised in the submissions had already been discussed by the Committee, as they dealt with the same subject matter raised in other submissions. In these cases, the Committee noted that the points had already been discussed, and would be noted in the Committee report, so there was not a need to discuss them in detail.

Swellendam Primary School had asked for the supply of textbooks to all schools to be expedited, for across-the-board support to be given to pupils who were exempted from school fees, and commented that class sizes were too large to allow for inclusive teaching. The Committee noted that there was already a move to inclusive teaching. Sandveld High School said that teachers required a standardised country-wide curriculum with specific implementation instructions. It asked for teachers to be teaching for seven hours a day, smaller classes, for school management teams to be taking appropriate managerial courses and for learners with special needs to attend schools specially designed, equipped and staffed for them. The Committee noted that issues around the curriculum were a general theme to be included in the Committee Report. They agreed that teaching for seven hours a day was a reasonable objective.

Goudrif High School asked for a general environment to be created for teaching, stressed the need for well-prepared educators and the importance of continuous assessment. These points had been discussed already. United Herzlia Schools said that English teachers lacked sufficient knowledge of the prescribed literature. A Member pointed out that there were spelling errors in some of the prescribed texts and would point this out in writing to the Department of Basic Education.
A submission from a concerned parent had asked for the incorporation of moral values into school programmes, smaller class sizes, reintroduction of corporal punishment, and suggested that volunteer assistance should be sought from willing and available members of the community and student teachers. Members agreed that there should be a whole range of support staff available to teachers, such as social workers and psychologists, and felt that use of volunteers would make education a more societal issue. Ms Sameeha Idas’ submission said that there was varying interpretation of assessment standards across schools, that teachers should be encouraged to return to higher education, called for refresher courses and a return to specialisation. The Committee discussed the effect of smaller classes on teachers and their development, noting that smaller classes would attract more people into the profession, and develop the education system. Although teachers were specialists already, they did not always teach in these areas, so the system was not effective.

Edenglen Primary said that the teacher allocation counts should exclude the principal and deputy principal, and that class sizes should not exceed 35. Members noted that if the principal, who may teach some classes but would not have his or her own class, were to be included in the teacher allocation, the class sizes would become larger. Clarity was needed on how the national norm was reached and how it was implemented. There was a need for a paradigm shift and compliance with the norms. Panorama Secondary School said that primary schools did not properly equip their Grade 7 learners for secondary school. Outcomes Based Education (OBE) caused many different problems. It recommended that junior phase teaching should be in mother-tongue. It also recommended that subsidised hostels should be built for schools catering for homeless children and orphans, as well as those who were currently being subsidised for very expensive transport to schools situated far from their homes. The Committee agreed that this was a valid point. Members noted that junior phase teaching was already done in mother-tongue, but emphasised the need for a smoother transition between junior and intermediate phases, and from mother-tongue to English instruction. Members were concerned at the tendency for the upper phases of the education system to blame the lower for inadequacies and stressed the need for assessment at the beginning of a year on the competency of learners.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE), briefed the Committee on the State of Readiness Report for 2010. It outlined what the report aimed to achieve, the progress of the Department’s policies, what had been identified, and set out the shortcomings. Significant strides had been made towards readiness for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations. However, there were concerns around readiness to administer the Annual National Assessment (ANA) in Grades 3, 6 and 9, and the readiness of learners to take the assessment. The administration of examinations in South Africa was efficient and clear, but moderations were struggling, and this would take time to fix. The methodology for compiling the reports was described, and the numbers of candidates for 2010, including repeat candidates, were set out and compared to previous years. An Integrated Examinations Computer System was in place. There were some difficulties around marking but there would be a focus on the quality of marking in 2010. There was also a focus on the need to keep both question papers and answer books secure. Although the public service strike had affected the monitoring of the state of readiness, there were some concerns that candidates who were not equipped to write the examinations had been registered. In Mpumalanga, the processes had run smoothly so far this year. Members asked about the criteria for selecting markers, what would be done to replace experienced markers leaving the system, and the impact of strikes on progress.


Meeting report

Quality of and access to Education: Further deliberations on public submissions
The Chairperson indicated that this meeting would continue to deliberate on the points raised before the Committee in response to the call for public submissions on the quality of and access to education.

She noted that the first submission on the agenda was Submission 67, from Swellendam Primary School (BAS.EDU 67). This submission asked for the supply of textbooks to all schools to be expedited, and for support to be given to pupils who were exempted from school fees on the same basis, whether the schools were those where school fees were generally payable, or in no-fee schools. The submission noted that class sizes were too large for inclusive teaching.

The Chairperson said the Committee had already dealt with the issues of inclusive teaching, and a fact sheet was being prepared to show how many schools dealt with various problems in each province. She said that education was moving towards more inclusive teaching, and remedial classes and assistance were necessary for children who could not  cope. The issue regarding support for pupils who were exempted from school fees in different schools was deemed irrelevant, as this procedure already existed.

Mr Dennis Bandi, Content Advisor: Parliament, said that Submission 68 was sent in by Sandveld High School (BAS.EDU 68). This submission said that teachers required a standardised country-wide curriculum, with specific implementation instructions. It also asked that teachers actually teach for seven hours a day, called for smaller classes, asked for school management teams to be taking appropriate managerial courses, and that learners with special needs could go to schools specially designed, equipped and staffed for them.

The Chairperson said that the issue of a standardised curriculum was a general, overarching theme that would be dealt with in the final Committee Report. A non-negotiable seven hours of teaching in class was seen as a generally acceptable objective. The smaller teacher-learner ratio had also already been thoroughly discussed by Members previously. The last issue regarding specific schools for learners with special needs was also discussed under inclusive teaching and education.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked about the training of the remedial teachers, and whether this was being offered in universities or places of higher education.

The Chairperson acknowledged the question and noted that there was a need to seek clarity on the issue.

Mr Bandi said submission 69, sent by Goudrif High School (BAS.EDU 69), raised the issues of creating a general environment for teaching, the need for well-prepared educators, the importance of continuous assessment, and how the discipline of a school contributed to the learning and teaching environment.

The Chairperson said that these issues had been discussed previously.

Mr Bandi said submission 70, sent by United Herzlia Schools (BAS.EDU 70) raised the problem of English language teachers lacking sufficient knowledge of the prescribed literature.

Mr Kganyago noted that there were spelling mistakes in some of the textbooks used.

The Chairperson asked Mr Kganyago to write a letter to point out the mistakes.

Mr Bandi said submission 71, sent by a concerned parent (BAS.EDU 71), suggested that there was a need to incorporate moral values into school programmes, called for smaller class sizes, the reintroduction of corporal punishment, the need to seek volunteer assistance from willing and available members of the community and student teachers, and for general interest in school problems and general support on a practical level.

The Chairperson said that issue of teacher support had been dealt with, when Members agreed that there should be a whole range of support staff available to teachers, such as social workers and psychologists. The issue of volunteer staff was well-received and encouraged, as it could make education more of a societal and community issue than a governmental and teaching issue, and this would feature in the final report.

Mr Bandi said that submission 72, by Sameeha Idas (BAS.EDU 72), raised the issues of varying interpretation of assessment standards across schools, the need to encourage teachers to return to higher education for refresher courses, and also called for smaller class sizes. She also said that there was a need to return to specialisation, and she highlighted values in education as the core of a school.

The Chairperson raised the issue of budget limitations compromising public schools in different areas, and the comparison of public and private schools, particularly with regard to class size and resources available. The Chairperson read an extract from Ms Idas’ submission, showing the value of smaller classes on teachers. This was seen as a critical issue, as smaller classes would attract more people into the profession, and would further develop teachers and the system, rather than just focusing on teachers’ issues with regard to salaries.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) said that she had understood that teachers already did specialise at the moment, and felt that this part of the submission had already been addressed.

Ms A Mda (COPE) said that the right to learn could never be replaced, and it was most important, but that consideration must be taken of both the teacher and learner environment.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) aligned himself with this submission. The issue of specialisation raised problems, because educators did not always teach their specialist subjects as a result of job losses, the new curriculum or other problems. It was fundamental that this issue must be addressed. The issue of teachers going back to colleges must be more specific.

The Chairperson said that while the issue of class size would feature in the report, the real issue was the need to reach national norms, not just for learners, but also for teachers.

Ms Mda said that teaching colleges had been closed and were not being used by the Department of Education. If they were reopened, they could be converted into training colleges or some other use connected to further education could be found for them.

The Chairperson felt that this was a debate for another time, and that it focused more on higher education than on basic education issues.

The Chairperson thought that it was important to focus on the importance of class size, rather than salaries or wages to teacher development.

Mr Bandi said that submission 73 by Edenglen Primary (BAS.EDU 73), raised the issues of the teacher allocation, excluding the principal and deputy principal, said that class sizes should not exceed 35, and called for introduction of learnerships and for the gazettes listing vacant posts to be produced regularly.

The Chairperson said that when dealing with the national norm and class sizes, the principal was often included in the count of teacher allocations, and that in fact this resulted in fewer teachers being available to the students, as the principal did not usually teach, but rather attended to management.

Ms Mushwana thought that principals must also teach at least one subject. They should set an example and therefore should be included in the allocation.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) said that even if the principals did teach, they should not be included in the allocation, as this would skew the ratios of learners in a class.

The Chairperson said that principals should not be included in the teacher allocation because they did not have their own class. If they were included, then the class sizes would become larger. The Committee could not make policy and then undermine it, so it should not attempt to have a national norm and then allow the principals to be included.

Ms Mushwana said that the issue did not affect the teacher-learner ratios, as only in the lowest grades did single teachers teach whole classes, rather than teachers using subject rotation.

The Chairperson said that if there was a policy that said there must only be 35 learners in a class, then one teacher would be allocated for each 35 learners. Therefore, regardless of subject rotation, if the principal is included, that norm would not be reached.

Mr Kganyago said that it is safer to exclude the principals, as there would be allocation problems if the principal was included. The issue of deputy principal was debatable, but since some schools did not have this post, the focus should be on the principal.

The Chairperson asked if Mr van den Heever could get somebody to the Committee the details of the national norms on the class size, and how they were being applied.

Ms Dudley said that the national norm should be considered the worst-case scenario. Therefore, the principal should be excluded if possible. If it was not seen as a worst-case scenario, then there would be a mindset that it was acceptable to be just over the national norm.

The Chairperson said that until everyone was compliant with the norm, it could not be labelled as either a best or worst-case scenario.

Ms Mushwana stated the need for a paradigm shift, and agreed that the submission was a good one.

Mr Bandi said that submission 74, by Panorama Secondary School (BAS.EDU 74), stated that primary schools were not equipping Grade 7 learners for secondary school, that Outcomes Based Education (OBE) required research but the textbooks lacked content, that learners often could not read or express themselves in the language of learning and teaching (LOLT), which led to problems in all subjects. The submission also recommended that visual literacy should be introduced. It also complained of lack of support from the Department of Education, highlighted that learners were tired by the time they arrived at school, having had to wake up very early to go to school, and had to use expensive transport. This submission recommended that a merit and psychometric testing should be re-introduced, and psychometric testing, for junior phase teaching to be in mother-tongue and for hostels to be built and subsidised.

The Chairperson said that this particularly school had been identified as a very rural school, attended by many orphans and homeless children, and it took a long time for transport to reach it. The idea of hostels for these children would be beneficial, as instead of government paying for their expensive transport, it could instead capitalise the money towards the building of hostels. This issue had already been raised with the respective Ministers, and a follow-up was expected.

Ms Mushwana and Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked for clarity about the recommendation for junior phase teaching to be in the mother-tongue, saying that this was already the case.

The Chairperson said that the submission could be referring to teaching up to the intermediate phase.

Mr Kganyago indicated his support for the submission, and agreeing with the problems of distance between homes and schools, adding that the media had shown children having to run long distances to reach their schools.

Ms Mushwana said that there was a common notion that each part of the education system tended to blame the previous part for the fact that learners were not ready or equipped. This should not happen.

The Chairperson encouraged Members to be in contact with the necessary people, if they felt strongly enough about the issues.

Ms Dudley said that the issue of teaching in mother-tongue referred to moving from this teaching to teaching in English.

The Chairperson said that English had already begun to be taught in the junior phases, and it was a good idea to support a better transition of mother-tongue to English, so that there was some degree of proficiency when the learners began to learn in English.

Mr Kganyago asked about psychometric testing and assessment, asking whether it should be more diagnostic so that teachers could identify weaknesses, rather than blaming previous schools or teachers.

The Chairperson said that such an assessment need not necessarily be psychometric, but that the previous assessment should be used at the beginning of a year.

Ms Mashishi said that individuals were not considered when teaching large numbers of students, as there would be a focus on the collective.

Mr Mpontshane said that secondary schools always tried to undermine primary schools as they blamed the primary schools for the fact that learners were not coping at secondary level. There was a need for cooperation between the two.

The Chairperson said that the issue was whether there should be a formal requirement at the beginning of a year to assess learners’ competency. She suggested that Mr Kganyago form a sub-committee to formulate a proposal for the Committee to discuss.

Department of Basic Education: State of Readiness Report
Dr Nkosi (S) Sishi, Chief Director: Measurement, Assessment and Examinations, Department of Basic Education, thanked the Committee for supporting the Department’s intervention in Mpumalanga. He would welcome future visits.

He outlined that the State of Readiness report was an annual report that showed the readiness of the Provincial Departments of Education (PDEs) to administer the 2010 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, the status of monitoring and moderation systems relating to School Based Assessment (SBA), the readiness to administer the Annual National Assessment (ANA) in Grades 3, 6 and 9, and the readiness of learners to take the assessment.

Dr Sishi said that the administration of examinations in South Africa was one of the best in the world in terms of efficiency and clarity in practices. The moderation systems relating to school based assessment were, however, struggling but this was a long-term process, which would take time to fix. The ANA provided much data for schools, and the Department of Basic Education (the Department or DBE) wanted to see how it was being administered.

Dr Sishi gave a brief breakdown of the methodology used to compile the report, and highlighted the complexity of the examination process. He set out the number of candidates who were enrolled for the NSC examinations in 2010, compared to the 2009 numbers, highlighting also those who were repeating the examinations (see attached presentation for full details). He explained the Integrated Examinations Computer System (IECS) which was in place, and the process regarding the preparation of question papers. He placed emphasis on the difficulty in managing the marking of the examinations after they had been written, but said that there would be a focus on the quality of marking in 2010. Emphasis was also placed on the importance of answer scripts being kept secure, and new technology would be used to manage the scripts. The process of releasing results was described. A release date was set for 6 January 2011, and he noted that a detailed analysis of results would be made available.

Dr Sishi said that the public service strike had affected the monitoring of the state of readiness, particularly in North West and the Northern Cape. The DBE was concerned that schools were filtering through candidates who were not ready to write the NSC examinations, either because they should not have progressed to Grade 12, or where they had a problem with subjects on offer. It also felt that several office storage facilities were inadequate throughout the country.

Dr Sishi was satisfied with the progress in Mpumalanga, as preliminary examinations were run smoothly, and was sure that the DBE would be able to let this province run the examinations itself in the future.

Dr Sishi then summarised the Department’s most serious concerns. These were the filtering of candidates in respect of progression to Grade 12, the need to focus on collection of answer books and on having adequate systems in place, and the need to ensure that all storage facilities are at an adequate standard. Security and moderation practices were also highlighted, while provinces were not utilising ANA. Whilst the Provincial Departments of Education had made significant strides towards readiness for the NSC examinations administratively, there were concerns that in regard to the ANA, learner preparation had been disrupted by the strikes, and learners were not ready.

Discussion
The Chairperson noted that the Committee was looking into the possibility of having a joint meeting with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Select Committee, to bring up the issues in the report, as well as calling the provinces to report to Parliament on the major issues. Visits to examination centres were also planned, but these would have to be carefully timed so that these were not held too early to allow problems still to arise after the visit, but also not so late that they would cause an interruption.

The Chairperson asked about the criteria used when selecting markers, and asked whether this was the National or Provincial department’s responsibility.

Dr Sishi said that there was a policy on this, and it could be made available. It included that the person must be teaching the subject, the number of years of experience required, qualifications in the subject, and experience of previous marking. However, some of the most qualified markers had also been identified as the worst markers. Money was also an issue, as schools did not always send the best markers.

Mr Mpontshane asked what would happen when experienced markers left the system.

Mr Mpontshane asked about Mpumalanga’s outstanding results.

Dr Sishi said that Mpumalanga’s results were handled by the province itself, but the Department of Basic Education had made itself available to support that province, and had improved communication between them.

Ms Mashishi asked about the effect of the strikes, and what would be done to ensure that these would not impact negatively on education.

Dr Sishi said that an announcement concerning the strike would be made shortly, detailing the Department’s recovery plan, to ensure smooth running of the system for the remainder of the year. There would be a willingness to use holiday time. A different approach would be taken on preliminary plans, and it would be systemic and wide-ranging.

Dr Sishi also commented on subject changes that occurred in the twelfth year of school, saying that there would be comprehensive recovery plans to help learners through this. He was optimistic about successes in 2010, provided that the advice contained in the reports was taken.

The meeting was adjourned.



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