ATC121122: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on the attendance of the 2012 Umalusi Conference on Standards in Education and Training, dated 20 November 2012

Basic Education

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on the attendance of the 2012 Umalusi Conference on Standards in Education and Training, dated 20 November 2012

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on the attendance of the 2012 Umalusi Conference on Standards in Education and Training, dated 20 November 2012

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, having participated in the 2012 Umalusi Conference on Standards in Education and Training, reports as follows:

1. Introduction

1.1 A delegation of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education participated in the 2012 Umalusi international conference held in Johannesburg from 10 to 12 May 2012, following an invitation from Umalusi. The theme of the conference was Standards in Education and Training: The challenge.

1.2 The conference followed a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training on 24 April 2012 which focused on the expectations from Higher Education and Training concerning the quality of learners produced by the schooling system. The debate on the quality of the learners produced and the challenges faced by Higher Education Institutions in accepting learners into these institutions had been in the public domain. The critical issue was the perceived gap between schooling and higher education and the standard of assessment. Amongst the key concerns was the quality of the National Senior Certificate with questions raised regarding qualifying candidates not displaying requisite knowledge and skills. In this context, the Committee took a decision to attend the conference in order to gain insight into contemporary debates and focal issues on educational standard setting and to strengthen its oversight role over these issues.

1.3 The delegation comprised the following members of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education: Hon H Malgas MP (ANC) (leader of the delegation), Hon N Gina MP (ANC) and Hon A Lovemore MP (DA).

1.4 Members of staff who formed part of the delegation were Mr D Bandi (Content Advisor) and Mr L Mahada (Parliamentary Researcher).

2. Overview of the conference

The conference focused on the central theme of Standards in Education and Training: The challenge and explored six sub-themes that converge around this theme. These were : setting standards for an unequal society; how quality assurance improves standards; the role of the curriculum in setting standards; how standards improve through practice; the role of assessment in ensuring standards; and language competency as a predictor of achievement.

The conference brought together national and international academics; government officials both at basic education and higher education and training levels; standardization bodies and practitioners (further education and training lecturers and other service providers of education and training programmes) to share ideas, perspectives and insights on issues and challenges on standards in the education system at large in order to build interventions towards ensuring quality education. In total, the conference attracted 304 participants from 13 countries, and 80 papers focusing on the conference theme were presented in parallel sessions over a period of three days.

The delegation of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education attended 27 presentations, three keynote addresses and two panel discussions. The summary and analysis to follow only focuses on the presentations that the delegation attended.

3. Summary and Analysis of Conference Presentations

Opening address

In his opening remarks to the conference, the Chairperson of the Umalusi Council, Professor S Mabizela, presented questions that highlighted problem statements that the conference delegates should engage with. The questions were:

· What do we mean by standards in education?

· What is the conception of standards in education?

· Do people really understand standards?

· How do people hold sensible topic debates on standards and contribute meaningfully?

· How do we talk of standards in context where infrastructure is not conducive to education; teachers are spending less time in the classroom than required; where teaching and learning materials arrive late if at all; where teachers have weak pedagogical knowledge; where the education system has weak accountability and professional standards; and where society is manifested at gross-disparities?

· Do people have real issues on standards or are there just assumptions?

Professor Mabizela indicated that the standards issue has become an emotive one and is subject to controversies. He warned on media reports that broadly call for standards to be raised as very subjective since the country is yet to have an inclusive debate on the issue of standards, hence a conference of this nature is necessary. It is the media reports of this nature that instead of adding value to the debate, create a lever that suggest “grade inflation” to the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination. Adding to the subjectivity call on standards is the fact that the reference point of the perceived fall of standards is the “ past ”. “People glorify the past”. They constantly say that “these learners cannot do what we did in our time” as if education is static. Where the past seems not to hold, teachers become the victims. He advised that while on the one hand, castigating and condemning teachers will not take the nation anywhere, on the other hand, teachers must also accept their own inadequacy and request assistance.

Therefore, a conference of this nature should debate the issue of standards, contextualizing it within the current realities which pose many challenges to both teachers and learners. Learner performance should be acknowledged within the socio-economic challenges of the country. However, The socio-economic challenges should not create a spirit of being comfortable with such realities and forget to move forward and achieve.

In conclusion, Professor Mabizela highlighted that the conference should therefore set a platform for robust and insightful debate that will give proper responses to the questions that had been raised around the issue of standards. This will assist to present a common understanding when evaluating standards in education.

On standards and standard bearers in South African education by Prof. J Jansen

This paper was a keynote address on the first day of the conference. It argued that the educational standards set in South Africa have neither been high nor equal. This was connoted from the point of view that South Africa has an unfortunate history of elitism and exclusion. The argument on low standards was premised in two-fold: political fear and lost opportunity to encourage learners to aim at higher standards.

The first premise indicated that the political heads of the country lowered the education standards to avoid embarrassment and this amounted to a political cover-up of the government’s failure to reverse certain legacies of the past, particularly in Mathematics and Science. As a result it brought significant number of failures; a dramatic fall of NSC learners; high discrepancies between enrolled and those who wrote examinations; an increase in numbers of Mathematics Literacy and a corresponding decrease in numbers of Mathematics enrolments.

The second premise suggested that the country must communicate the message that children of this country can rise to the occasion. The right message should show that South Africa and the education system believes in the children and does expect them to meet the high standards. The message of low expectations should not be given. The set standards in South Africa encourage students to take easier options. Learners and schools now opt for Mathematical Literacy because it is easier to pass than Mathematics. Professor Jansen indicated that a 30% pass is not challenging enough because it simply means that learners do not know 70% of the work. The paper then proposed a 50% minimum pass mark. The purpose of the 50% pass mark was to put forth to the learners and teachers a message that they can perform to high standards.

He argued that universities should not extend the mediocrity of the schooling system. For this reason, some universities use the National Benchmark Test (NBT) as criteria for selecting good prospective learners for admission. This is a sign that the public trust has been eroded in public schools. There is a need for the Department of Basic Education to note that it cannot fix standards of outcomes with what it failed to remedy with inputs and process standards. The main questions for the Department to reflect upon are: who are the standard bearers of education in South Africa and, in particular, who are the standard bearers for the education of poor children?

Upon deliberations and questions, conference participants warned on the 50% minimum pass mark as a symbolic gesture. What would the 50% minimum pass symbolize: knowledge attained or simply a pass mark? They indicated that there is a need for public discussion on what a 50% minimum pass mark means since the 50% of today can become 30% tomorrow. Further deliberations indicated that there is just too much testing in South Africa than teaching. Implications for raising the bar may not necessarily mean raising the standards because standards do not necessarily reflect a pass mark. Further, the standards in education are determined by the socio-economic conditions of the society and therefore one should be aware that certain requirements on standards affect society negatively.

There’s articulation and articulation – what makes for coherence in a national education and training system? Ms E Burroughs

The paper defined articulation as to “ say; speak distinctly; connect by joints ”. The paper indicated that the three concepts for defining articulation are required to articulate an education and training system. There is a need in the education system to create necessary connections within and across frameworks; to create flow and extension on coverage of qualifications; and to create seamless links of qualifications intended to achieve same objectives, for example, Kha Ri Gude and Adult Education and Training. When the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was introduced through the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) Act of 1995 after the 1994 democratic elections, the intent was to create a single, integrated framework for learning achievements in the South African education and training system. The focus for articulation on the learning achievements was on educational and workplace qualifications. However, the publication of the three sub-frameworks in 2009 by the minister of Higher Education and Training which compromised the National Qualifications Framework showed that “sufficient articulation is not yet achieved”.

The presentation examined the possibilities that exist for articulation at different levels in the NQF environment starting from level 1 up to the top level. The articulation was elusive since there were continuous and too many changes in the curriculum. This generated a poor understanding of the qualification. Underlying to the fact was that it seems the parameters of the qualifications and its performance were determined politically to raise access rather than educational imperatives. It is therefore advisable to stabilize the curriculum. The Green Paper envisages what it calls “high-level articulation”. The presenter cautioned that it may not be possible to reach the envisaged “high-level articulation” if curriculum issues are not resolved. Further, the paper argued that it must be taken into consideration that articulation serves somewhat different functions in Higher Education and General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Frameworks. This explains why Umalusi, the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and QCTO have roles to play in establishing the important links and articulation between schooling, higher education and work learning.

Language and academic achievement: Perspectives on the role of African (Home) Languages as a lingua academica in education Prof M. Madiba

The paper discussed the role of African (home) languages as academic languages in South African education. Noting a great ambivalence among parents, teachers, learners and government towards home languages, the paper argued that they form the foundation for the development of academic language which is critical for academic achievement and in attaining a high standard of education. In this regard, going straight into English as the teaching and learning medium or early transition to English disadvantages learners for whom English is not their first language. It is important that attention be given to learners’ development of a high proficiency in their home languages, particularly at an early stage. Another key discussion point was that a model for integrating African (home) languages was needed for their development as academic languages in the context of South Africa .

Language of teaching and achievement in Mathematics and Science Ms G Campbell and Dr F Adam

This paper presented some of the lessons drawn from an evaluation to explore the relationship between English language proficiency and achievement in Mathematics and Science at the FET level. In particular, the study sought to identify factors that act as barriers to raising learner achievement in English in relation to their achievement in these gateway subjects. The evaluation study focused on a project supported by Zenex to develop English competencies of teachers in the Dinaledi Schools Programme aimed at improving learner performance in Mathematics, Science and Technology.

The study suggests that the relationship between English language proficiency and achievement in Mathematics and Science is complex and context specific. In the context of the study, the paper raises issues related to professional development and training, teacher competence and its translation into outcomes at student level. It also discusses the challenge of implementing the policy of English as a language of teaching and learning amongst second language English teachers and learners and refers to the disjuncture between policies, on the one hand, and practices, on the other hand. Some of the factors that limit the raising of learner achievement in English in relation to their achievement in the gateway subjects of Mathematics and Science include that there is limited evidence of challenging work being given to learners. There is also limited learner conversation in English and an extensive/elaborate use of code switching. The study points to the need for interventions for language improvement to include all teachers.

From Public Adult Learning Centres to Community Education and Training Centres: An acronymic analysis Dr P Rule

The presentation interrogated the shift proposed in the Green Paper for Post-School Education and Training from Public Adult Learning Centres (PALCs) to Community Education and Training Centres (CETCs) for the provision of adult education. The paper started by noting the change in names of the adult learning system. The paper raised questions implied when such a name change occurs and whether it translates into changes in the system.

The paper juxtaposed PALC and CETC and noted that PALC was initially regarded as night schools; regarded as second chance schools; that mainly had a low throughput rate; that were weak; under resourced; had no connection with Kha Ri Gude mass literacy project; and with no clear pathways within those learning centres while the CETC is premised on economic discourse; addressing the socio-economic needs; focusing on out of school youth and adults; and regarded as an alternative institutional form of education. However, the paper noted that, regardless of the name change, there are still challenges associated with “purpose”, “location” and “participants”. What PALC failed to achieve is not addressed in the new CETC, therefore changing acronyms will not change reality. The paper advised that more research is needed; there is a need for newly-established education rather than a new name; there is a need to create new institutional identity rather than a name change; and that there is a need for community engagement and care which must be taken up to avoid a repetition of past failures.

What are standards and how are they set and maintained over time? Prof. J Barnard

The paper argued that setting and maintaining standards is important in assessment. It indicated that standard setting can be divided into two main types: test-based (item-centred) and Person -based (candidate centred). While using the norm referenced [1] (acquisition of skills and knowledge) and criterion referenced [2] (completion of curriculum) approaches, it argued that assessment should look at both progression and knowledge and skills. The paper argued that when questions are set, cognizance must be taken to balance the skills acquisition and curriculum coverage. When a learner gets a 30% or 50% pass or certificate, it should not just be based on getting the questions in the examination right but also on the knowledge and skills needed to be mastered upon progression either in studies or in life. It further argued that in standard setting, there is a need for linking and equating progression with knowledge.

IsiZulu as a First Additional Language choice in secondary schools in KwaZulu-Natal : Signs of a language in regression Prof. N Turner

The paper argues that despite the fact that many primary schools in Kwazulu-Natal offer isiZulu as a subject, the implementation needs serious revision and intensification, in order for it to be sustained and continued successfully into secondary school. The paper drew attention to the fact that there are drastically lower numbers of learners of the population whom English is their first language who are writing isiZulu as a second language in KwaZulu-Natal at Grade 12 level, compared to those who choose Afrikaans. The paper explored the reasons why this situation still exists despite government’s expressed commitment to promote indigenous languages. It finds that the attitude of learners, parents, Model C and private schools contribute significantly towards the low number of learners opting to study isiZulu as a second language.

Perceptions of student teachers on the quality of teacher education programmes in South African Universities Dr J Mutemeri

This paper presented findings of a qualitative research study that examined perceptions of student teachers on the quality of teacher education programmes in South African universities. The study reveals that student teachers are dissatisfied with the lecture method; the link between theory and practice where what is taught is often quite opposite from happens in class; and, teaching practice supervision. Quality teacher education remains elusive. Student teachers do not feel like they are taught effectively how to teach. They are not exposed to excellent teachers during their training. Many lecturers have never been in the classroom. The study recommends the infusion of microteaching sessions during lectures, longer teaching practice slots as well as having a closer link with schools that host student teachers during teaching practice.

Mathematical Literacy test items and student errors: Investigating linguistic complexity Ms P Vale

The paper argued that all sources and processes of learning are contextualized in language. This includes the learning and testing of Mathematical Literacy. The paper acknowledges that Mathematical Literacy as a subject was introduced with the vision that students will become capable of “managing situations and solving problems in everyday life, work, societal and lifelong learning contexts by making use of mathematical concepts”. However, the lifelong learning context is tested through a written final examination and therefore this introduces assessments that inculcate the use of language. While Mathematical Literacy has its own concepts, the possible perplexing variable of language proficiency, specifically the skills of reading and writing, makes writing the assessment more challenging. This is because Mathematical Literacy examination requires the processing of text as well as the interpretation of multi-modal information presented in symbolic notation, diagrams, graphs, and tables and contextualized in language. The paper concludes that due to language challenges experienced by the second language learner, what is cognitively undemanding to an English native speaker is more demanding for a second language learner and may have a negative impact on the performance of the learner.

Enhancing quality and setting standards through assessment – curriculum imperatives T van Rooy

This paper presented a conceptual framework on how assessment can act as a quality assurance mechanism to enhance the overall experience for learners. It drew on examples from various policies and initiatives undertaken in the area of valid assessment. It also looked critically at specific institutional processes, and at how the quality of teaching and learning is enhanced through quality assured assessment. In particular, the paper examines critical issues in outcomes-based assessment and their role in enhancing educational standards. It calls for considerable effort to be put into assuring the design of valid and reliable assessment practices that can be transferred to the imperatives of enhancing teaching and learning. These include through the consideration of taxonomies of learning and critical variables such as the choice of assessment tasks, the reinforcement of formative and summative assessment, the provision of feedback, reflection and the use of self and peer assessments.

Setting standards and teachers’ professional development: Unpacking collective learning Dr V Scherman; Ms L Zimmerman; Prof. R Bosker; Prof. S Howie

The argument of this paper hinged on the fact that in South Africa the exercise of setting standards does not involve teachers. Therefore teachers are left with no clear understanding of what the standard is and how it was arrived at. The same teachers, who are left out of the exercise, are held accountable if learners do not meet the prescribed standards. The paper then presented that the standard setting exercise contributes to teacher professional development in terms of how assessment practices are approached and how standards are articulated for reporting purposes. Using the South African Monitoring system for Primary Schools (SAMP) as the guideline methodology, the study concluded that involving teachers in standards setting can improve their classroom judgments in the teaching profession and assist in their professional development.

Strengthening Foundation Phase teacher education through mentoring Dr K Dixon; Dr L Excell; Ms V Linington

The paper presented mentoring as an effective form of strengthening professional and knowledge development in the foundation phase educators. The study depended on literature review and a multidimensional mentorship programme between lecturers from the Foundation Phase at the Wits School of Education and four Master’s students from the University of Limpopo . The findings were that mentoring is crucial for professional development of Foundation Phase teachers.

Vocational education: What should the focus be? Dr Jeanne Gamble; Professor Peliwe Lolwana and Professor Volker Wedekind

This topic was addressed through a panel discussion. Upon setting the scene, Dr Gamble chose to speak about the power of vocational education in South Africa . To address the topic she thematically divided her presentation to address: institution; qualification; curriculum; and lecturer development. Her argument was that the future of vocational education in the country heavily relies on colleges. The paralysis was whether colleges should be incorporated into higher education stream (convergence) or be on their own (differentiation). Those who favour convergence believe that it will increase access to higher education learning; ensure multiplied entry; and will respond to labour market demands, while those in favour of differentiation argued that academic and vocational shifts should be separated. There are many variables to the inclusion of Further Education and Training (FET) colleges to higher education. Colleges would then be expected to move away from the applied education mission to research and knowledge generation, which will defeat the sole purpose of FET colleges to focus on skills development.

Professor Lolwana highlighted that in vocational education, adult education is equally important in South Africa where there are few employment opportunities, with more students completing their schooling qualifications with fewer opportunities. It must show clear differentiation in the post schooling system in its institutions; classes; and programmes. Adult education should assist in providing vocational and occupational education in order to impart knowledge and practical/workshop or real work experience.

Lastly, Professor Wedekind highlighted about the issue of the qualifications of the college lecturers being a catalyst to vocational education. He lamented that the current situation in terms of qualifications of college lecturers show a huge gap in vocational training. 33 per cent have no industry qualifications, 44 per cent have no prior work experience and 40 per cent teach fundamental subjects. Furthermore current lecturers are dazed and confused since they lack the understanding of policy that guides FET colleges, the curriculum that is not clear and the lecturer identity is being tossed between artisanship and academia.

Equivalence: creating pathways or reinforcing inequity? Ms C Marock

One of the objectives of the Green paper of the Department of Higher Education and Training is to address the imperatives underpinning equivalence. Equivalence envisages having a single integrated National Qualification Framework (NQF) in order to peg qualifications on the same level across the framework equivalent so that there will be an understanding of their relationship to one another. The challenge is that South Africa has many qualifications whose meaning is not necessarily understood and putting them on the same level will prompt many challenges. The focus of this paper was occupational and trade qualifications and their related challenges (including curricula, assessment and quality assurance). Putting occupational and trade qualifications at the same level for the sake of equity is not an easy and manageable task. The concern was that many years after the Skills Development Act; programmes against many of the occupational and trade related qualifications on the NQF do not enable the learner to undertake the trade test and therefore they may not be equivalent. This gave pressure to the FET college system to reintroduce the N-programmes, leading to the uncertainty about the role of the National Certificate Vocational (NC (V)).

The above puts more questions on the equivalence in the pathways of the occupational and trade courses. While trying to reinforce the equivalence, the system is continually confronted with the realities of inequity and technical challenges including the absence of a national curriculum that guarantees consistent standard; the lack of suitable descriptors to determine equivalence; complexities of the relationship between providers of these programmes; the lack of support from workplaces and the uneven role played by quality assurance bodies that have been located within SETAs. Therefore debating equivalence in these qualifications creates false expectations on equivalence and puts forward an obsession with credits which is not helpful in workplace learning. The presenter warned that arguments for equity should not be similar with arguments for equivalence. Qualifications might have equivalence in terms of the NQF but they definitely are not the same and have a different knowledge construction.

The One Research Task Project: Improving quality and standards in schools Ms E Nel

This paper reported on the Independent Examinations Board (IEB)’s One Research Task Project (ORTP) initiated in 2011 to streamline research projects learners undertake as part of the School-Based Assessment (SBA). The IEB observed that the SBA requirements of many subjects in the National Senior Certificate call for the necessity to conduct research. Based on the concern that learners may have to submit up to five research projects depending on their subject choice and that the standards for these projects vary from subject to subject, the ORTP was initiated to “address the overload imposed on learners by many time-consuming research projects; to address the over-assessment resulting from the number of research projects required; and to deepen and improve learners’ understanding of the academic research process”. As part of the methodology, a representative sample of 21 schools and 1 182 learners participated in the project in 2011.

Preliminary findings reveal inter alia that the ORTP does enable learners to understand the research process more effectively; it does reduce overload and repetition of work for learners; several teachers feel that because fewer learners are doing a Research Task in each subject, this gives them the opportunity to provide more individual attention and meaningful support. The paper discussed how preliminary findings will be informing future practice.

The nature and purpose of vocational qualifications within the General and Further Education and Training Qualifications Framework: A comparison of the NC (V) and the N-Courses Mrs H Matshoba

The paper is based on the studies that Umalusi has been conducting since 2010. The studies compared the N-courses and the NC (V) qualification through a comparison of the subjects offered in these qualifications. In 2006, the Minister of Education promulgated a policy on the offering of the NC (V) courses as a general vocational qualification that offers learners a combination of theory and practice in simulated environments. But at present, the N-courses are again offered alongside the NC (V) courses. The paper argued that the two qualifications are indeed different and doing away with the one may deny a certain group of people the right to education. Upon comparison, the findings were that the N-courses were designed as post-school qualification for older learners, often those who have been taken up in work places, while the NC (V) was designed mainly for adolescent learners in the 16 – 19 age groups. Finally, the findings revealed that there are major differences between these two qualifications in terms of syllabus; duration of studies and the nature and duration of the practical component.

Measuring progress in national TVET system development across diversity within the SADC region Dr R Lugg

Recent discourses emphasize that Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has value in economic growth, poverty alleviation, and youth employment. In spite of the importance of TVET in development and reform, major concerns remain regarding the state of reform initiatives of TVET. The paper argued that reforms are failing because initiatives are weakened by the methodological challenges and weaknesses. This was visible in the indicators set to assess the national TVET system across the 13 SADC member states. Other challenges were visible during the piloting of the TVET system where it was only piloted through consultancy. The lessons learned in the process show that there is a need to have a common definition of TVET in those states to replace the varied definitions of TVET; there are weaknesses in the learning of TVET; there is a need for new descriptors of what TVET is; a need to create a new toolkit for guidelines to the learning of TVET; a need to accept that TVET learning differs due to the nature of the economy of the particular country and whether it was affected by conflict.

Failure to launch in the Foundation Phase: Matching literacy accomplishment with curriculum, practice and standards Prof. E Pretorius

This paper presented findings on the analysis of the isiZulu and English reading literacy skills of a Grade 4 cohort of learners after three years of schooling in their home language. The study reveals low reading levels in both languages, in decoding and comprehension, suggesting a mismatch in the curriculum, perceived teacher standards, implied national standards, language policy and literacy accomplishment. It suggests that one of the main reasons for the poor results in schools that have African languages as the Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) lies in the misattribution of determinants of success in formal schooling. The paper concludes by proposing a framework for literacy development to help align the curriculum, classroom practice and standards in an unequal society. This foregrounds access to books, daily opportunities to read, motivation to read, teachers who are knowledgeable about reading as well as explicit code instruction and reading of extended texts and reading strategies.

Possibilities for professionalization of college lecturers in South Africa Dr M Allais

Currently, there seems to be little imagination for the building of a strong professional core of educators beyond the model of teacher training currently offered for school teachers. This leaves a major gap in the provision for educators to be suitably qualified to be college lecturers in South Africa . This eventually has a strong bearing on the qualifications [3] , knowledge base [4] , and professionalism [5] of college lecturers. The paper therefore argues that the nexus between qualifications and the impact in the classroom is very crucial. While analyzing the current policies for educator development and qualifications in the context of the material and organizational conditions of college lecturers’ work, the findings were that the current policies did not display an accurate analysis of the work and practice of lecturers and therefore the possibilities of the professionalization of college lecturers may remain elusive.

“Look for the flag”: Misunderstanding as manifested in instructional communication Ms L De Jager

This paper reported on findings of a study that explored the extent to which misunderstanding in instructional communication is a result of English second language speakers’ oral proficiency. As part of the methodology of the study, data was collected of authentic lessons presented by 26 pre-service teachers in the classroom, specifically those teaching English as a second language and/or those teaching their subjects through the medium of English (LoLT). Key findings of this qualitative study showed that the reasons for misunderstanding were poor oral proficiency, poor communication skills and inadequate speech act realization patterns as well as methodological factors such as poor instructional skills and inadequate content/subject knowledge. Based on the findings, the paper proposes greater attention in teacher education programmes to the development of oral proficiency in English as a second language, as well as English as the language of learning and teaching. It also recommends a stronger focus on developing the required methodological skills for effective teaching and learning.

On sustainable learning environments and standards in Further Education and Training colleges Prof. S Mahlomaholo

On the premise that many learners who obtained either Bachelor’s degree or Diploma entry pass at Grade 12 National Senior Certificate (NSC) refuse to be drawn into FET colleges to ‘further’ their studies; the paper argued that the FET colleges in their current form do not add value to educational aspirations and opportunities to South Africans, as intended. Though there is denial of this, in essence, FET colleges are failing to exert as an alternative stream to education and tend to be viewed as a second chance education option.

Enhancing the TVET assessment standard through quality assurance in assessment and certification process Dr O Aworanti

The paper assesses areas that can assist to enhance the technical and vocational assessment standards in the Nigerian post primary schooling. The main focus was on industry, technical colleges and universities, particularly focusing on pre-accreditation; accreditation; monitoring and collecting and record keeping systems and how they influence quality in the assessment and certification of skills. The findings revealed that in many institutions offering technical and vocational education in Nigeria , syllabus coverage is a challenge; wrong textbooks are used if at all; there are not enough laboratories; teachers are of poor quality; there is weak teaching methodology; and little or no involvement of stakeholders. While analyzing the responses from a questionnaire sent to technical teachers and examination officers in the TVET institutions, the findings revealed that in order to ascertain and enhance the assessment standard in the TVET system, there is a need to exert greater effort in the capacity building of technical teachers and examination personnel. Teachers are important role players in the process of ensuring standards, but if they are not equipped or are not part of standard setting, the TVET system may remain compromised.

The challenge of attaining meaningful assessment Dr F Shaw

This paper discussed meaningful assessment and reflected on its evaluation. Key discussion points included firstly, that good assessment requires systematic planning to ensure the understanding and interpretation of results ; secondly, that it should reflect the basic curriculum, as well as its application in the classroom, thirdly, that assessment tasks should be characterized by a hierarchy of complexity to enable scores to reflect increased competency. The paper noted four possible levels of complexity on which assessment tasks could be analysed, namely, recall, application, advanced (integrated) and heuristic. The paper also noted that the evaluation of an assessment is designed to report both the strengths and weaknesses of the assessment tasks.

Breadth or depth: What should SETA Sector Skills Plans (SSPs) communicate? A critical review of four Sector Skills Plans Mr S Ngcwangu

During the years 2010/11 the four Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) developed the Sector Skills Plans (SSPs). The shortfall occurred when the SETAs developed the SSPs that were exclusively dependent on the quantitative data to determine skills supply and demand, without effectively considering qualitative factors that influence skills development. The dependence on one methodology has the potential of reflecting narrow and skewed needs of industry and of broader society. The paper argued that the anticipation was that the Green Paper of the Department of Higher Education and Training and the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS III) released in 2011 would provide the framework that would assist communicating what the SSPs should communicate. The findings in this paper were that these SSPs are mainly fragmented and do not effectively provide an understanding of the actual status of skills requirements in the various sectors.

It is not so much what you report that matters, but how you report it – the dilemma of Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy Ms A Oberholzer

This paper discussed the shift of learners from doing Mathematics to Mathematical Literacy in Grade 12, its reasons, and proposed and discussed some systematic alternatives to address the challenge. The paper argued that the reasons for the shift, while compelling are not always educationally sound, with several learners writing Mathematical Literacy whilst they are actually capable of writing and passing Mathematics, which is essential for economic growth. Amongst others, the paper identifies processes that actively discourage learners from studying mathematics. These are that the mathematics curriculum does not accommodate the range of needs of learners adequately compared to other curricula in some countries; the pressure to improve the Grade 12 pass rate and the University entrance requirements.

Inequality of access to resources in previously disadvantaged South African high schools Dr M Sedibe

This paper reflected on findings of a qualitative research examining the availability and equality of resources in previously disadvantaged South African schools. Grade 12 learners and their teachers from three high schools in the North West province were interviewed. The findings showed that access to education is still not equal and remains a major educational problem and challenge despite the South African Constitution stating that everyone has the right to basic education. The paper identifies problems with regard to access to resources such as Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) and classrooms and concludes by making recommendations about possible ways of addressing the problem of inequality of access to resources.

Improving the standard of school level education in South Africa Professor Crain; Soudien; Professor Brian; O’Connell Professor; Sarah Howie and Professor Renuka Vithal

This paper was a second panel discussion that focused on improving the standard of school education in South Africa . The four speakers gave contextualizing comments on the areas to be covered.

Professor Soudien indicated that countries are failing with quality tests simply because they do not understand what quality means and what it should cover. He gave an example that in the United States quality is about Universalism [6] and Secularization [7] while in other countries quality is compromised by access. What one should note however is that regardless of the attachment countries have to the definition of quality, there is a global consensus on what counts. Of importance is to acquaint quality to standards. Further, there should be standardization and equalization between inputs and outputs. While we expect quality and high standards as the output, we should also give quality inputs and resources. What then do standards mean in South Africa ? What will quality thus mean in South Africa ? Does it mean passing a grade or does it mean being skilled? To get informed progressive answers, South Africa should look at Finland , Singapore , Taiwan and Canada as models.

Professor O’Connell presented a problem statement that, quality should not only be normative [8] and operational [9] but should also be about culture and knowledge. The main proposition that the paper makes is that knowledge matters. In South Africa standard does not cover the knowledge component and is not founded on the prescripts of culture. What is erroneous is that on quality education decision making, there is no national education discourse on matters to consider and prioritize; teacher education is not a priority; there is little state management of schools; there is weak provincial competence in the management of schools; there is no entrenched policy of evaluation; there is an absence of community development (a powerful community can develop schools); teacher unions have too much power with no strong professional sense; and major curriculum changes are made with no proper orientation of teachers.

Professor Vithal argued that Mathematics education is very important in bringing knowledge and skills for the 21 st century; distributing education and life skills possibilities; and functions to stratify society. Mathematics is a gateway subject; however, it has turned out to be a gate keeper for many learners in South Africa . Upon narrating a story of inequality and education provided to a poor and a rich child, Professor Vithal noted that education in South Africa advantages some learners while disadvantaging others. The question she posed was: when we talk of standards in South Africa , which learner do we have in mind, the poor child or the rich child? In essence, poverty in South Africa is still a determinant in standards and quality. She argued that the best way to disrupt poverty in standards and quality is to address the challenges concerning the curriculum; teachers; and assessment.

Curriculum needs stability. In South Africa almost every minister has initiated curriculum reform, yet it takes a much longer period for the curriculum to stabilise . Teachers and the education system need stability to deliver the curriculum. Time is needed to support and guide the delivery of a new curriculum. There is a need for thorough preparation of teachers. Teachers are drivers of standards and quality. We need to understand the type of teacher the system has in the rural and urban areas and the kind of support they need. Teachers need to be confident and competent with the new curriculum. The large cohort of teachers in the classroom has Mathematics at a diploma level. Many teachers were able to teach the standard grade qualification and now are expected to teach Mathematics in the new system and there was no systematic effort made to enhance their knowledge of the new curriculum. Lastly, language is significant in the performance of learners.

Professor Howie presented on the standards and quality of education in South Africa and the role of international comparative studies. She premised her presentation on two questions: what is meant by standards and quality and what should standards be in South Africa . Standards drive quality but they are relative; they change with time and are shaped by relevance and context while quality is about excellence and fitness for purpose. What then should the standard of education in the 21 st century be? Education in the 21 st century should deliver skills; knowledge; attitudes, values and ethics. It must deliver what society wants children to become and all this depends on the curriculum, how it is interpreted and taught in the classroom and what children eventually learn in the process. While learners in South Africa show that they are four years behind with international learners, debate on standards in South Africa remains largely political. It evokes questions as to whom education should be accountable and what form accountability should take? The conclusion the paper drew was that standards are arbitrary (random, uniformed and subjective) and remain unresolved. However the education system in South Africa should acknowledge the role of international studies because it: assists in monitoring the implementation of national and local standards; identifies factors that affect the performance of learners at schools; allows comparison of performance; increases expectations; contributes to capacity development in the field and serves to enlighten.

Language, Literacy and the needs of the multilingual child Prof. C Snow

The paper argued that language is a major medium for education. It is a tool for learning that also determines the outcome of education. It is used for the acquisition of knowledge because it is a medium of instruction to teaching and learning. Language is used to define content and skills to be acquired. It is therefore important that opportunities for multilingual learning must be provided. The paper also emphasized the importance of building a rich knowledge base in any language from the earliest years of life.

4. Key Issues Emanating from the Conference

The papers presented and summarised above, raised critical issues pertaining to setting standards for unequal society; how quality assurance improves standards; the role of the curriculum in setting standards; how standards improve through practice; the role of assessment in ensuring standards; language competency as a predictor of achievement, as well as other issues that have bearing in the broader educational outcomes. These included the following:

· The basic challenge that South Africa suffers from is the deficiencies in adequately prepared teachers, particularly well-trained Mathematics teachers. This was made by the slight disruption of the teacher supply due to the shift of teacher education from colleges of education to universities. This is further coupled by the lack or gap in the pedagogy teachers possess. It is therefore important to create or bring innovative ways of teacher development that will respond in both redressing the inefficient teacher training most teachers received during the apartheid era and to respond to the pedagogy gaps teachers are faced with. Some papers insinuated a sharp criticism of teacher development and in-service training since many teachers still have pedagogical gaps. The teacher knowledge of Mathematics content and pedagogical knowledge leaves much to be desired.

· The teaching profession in South Africa is highly unionised and this has an impact to the educational landscape. The argument was that the expression of teacher unionism has a potential to constraint government to pursue its policy objectives of improving broader educational outcome.

· The South African education system does not have routine and uniform predictability. One cannot tell when the school day starts and when it ends. One cannot tell or even predict what schools will be doing on a particular day of teaching and learning. There is a need to streamline time, day activities and a general routine in schools.

· The human development indices of the country still shape the access and quality of education children receive and achieve in the country. This is because of the large gap between the rich and the poor which translates into South Africa being a country of an unequal society and characterized by challenging socio-economic conditions which also have an influence in the access and quality of education in the country. In essence, poverty is still a determinant in standard and quality achievement.

· South Africa has the problem of concentrating mainly on injecting financial resources in education provision with few returns on such investment. Other resources such as teachers, textbooks, and classrooms are not adequately provided, particularly in rural areas. There should be standardization between inputs and outputs.

· Curriculum changes and refinements must happen, but in a thoughtful manner. Further, the curriculum should be given space to settle before any changes are envisaged. South Africa has seen almost every Minister coming in with either a total change or a refinement to the curriculum.

· South Africa is heading towards a tendency of whipping teachers and expecting much from them while the support given is inadequate . As much as the country expects 100% from teachers, it must invest in them.

· Teacher professionalism and accountability remain a challenge.

· The role of language in achieving quality cannot be over-emphasised. Language is a major medium for education. Language competence is the predictor of academic excellence and it affects all aspects of education and training. It is important that learners develop a high proficiency in their home languages, particularly at an early stage. This has implications for teacher preparation .

· Assessment is not always a way of ensuring sound achievement, so the culture of continually testing learners should not take the place of actual teaching in the classroom.

· Good assessment requires systemic planning to ensure understanding and interpretation of results. Several papers drew from established literature and emphasised the need to consider a hierarchy of complexity when designing assessment standards.

· South Africa should move towards motivating and sending a message to teachers and learners that they can perform and achieve high standards.

· Schooling should be about progression, knowledge and skills acquisition. There should be a balance between skills acquisition and curriculum coverage.

· The process of standard setting should involve teachers because it contributes to teacher professional development.

· Mentoring plays a significant role in strengthening professional and knowledge development in foundation phase educators.

· Adult education can also be used to provide vocational and occupational education.

· There is a need to build a strong professional core that caters for college lecturers.

· FET colleges in their current form do not add value to the educational aspirations and opportunities of South Africans.

· There is a greater need for capacity building of technical school and college teachers.

· The way Sector Skills Plans are developed is mainly fragmented and does not effectively provide an understanding of the actual status of skills requirements in the various sectors.

· There is a need for stability in the South African education system given that curriculum reform takes time to stabilize.

5. Implications for Parliament

· There are still challenges in the outcomes of the basic education system and these are mainly caused by the highly prevalent inequality in society and some systematic challenges. This suggests that Parliament has to play an active role in further processing legislation and intensifying oversight that gears to addressing inequality and poverty. Other challenges raised show some policy gaps that exist in the basic education system and particularly in the FET sector and in technical and vocational education.

· Parliament needs to continue the debate and discuss with the Department of Basic Education, universities and quality assurance bodies on the quality of learners produced by the schooling system.

· As indicated above, the core base that has a major influence in compromising standards in South Africa is poverty and inequality. In this regard, Parliament needs to continuously engage the Department of Basic Education on inter-departmental and intergovernmental relations, particularly with departments and spheres of government that are at the heart of addressing poverty related challenges. Further, they need to monitor the implementation of the policies that seek to redress inequality and poverty.

· Parliament should look at whether there is some kind of prejudice to learners who are learning and being taught in a language other than their mother tongue in all subjects.

· Education human resources, professional development, and accountability are crucial for effective teaching; there is a need to look at the implementation of policies relating to staffing, teacher development and accountability.

· The lack of learner teacher support material (LTSM) proves to compromise achievement of learners, there is therefore a need to continually monitor the provision of LTSM in schools.

There are other issues that could be of importance for further engagement by the PC on Higher Education and Training since they are specific to the FET college sector. They are:

· To investigate the real impact that will be brought about by the changing of the Public Adult Learning Centres to Community Education and Training Colleges .

· Expanding the provision of vocational and occupational education to Public Adult Learning Centres for diversity of skills needs and for differentiation purposes.

· Over-academisation of Further Education and Training Colleges which will defeat the sole purpose of FET Colleges of skills development.

· Professionalization of FET lecturers to take cognisance of the nature of what it means to teach in a college sector.

· The reliability of the Sector Skills Plans of the Sector Education and Training Authorities in informing the skills development in the country. There is a need for the Higher Education and Training Portfolio Committee to check as to what really takes place in the development of the SSPs and whether they are responding to the needs of the country.

[1] Norm referenced tests may measure the acquisition of skills and knowledge from multiple sources such as notes, texts and syllabi.

[2] Criterion referenced tests can be used to determine if the test taker has met the programme objectives and it measures performance on specific concepts and these tests can also be used to determine if curriculum goals have been met.

[3] There are no institutions that train teachers for vocational teaching. Most are mainly artisans who do not have a formal teaching qualification.

[4] On knowledge base the paper refers to the vocational pedagogy and the development of the subject base of various subjects taught at FET colleges.

[5] On professionalism the paper alludes to formal teacher training programmes for college lecturers, exclusive jurisdiction for the lecturers, specialized work they should do, and regulating their qualifications.

[6] Education should be inclusive and accessible to all.

[7] Use education in the process of organizing society or aspects of social life.

[8] Quality should not only be about conforming to an ideal standard or envisaged model.

[9] Quality should not only be about conforming to an application of policies.


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