End of Year Information links Palestine and Personal

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Hi There,

Thought I’d send out some links to my current interests. I’m very worried about the American Government recognize that Jerusalem is part of Israel, am very interested in current articles regarding the Balfour  Declaration which is now 100 years old and was very affected by a BBC Radio 4 Podcast from 26 November about Parkinson’s Disease to  which I listened with a dear friend who lives with it yesterday.  Links are:                              * The New York Times: A Wary Response, So Far, on Trump’s Expected Declaration on Jerusalem. A Wary Response, So Far, on Trump’s Expected Recognition of Jerusalem    * Tonight BBC Radio 4 at 8pm has a program titled Balfour’s Promised Land                  * The Guardian View on Israel and Palestine: escape the past I Editorial https:// http://www.the guardian.com/comment is free/2017/nov/1/the -guardian-view-on-israel-and-palestine-escape-the-past? CMP=share_btn_wa                                                                               * BBC Radio 4 Podcast The Art of Living 430pm 26 November 2017.

Best Wishes to All,

Steve.

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Initial Post Election feelings

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Hi There,

What an exciting election it’s been hasn’t it and feel pleased that my gut sense that Labour would do well was justified by the results ? The Labour Party’s positive  campaign worked with voters to have it a significant increase in MP’s, collapsing the Theresa May’s wish to increase it’s majority. While I agree that Labour lost the election the Conservative alliance with the Northern Ireland is ill-considered with their leader facing possible Fraud charges and the Assembly deadlocked, causing problems with Sin Fein. Newspapers which very strongly supported the Conservative campaign like the Mail and Sun are now critical of Theresa May, suggesting she may have to resign and Conservative Party MP’s are restive which makes the new Government with it’s alliances very unstable. I very much support the Labour Partly and Jeremy Corbin’s wish to form a Government. Any views?

I saw a very interesting documentary film this week at the Bloomsbury Curzon called ‘Disturbing the Peace’ about a Palestinian-Israeli Political Group called Combatants for Peace. I’d recommend it as a must see if you have independent Cinemas near you. In London I think its showing until next Thursday.

Best wishes to all, In hope of better times,

Steve.

 

Election Fever

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Hi There,

Thought my days of blogging were over until this week and tonight. What’s made me feel like this is the quiet election process as the Labour Party started to make gains despite most of the Establishment, Press and Media attacking their policies. What I think is important is that there’s now a choice for voters between potential right and left wing Governments, offering different options for the country. I’m pleased that the Labour Party has been able to present a credible Manifesto alongside the Conservative Party’s equivalent which was deeply flawed. What’s emerging is that Theresa May’s ruthless decision to call an unnecessary election because she thought the Conservative Party would win it with a massive majority  is now working against her Party. Suddenly the Newspapers and TV Channels are realizing that their assumption the Conservative Party will win may not be credible so their election coverage has become more balanced.

Theresa May’s description of herself as ‘Strong and Steady’ has been challenged and one of her Ministers was asked this week whether she’s not ‘Strong and Steady’ but ‘Weak and Wobbly.’ Her tactic to avoid voters unless they’ve been carefully chosen and not taking part in a Leaders Debate has been shown to be ill-considered. It’s clear from the Campaign that Mrs May isn’t consulting with her Cabinet. As her credibility is questioned by Conservatives MP’s and Party members  having her as their election focus rather than the Party is losing their and other voters support. The Conservative Manifesto is ill considered.

Theresa May has changed her opinion on the Manifesto pledge for what is called the ‘Dementia  tax’ to include a Cap. What makes it worse is that she hasn’t admitted her error and hapless Cabinet members have been presented to the Press to defend her which doesn’t reflect well on her. In trying to portray herself as powerful Mrs May has confronted the EU Leadership which will make negotiating Brexit more complex which increases the likelihood of a hard Brexit which I find very concerning. I’m disappointed too that the Labour Party isn’t providing a different option because they cannot expect the EU agreeing to a No tariff arrangement if the UK restricts European migration.

What is changing in my view is that BBC programs by the Dimbleby brothers Question time and Any Questions have been the only means to have Politicians having to respond to questions by voters who aren’t chosen by Parties. On the programs I’ve watched and to which I’ve listened Conservative speakers have been poorly briefed in contrast to Labour Party representatives and most audiences have been more sympathetic to them. Last night’s Any Questions had David Davis in Crickhowell, Powys one of Mrs May’s ‘attack dogs’ there where the audience and other speakers there didn’t take to his aggressive approach.

After Any Questions Point of View had Howard Jacobson speaking about Manchester where he grew up while my thoughts have been about the bombing there earlier this week. What was most moving was his account of living there until he finished his Schooling with a no holds barred frank description of the City now warts and all. His account reminded my of the new educational opportunities, employment and innocent fun Post War UK Governments offered to young people that is very different to the experience of today’s similar age group.

What made this week very special for me is a realisation that Establishment and Media support for the Conservative Party cannot be assumed because at its Core the UK is a country with a long history of Democracy. As the election has developed it’s become clear to me that Theresa May isn’t a democrat which poses a clear danger to the freedoms we enjoy. This election is crucial in deciding our, our children, families and citizens futures. We need to be very careful when we vote to make a choice which will benefit the majority of our citizens.

Regards,

Steve.

2016 A bad year which ended with better prospects

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Hi There,

When I suggested  2016 was a bad year I was referring to the world in general. It started to feel like that after I returned to London on 21 June  was the 23 June United Kingdom Referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union.While realizing that the vote was too close to call I was extremely surprised and disheartened that by a very close margin of 52 to 48% we’d decided to leave. In breaking down the vote a majority of English and Welsh voters supported the leave, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voters wanted to remain in the EU. One of the statistics which pleased me that was that 86% of voters in Hackney where I live supported the stay option, the 2nd highest Constituency vote for this option in United Kingdom. This negative feeling about the year was increased by the outcome of the United States Presidential, Congressional and Senate elections which resulted in Donald Trump being elected as President, with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress.As we approached the New Year I thought nothing would change the negative elections I’ll outline below.

However unexpectedly on 23 December the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous Resolution which “reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”. What’s important is that Resolution was passed because the United States unexpectedly abstained from the vote and as importantly the United Kingdom voted in it’s favour. While the Resolution slipped through very quietly the critical response from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which showed how rattled he’d been by this event. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State a few days later made a speech critical of the Israel Government which also had a negative response from Mr Netanyahu. In my view these Israel has lost control of the Palestine-Israel dispute agenda providing the chance for Palestinian political leaders to take that role. I think that the potential for change in the dispute favoring the  Palestinians is now a possibility.

Regarding the more negative aspects of 2016 its been a whirlwind year with so-called populist United Kingdom political leaders in the United Kingdom Independence Party, English Conservative and Labour Party and Northern Ireland Unionist Party supporting the leave campaign achieving victory. Their supporters won the Referendum because the leave campaign leaders were the most organised in making their arguments to leave, sometimes lying to voters by suggesting that leaving the European Union would significantly increase spending on our National Health Service as well as seizing on voters anti Establishment, anti immigration and migration views. The stay campaign leaders were right from the start unable to seize the agenda from the leave campaigners, engaging in an intellectual defensive campaign trying to motivate voters to support the stay campaign by trying to frighten them about the dangerous consequences of leaving the European Union. Statistics show that negative campaigning puts voters off and provided an open goal for the leave campaign to win the leave argument with the majority of voters.

What was so surprising if the Referendum was a chance for voters to give the Establishment  a kicking by supporting the leave option is the politicians who led the campaign. While they’ve been called populist I’d suggest that behind this description in my view they’re Patrician politicians.This is because most of them have had privileged lives which include rich parents, private education and attending elite Universities like other establishment figures. What differentiates them with voters is that these patrician leaders engaged with their supporters through a nostalgia of returning the United Kingdom to how it was as Great Britain in a way which felt like ‘we were all in it together.’ Through finding a way to connect with disenchanted voters they persuaded them to choose the leave option.

My analysis shows how well prepared the leave politicians were and even from South Africa where I was when their campaign started I was struck by how quickly they organised themselves. Unlike David Cameron and his stay supporting politicians they’d been preparing the leave campaign from around 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. This was through establishing Right Wing Lobbying Groups which from the start of her Prime Ministerhood in alliance with the Right wing media started campaigning against the European Union, creating alliances in the Referendum with the leave group leaders, propelling them to victory.

What voters didn’t realize in the campaign is how little thought had been given by these politicians to what actions would be necessary to put the leave option into action because they’d assumed their side would lose the Referendum. The frantic speed after the vote led to the unexpectedly quick resignation of the Prime Minister David Cameron, with splits in the leading Conservative leave campaign leaders preventing Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Theresa May taking that role. Despite of what she said in front of Downing Street when she became Prime Minister she’s found it impossible to give any clarity about the United Kingdom’s plans regarding a departure from the European Union. This is because her Cabinet is split between stay and leave supporters who can’t agree the leave process. Boris Johnson has proved to be a useless Foreign Secretary because he doesn’t have the experience or knowledge for that role and the only competent coherent politician in the ‘Brexit’ Department is David Davies whose shifted his approach to leaving by intimating that the United Kingdom may need to move on the free movement of labour in leaving to achieve a ‘soft’ exit, withdrawing from the Union while retaining tariff free trade with the European Union. I can’t see our Government making concessions regarding labour movement which the Union will accept so the only option is a ‘hard’ exit which will be a disaster for United Kingdom citizens, Industry and service industries.Our leaders are propelling us into a disastrous future, with us seemingly standing meekly by waiting for it.

I return now to the United States with 12 days until Donald Trump is inaugurated as President. What’s terrifying is how an alliance of disaffected of all ages,different ethnic groups, poor, rich and openly racist voters propelled him to power.This alliance is dangerous because it’s made extreme right-wing politics on the edge of Fascism respectable not only in the United States but throughout the world. In my view the imperfect American democracy has been overcome by the dictatorship that Trump has already started to establish through silencing dissent and having a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress. It’s not unexpected for me that the politician he seems closest to presently is President Vladimir Putin in Russia because of the autocratic politics that characterize the system he’s established. I think Russia was more involved in the Presidential election then admitted like the plot in a book call ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ Donald Trump might be Vladimir Putin’s stooge, his Manchurian Candidate!

I’ve created enough dissent in what I’ve already written so I’ll finish quickly by reverting briefly to my interest in Palestine and more below. I’ve included below a draft letter that’s been developed by 2 UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and me as a Palestine-UK Social Work Network member. I ask that anyone willing to do so sends the letter below to their MP, Prime Minister or anyone else about the Security Council Resolution.

Dear

I welcome the 23 December 2016 Security Council resolution which “reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.  Visits to the Occupied West Bank and meetings with Palestinian Social Work professionals show the links between poor mental health outcomes  and the effects of military occupation, land seizure and  settlement building is inescapable. Palestinians are daily faced with brutality  if they try to resist the illegal expropriation of their land and shame and humiliation if they do not. This inevitably leads to high rates of depression. The sense that the international community has abandoned them compounds the loss of hope for Palestinians. Now there is the possibility for a process which might just bring some hope. But it will need to be tested by its material effects on the lives of those who suffer under occupation.

A Public event in Hebron which started on 10 December 2016 to mark International Human Rights Day also focused on the dire situation of the Palestinian citizens of Hebron and Tel Rumeida, the effects of settlement expansion, settler violence and military closures. The impact on school children of constant intimidation from settlers is particularly grave and in direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory.

The 23 December Resolution is of course welcome and I am pleased that our government supported it. However, if it is to carry any credibility, it will need to have impact on the ground in communities such as Tel Rumeida. We therefore urge our government to keep up the pressure on Israel so that the future of a yet another generation of Palestinians is not blighted.

Signed…..

Last but not least (Really) I’d like to end the blog in a positive way for the new year. What’s made me feel more positive this week is BBC 4’s Thought of the Day yesterday which was about forgiveness, focusing on Jill Saward who died this week. In 1986 was raped during a burglary of her home where her father was the Vicar. She waived her right to be anonymous and recovered from the experience, becoming a campaigner for the Rape Crisis movement. She believed forgiveness was very important, “They’d destroyed enough, I didn’t want them to destroy anything else. Forgiveness gave me that liberation, that freedom, to move on,” she said.

I was also inspired by the Farewell Speech as the First Lady by Michelle Obama to young people at the School Councillor of the Year awards at the White House. She told the young people of America   “This country belongs to you. For all the young people in this room and who are watching, know that this country belongs to you. From every background, know that if you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition, the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas.” She also said that hope was a very important aspect of life. I’m inspired enough to write that I’m also dedicating to this year being one of hope for me. When I think of hope I’m reminded of what the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a holocaust survivor  disclosed that his father had said to him in Concentration Camp”Human beings can live for a month without food, 2 weeks without water but can’t live a day without hope.”

Please free to comment on what I’ve written.

Regards,

Steve.

 

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Education, Education, Education 24 June 2016

Hi All,

I’m now back in London and am posting the last article about South African education below.

The second Mail and Guardian article suggests that by the end of Grade 3 three out of every 5 children in Public Schools don’t understand what they read in Class. Undue influence by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has been blamed for interfering with the education’s systems ability to act in the best interests of children which is one of the damning findings by the 5 Stellenbosch University researchers in the previous post. In a Report titled ‘Binding constraints in Education they’ve strongly urged that children should be able to “Read for meaning” by the end of Grade 3. It adds that “It is worth reiterating that at the Grade 5 level the entire curriculum is being taught in English for 90% of students. If these students can’t read for meaning in English then they cannot engage with the Curriculum and are silently excluded’ for the remainder of their educational career.” He thinks the inability to comprehend confirmed the need to provide support in Primary Schools.

The researchers have asked Angie Motshekga the Minister for Education to fast- track her Departments plans to establish a Primary Literacy Directorate and to request an audit of the education systems capacity to effectively teach reading to children in early grades. Other suggestions include:

  • Requesting education experts to train current and newly appointed foundation phase reading specialists on how to teach reading
  • Appointment of foundation phase reading specialists across Districts
  • Ministerial performance agreements outside of the Department should be linked to reading goal
  • Public recognition should be given to Districts and Schools that effectively implement foundation phase reading strategies

The researchers strongly asserted that “Learning to read for meaning and pleasure is the most important goal for Primary Schooling in Grades 1-3.” Currently less than half of all pupils learn to read for meaning in this critical period. They write that ” Many South African children complete Grades 1-3 without being able to read properly in their home language, with little understanding of the language they will be taught in from Grade 4 which is generally English” They found that 58% of a Grade 4 sample could not read for meaning and 29% were illiterate. With a colleague Kim Draper they conducted a first analysis of 1772 Grade 5 rural pupils for oral reading fluency in English and found it to be very low with 41% considered illiterate. 11% of the sample could not read a single word in English.

In a bid to set oral reading fluency norms for South Africa the researchers measured by the number of words read correctly per minute comparing second language pupils in South Africa with the USA State of Florida which has norms, finding that  Grade 5 South African learners from rural areas were on the same level as Grade 1 pupils in Florida.

In regard to Sadtu the researchers found the Union was a critical player in determining which policies were accepted or rejected. The Report found that Teacher Unions had blocked reforms in recent years including:

  • Standardised pupil testing, specifically the Annual National Assessments
  • Teacher testing, even for Matric markers and
  • Performance contracts for Principals
  • “Nepotistic appointments linked to Union membership appear to be a serious and systemic problem. The Volmink Commission highlighted corruption concerns in the appointment of School Principals”

The researchers found that residents in areas where Schools have made corrupt appointments were likely to lose trust in the education system. Besides having identified the Union’s influence on the education system as one of the adverse educational outcomes the researchers identified 3 other binding restraints:

  • Weak institutional functionality
  • Weak teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skill and
  • Wasted learning time and insufficient time to learn

The research warned that unless teachers were better equipped with content knowledge pupils ‘learning gains’ would be marginal. What Van der Berg told the reporters is that “The inability of children to read well in the early phase is really what holds them back in the higher grades. You won’t get large numbers passing Matric well if you can’t get that right.”

The Paper continues with an article suggesting that teachers face vocabulary tests with most Primary School teacher’s knowledge of English vocabulary being the same as Grade 3 pupils.   In this preliminary finding of the Literacy Policy Study by the Zenex Foundation involving about 300 English first additional language teachers from 24 Schools in Kwazulu-Natal, Western and Eastern Cape the teachers who teach pupils in Grades 1-3 were asked to write a test to assess their knowledge at 3 levels. Results are shown below.

How Teachers scored in the Vocabulary Test

Levels            One:     Two:       Three:                                                                                                        2000      3000     5000                                                                                                          words   words   words

Western Cape Department Heads            94%         89%      85%

Eastern Cape Department Heads             87%         70%      48%

Kwazulu-Natal Department Heads           91%         70%      47%

Western Cape Teachers                             92%         83%      76%

Eastern Cape Teachers                              87%         69%      47%

Kwazulu-Natal Teachers                            80%         52%      32%

Elizabeth Pretorius, one of the study’s researchers from the Department of Linguistics at Unisa said teachers from rural areas were unable to reach the minimum standard. She said “Words from levels 1-2 can be learnt from chatting to other people but if they’re not reading they won’t be able to reach levels 3-5. The test shows whether people are reading.” They had 8 years of English at School and still failed to reach the first level.

She added that “The Curriculum assessment policy statements (Caps) document recommends an English first additional language learners should know at least 2500-3000 frequently used English words at the end of Grade 3. Their teachers haven’t reached the Caps requirement for Grade 3 pupils.”

The information above Western Cape teachers outperformed the other 2 provinces according to the test results. This isn’t surprising because 53%of these teachers said English was their home language. Zulu and Xhosa were the home languages for teachers in Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. The researchers think that Foundation Stage teachers (Grades 1-3) needed to achieve at levels 1-2 in literacy. Pretorius said ‘This is especially urgent because of Caps guidelines for the vocabulary size of Grades 1-3 learners. The teachers must have adequate vocabulary knowledge in English first additional language to be able to develop knowledge of these words by their learners.”

The Zenex Foundations chief executive Gail Campbell thinks the tests demonstrated teacher’s vocabulary levels and the levels needed to teach English as a 2nd language effectively. She said “The intervention is about improving teacher’s vocabulary which is a clear indicator of language proficiency. Vocabulary intersects with one’s ability to read and comprehend.”  The Foundation asks teachers to:

  • Set improvement goals
  • Keep a vocabulary book and have a weekly target of learning 5 new words
  • Receive an English Dictionary to support their vocabulary development and
  • Share their reading and vocabulary books at quarterly training sessions

Campbell says the Foundation’s approach to improving teacher’s English proficiency is based on the hypothesis that it will lead to improved teaching which will lead to improved learner performance. However she thinks there’s a problem in the teacher’s slow response to vocabulary interventions. She added that “Initial evidence on take-up shows that teachers who read more grew up with access to books in their homes. Teachers report that they mainly read romance, religious books and magazines.” Teachers aren’t enthusiastic about setting up School based book clubs. One constraint was time, particularly in rural areas where teachers had to travel long distances to School. Campbell said “It is hard t establish a reading culture in adults-and teachers may feel exposed in reading clubs.”

Researcher Nick Spall says the ‘headline message’ from the study was ‘learning to read with meaning’ in Grades 1-3. He said “An important secondary goal is every child should be able to read first additional language texts in English fluently and with comprehension by the end of Grade 3.

For me the Articles from the Mail and Guardian show how the South African education system since 1994 has continued to fail the majority of pupils in poor Schools because these young people aren’t able to meet the basic competences in Grades 1-3. With the exception of a small cohort who catch up in later years the consequence is that this large cohort of learners are excluded from achieving their potential in the education system from Grade 4 onwards. A high proportion of these pupils drop out of School when they are around 15-16 years old or fail to achieve Matric results which allow them to proceed to University or other Post School education options. The Articles show that the Department of Education will need to front load the Schooling system to provide teachers who are able to offer all learners the opportunity to achieve the required standards to proceed further in their education and increase significantly the learner cohort who can proceed to further education after Matric.

The researchers show that a big shift in education is needed to have the most able heads and teachers for learners in Grades 1-3 with specialist training in early development and learning education. This will require financial resources to fund these services by the Department of Education. My view is that parents need to be actively involved in their children’s education generally and to provide stimulation for them at home. For their children in Grades 1-3 they need to have books in their homes to read with their children, check with heads about the curriculum the children are following and ensure their children receive homework which they can supervise. For poor families parents can use Libraries to borrow books for their children.

I like to suggest that my posts provide constructive criticism for most of the issues I raise in the Steveposts blogs. My final analysis of the Education issue I’ve raised through the Mail and Guardian Reports is serious because it covers a large annual group of matriculants. The Basic Education Department has just published figures for progressed learners (students who have failed Matric twice or overage) who wrote and passed Matric exams in 2015 and the current number of progressed students this year without figures by Gauteng province. These are that 58656 progressed learners wrote Matric in 2015 of whom 22060 passed with 100841 progressed learners in Matric this year. I’m not an expert in Statistics, however from these figures just over 50% of this group passed Matric in 2015 and in 2016 without the Gauteng numbers their number has increased by just under 100%. In my view the articles and the information provided is a damming indightment of the South African education system because it discriminates against poor children who attend township or rural Schools.

Another shocking feature of the education system is that legislation regarding which Schools children attend locks in the discriminatory features from the Apartheid era’s Group Areas Act. This is because parents are required to place their children in Schools within 5 Km from their home addresses which has created a system where most children from previously discriminated communities remain in the same poorly performing Schools that failed previous generations through so called ‘Bantu Education’. Additionally parents who want to School their children in the better performing Schools require permission from the Department of Education to allow their children to attend these mainly suburban Public Schools, most of which are fee paying. I’ve already written previously how economic apartheid still embeds discrimination in South Africa, what the 2 articles I’ve summarised show is educational apartheid  has excluded and continues to exclude a large group of learners which is an extremely concerning issue.

I want to end on a more positive note. This is because a campaigning group called Equal Education has taken a test case to Gauteng High Court regarding the 5Km School choice requirement and had a potentially positive outcome. This is because the Court ruled in the last month that Gauteng’s Department of Education needs to review the distance requirement which it ruled to be discriminatory. What’s crucial now is how long the review takes and whether Gauteng decides to change the requirement. This decision needs a quick response and if there’s no change to the requirement it’s clear the application will end up in the Constitutional Court because of the discrimination issue. As you as my readers must realise I’m highly exercised by the education issue. As an outsider I hope that the Equal Education test case gets traction through support from parents whose children are directly concerned by the issues raised.

Regards,

Steve.

 

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Education, Education, Education in South Africa

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Dear All,

For voters who can remember the 1997 UK general election which swept a Labour government led by Tony Blair into power after 18 years on Conservative Party rule. In South Africa I’ve been thinking of one of the main slogans by Labour in that election was ‘Education, Education, Education’ which was central to the Party being elected to lead the country. As Local Authority and Provincial elections are due to take place here in August my recent reading of the Mail and Guardian over 2 weeks here on 20 and 27 May has shown how the ANC has completely failed to transform the Education system in a way which removes inequality and allows students from previously disadvantaged majority community to compete on an equal basis with those from other communities.

The articles have made me very angry. This is because recent research in South African Public Schools which are the equivalent of UK State Schools has shown that children who haven’t reached competence levels to read and be literate in their home languages by Grade 4 aged 9 are seriously disadvantaged in their further learning to the extent that they’re unlikely to receive a Matric qualification at the end of their schooling which allows them to attend University.  I’m so exercised by what I’ve read that I’ll summarize the information and outcomes from the research below.

The 20 May Mail and Guardian article suggests in the headline that poor children in South African Public Schools are ‘doomed early’ and the gap between haves and have-nots is already established for life in Primary School. By the time most students in poor Schools reach the end of Grade 3 the chances of them achieving a good Matric pass is unlikely. The education system fails them and affects their chances of doing well in Matric-and even later after they’ve left School.

Research findings by Professor Servaas Van der Berg at Stellenbosch University comes  from a new study of learner’s performance in 2012 and 2013 in Annual National Assessments (ANA’s) which assess children’s literacy and numeracy skills target Grades 1-6 and 9.Van der Berg’s opinion is that the findings have policy implications because early remedial action is needed. Currently ANA’s target Maths performance in Grade 9 which he thinks is the wrong outcome from the Assessments to consider. As a socioeconomic researcher in the Universities Economics Department his view is that the low learning performance for children at poor Schools ‘sabotage’ their chances of doing well in Matric. He is very concerned that the learning gap between children at rich and poor Schools is pre-determined by Grade 4 which strongly affects their chances of progressing to University and future careers.

His research findings and policy recommendations are supported by other educationalists and Nick Taylor, previous head of the Basic Education Department’s National Education Evaluation and Development Unit. Taylor suggests that the National Basic Education Department’s conclusions based on ANA scores is that Primary School education is fine and performance inequity starts in High Schools which wrong as shown by Van der Berg’s study. This is because his research shows that inequities start in the first grade and become more entrenched with each passing grade.

Taylor who is now a researcher based at Jet Education Services adds that making up the backlogs is difficult, indeed impossible. By the end of Grade 3 children’s life chances have been determined through birth and the poor schooling they receive. Van der Berg agrees with Taylor, because his research shows that large learning deficits that become established by the middle of Primary School years and Grade 4 so catching up is not a realistic prospect. Poor cognitive outcomes in the ANA data show that the learning deficit increases slightly more in subsequent grades. These children have little chance of catching up at School or before they started School. By this time he thinks many opportunities are no longer there for them however work to repair the damage at higher Grades must continue for those who may benefit from them.

Ursula Hoadley, Associate Professor on Education at the University of Cape Town agrees that harm is most likely done in the School foundation phase because Grade 3 ends formal teaching of two key fundamental skills which are literacy and numeracy. If these skills aren’t achieved early students are likely to fall further behind because in her view all School education relies on being able to read. Brahm Fleish, a Professor at Wits School of Education agrees with Van der Berg’s views. He adds that the research doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions for older students who start to achieve in their later School years although this cohort is likely to be small, with life opportunities determined by age 9. His view is that interventions in the foundation years, Grades R, 1, 2 and 3 to improve learning in all Schools will lead to significant improvements in educational outcomes for poor children.

Elizabeth Henning, a Professor of Educational Linguistics at the University of Johannesburg said the mantra in childhood education is ‘Matric begins at Grade One.’ She thinks the pre-School years are crucial and that this may be where socioeconomic factors start to severely affect a child’s future. She thinks that teachers need to be more aware of child development in the foundation phase. Poor children can have a chance if teachers can be helped to see children as learners, “individual young people who are learning to learn.”

Tsepho Motsepe, General Secretary of Equal Education agrees fully with Van der Berg’s research outcomes. This is that the biggest effort is needed in the early years or before while efforts to remedy damage in higher grades are important. He agrees with Henning’s view that Matric begins at Grade One, in Grade R and in Early Development classrooms. He thinks that young, well qualified teachers are needed in townships and rural areas to fix education.

In the same week Servaas van der Berg wrote an article himself which was titled ‘Focus on reading to fix education.’ He first agreed there has been progress in School performance, more children at School, more black students matriculate and achieve results enabling University attendance and Schools are deracialised. However in most respects the situation remains bleak, almost 50% of children don’t reach Matric, learners repeat classes despite limits on this and many drop out from School at 15 or 16. Local and international tests show extremely weak outcomes. In response government, researchers and others have been trying to determine what’s wrong with the Schools and how the situation can be improved. His research group on socioeconomic policy and Stellenbosch University’s School of Economics are releasing 2 Reports, ‘Identifying binding constraints in education’ and Laying firm foundations: Getting reading right’ to provide some answers’ which is based on studies by a research team working with the Department of Basic Education.

They’ve used a USA based idea from Harvard University and others. However not all education problems can be addressed immediately so the focus has to be on what problems are most frequent. If teachers not being in classes to teach is the main or binding restraint efforts to increase teacher subject knowledge is secondary as it can’t be tackled until teachers are there to teach. Van der Berg previews a Conference which took place last week where the primary restraint is defined as the failure of children to read fluently and with meaning in their home language in their education after Grade 3 at the end in their foundation phase. He writes that the first 3 School years at a period when children learn to read, from then it becomes reading to learn.

Further progress depends on being able to read and with comprehension. Pupils who can’t read are further disadvantaged in Grade 4 when teaching switches to English as happens in most Schools. The 2 University Schools main recommendation to the Department of Basic Education is to set a priority early grade reading goal that all learners must read fluently and with comprehension by the end of Grade 3. This will change priorities for officials to focus on the foundation phase rather than prioritising High Schools because of the current priority being Matric results. He outlines further recommendations which are below.

  • Researchers have found that persevering in learning in a child’s home language improves children’s learning outcomes which covers about 70% of all children learning an African language in the first few grades and even in English It is easier for these children to move to literacy in a second language if they are literate in their home language.
  • The first analysis of large scale oral reading fluency using data from the National Education Evaluation and Development found oral fluency, the ability to read text quickly, accurately and with expression a problem in Schools. This was because the English oral fluency of Grade 5 rural learners is as low as Grade 2 learners in Florida USA. 41% were considered to be non-readers in English, reading so slowly that they couldn’t understand what they were reading and 11% couldn’t read a single word.
  • Another research finding is that the disadvantage of learning in a second language was much reduced if that language was linked to the child’s home language, part of the same language group like Nguni or Sotho. A child speaking an Nguni language is less disadvantaged at School if the foundation stage language is another Nguni language rather than an unrelated one. When it’s impractical for foundation phase children to attend a School teaching in their own home language it’s preferable for them to attend a School teaching in the same language group.
  • Research has also found that children whose parent regularly check their homework, support children reading at home and whose teachers reported that they closely followed the curriculum were performing about 2 years ahead of their peers in Grade 4.

I’ve reached my maximum length for the post and will provide further information on this particular stream when even more will be revealed!

I’ll digress briefly to inform 2 important events have taken place in Paris over the last week, serious flooding about which I know little. An International Conference on Palestine has been arranged and held in Paris by the French president Francois Hollande. He said that his country’s initiative could provide guarantees that the peace will be solid, sustainable and under international supervision. As a first step working groups will meet to develop economic and security incentives for both sides.

While neither the Palestinian or Israeli governments sent representatives for the Conference there were 2 important factors that emerged. The US government has for the first time fully backed a Conference where it supported an end to Israeli occupation and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has backed the French initiative. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is strongly opposed to it and says a deal can only be achieved in direct negotiations. He is however open to elements in a 2002 Arab peace proposal that offered Israel recognition throughout the Arab world after a deal on the Palestinians.

Lastly I return to Johannesburg for just over 2 weeks before flying back to London on 20 June. I’m going to have a busy time here still and am starting on the final phase of my trip which will include joining a Soweto March on 16 June, 40 years since the original event.

Regards,

Steve.

 

Further Thoughts about South Africa once in Cape Town

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Kimberley Station 1130 pm on 24/05/2016

Kimberley Station 1130 pm on 24/05/2016

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Dear All,

A term I’ve heard addressed towards me since coming here is Mulungu, translated as ‘being of white heritage’. Generally when I’ve been addressed in this way it’s a way of saying hello while identifying my ethnic origin, at other times there’s a more hostile element in Soweto which I sense is more like ‘what the hell are you doing here’. What the term reminds me of is how racially stratified South Africa still is. Like when I lived here ethnic origin or race remains a main focus of my contacts in Soweto where I’m asked when speaking about people I know in the country the first question is whether they are white. It’s not something I’m asked by white people because of their sensitivity about this issue and for most of them having no social contacts with the majority community or visiting the townships. For all South Africans there remains a way of probing about ethnic origin through asking for surnames and where people live which makes me uneasy but can’t be avoided. My view is that this issue shows how deeply embedded discrimination and inequality remain in South Africa, with a similarity to the rest of the world where status is focussed on different skin colour, from white to shades of white then shades of black to black.

I’ve just thought of something else which is a question of what similarities there are between South Africa after majority rule and Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement which started the process of devolving power to the countries National Assembly. The answer is an increase in attacks on foreigners and refugees living in both countries. While I don’t know about the current Northern Ireland situation prejudice and violence against these groups in South Africa is now part of the culture with regular organised attacks. These have led to attacks, killings and a feeling among these groupings that they are unsafe in South Africa. When the major attacks have occurred they’ve fled from where they stay to places of safety like Churches and other Civic buildings. It’s ironic that the majority community which suffered grievously under apartheid have turned their anger about the lack of change into attacks. In my view this deferred anger maintains the current status quo where there has been so little evidence of change.

Returning to what I started with I spoke recently with Antoinette Sithole’s husband Mantla about the term Mulungu. What he told me is Mulungu is an aberration of the word a Xhosa word Further Thoughts about South Africa and the Transition to Cape Town. Amulumbi which translates as Magician or Wonder Maker which comes from the first encounters in the Eastern Cape between Xhosa and white settlers called the Boers moving north from the initial Dutch settlements in the Western Cape. The origin of the word in his view was because of the new technology the Boers brought with them like firearms and the wheels on their wagons which had not been used by Xhosas. I think that from the start of these encounters that status made the Boers and white people superior in the minds of the black tribes moving into South Africa from the North. Conflict developed over time in the Eastern Cape over land ownership and cattle between the settlers and black people where power was held by the settlers because of their superior force through having firearms. I thought afterwards about Magicians and Wonder Makers in a more negative context where these qualities could make them mistrusted or suspected of witchcraft or wizardry which put them at risk. History suggests in my view that the colonial mind-set had at its centre discrimination based on colour which reflects badly on these settlers now as South African citizens placing them at future risk unless a more inclusive country and nation emerges.

Even before I start to describe my trip to Cape Town I’ve thought about the travel I’ve done since setting off from Heathrow on 10 April. I flew British Airways, noting first that only about 10% of the passengers were black, really little different to anytime I’ve traveled to South Africa since 1999. Clearly on aeroplanes the 20-1 low Rand to UK Pound rate makes an international return air ticket at a minimum of R12000(£600)travel very expensive for most South Africans, creating the flying equivalent of economic exclusion and discrimination. On the bus trip to and from Durban for Indaba I noticed that roughly 95%of the travelers were black. The bus service was reasonably good however the internal fabric of the vehicles was poor; the floors needed cleaning, with some seats     broken or not adjustable. The single toilet was always dirty and many passengers preferred to wait until the set stop to use facilities there. Air conditioning was a problem because on the route to Durban cool air was blown through when not needed, making the bus very cold. On the return journey there was heating when cooling was needed. Quite clearly long distance bus travel through large Companies or minibus taxis internally and to other Southern African countries as far as Malawi and Zambia is more affordable than flying.

Train travel has discrimination built in it through the services provided. The most expensive trains are run by private companies, Ravos Rail and the Blue Train, prices for which only the very rich can afford.  Next is Premier Classe which has a R2000 (£100) fee for a single trip to or from Cape Town. This is a premium service with comfortable compartments, a viewing coach and a high range dining car. I traveled on the Tourist class train Shosholoza Meyl which cost R699 for a single trip (£35). The service was comfortable and the serving staff very attentive which made the travel pleasant, the only problem being a history of these trains always running late. My train didn’t have Third Class carriages so I can’t comment on this service.

On the train I felt like being plunged back into the past through the way customer care staff were organised in a hierarchy based on ethnic origin where the train manager was white and the other staff black, reminding me of train trips I took before I emigrated to the UK. Separately the system was controlled by the staff with clear routines around bedding being provided, and meals, with no negotiation possible. It felt a bit like being in a Goffman type total institution like they were the trustees in the Asylum described by him. While the staff were pleasant they were totally in charge of what they provided and weren’t into negotiating or flexibility. I felt strange travelling in a service where it felt like the system was set up for the staff not for travelers.

I traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town from 24-25 April by train because I wanted to have an experience which gave me a stronger connection to the terrain from the Highveld through the Karoo and then to Cape Town. I’ve downloaded some photos from the trip with this post, unfortunately no pictures from travels end as the environment and scenery changed are worth including. The train left Johannesburg Station early in the afternoon on 24 May and until sunset we travelled through the Highveld, mainly in what’s called the Witwatersrand, the industrial area that extends South beyond Johannesburg. We passed gold and coal mines as well as South Africa’s main steelworks as the train moved south, with frequent delays because of poor maintenance on the route and no priority being given to passenger trains. The route later passed through the wheat and cereal growing areas, with a golden hue to the vegetation because of lack of rain and the end of the growing season, ending with a sunset made up of a vivid mixture of gold and orange painted on the sky as a palette.

When I woke the next morning we were in the Southern Karoo which is semi desert with sparse vegetation and a low population. The main industry here is sheep farming for meat or wool, with a special brand called Merino wool which is world renowned for making warm loosely woven blankets and scarves. The scenery started to change in the early afternoon after Worcester from an arid flat landscape to one with mountains and farms where irrigation made the vegetation green. This is the area in South Africa UK citizens know best because of exports to us which include oranges, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, grapes and wine. The quality of the land stood out because of the irrigation and fertility from 400 years of cultivation. Worcester, Wellington and Huguenot were towns where the quality of civil buildings and housing showed the wealth that came from the industry. From what I saw on this route until it reached the edge of Cape Town it didn’t pass shanty dwellings on the edges of towns, although quite clearly the farm labourer homes were very small compared to the main farmhouses, suggesting a large income disparity.

On the whole route rail stations were sleepy places where the train arriving was a major occasion, as the night drew on I sensed a type of Hopper type alienation at stopping stations because people were there because of roles for the train from the official who sent the train on its way through blowing his whistle, security staff, baggage handlers and traders selling their wares, not to relate to anyone and the main reason for railways being there was to transport agricultural production to other towns or cities or to Cape Town for export. Throughout my travel through small South African towns since 1999 my general impression has been that little had changed in these towns for the majority of South African citizens who’ve lived in them since 1994 and majority rule.

I’ve reached my time and content deadline now so I’ll end the post now. I plan to send another post about Cape Town and my experiences here before I leave on 8 June. Just before I end I want to make a brief mention about the UK referendum after a friend emailed me yesterday, worried that the country might vote to leave the EU. I’ve thought for some time that there’s a potential for the referendum vote being in favour of leaving the EU. It’s unusual for governments to hold referendums unless they think voters will support their views. Immigration and disaffection with politicians as well as a long period of time for exit supporters and the red top press including the Times and Telegraph to deeply embedding the exit lies make the outcome too close to call. A Conservative Party led by their most right wing MP’s is frightening. It reminds me of the election which brought Hitler to power in the 1930’s because of the risks a victory poses to any UK minority.

Apologies for the formatting,

Steve.

Beaufort West Station

Beaufort West Station Cape Province    

 

A social gathering alongside the Prince Albert Station

A social gathering alongside the Prince Albert Road Station