Education, Education, Education 24 June 2016
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.