From Access to Quality Education

teaching CSI social development quality education
Wednesday, 7 August, 2013 - 13:33

Education challenges are still rife in South African public schools, albeit there has been increased expenditure in education, the country is still burdened with these challenges. This has led to a deliberate focus on teacher development and support interventions funded through CSI entities, such as the FirstRand Foundation, and others

South Africa’s education challenges need little introduction. Much effort and resources have been focused on addressing the inequality in access to and the quality of education, with the current 2013/2014 budget expenditure having been increased by 12 percent, to R232 billion. Over and above this, the sector has attracted significant funding through Corporate Social Investment (CSI); with funds allocated to education ranging between 30 and 40 percent of total CSI spent over the last decade, amounting to billions of rands.  Despite all these efforts, education in South Africa is still fraught with challenges.
 
According to Sizwe Nxasana, chairman of the FirstRand Foundation, the education sector needs to improve massively for South Africa to remain a competitive economy. Learner performance, a significant indicator of a functional education system, needs to improve significantly, as well as teacher competencies and professionalism.  Although Grade 12 pass rates have improved from 53 percent in 1991 to 73.9 percent in 2012, more needs to be done to increase the number of matriculants who achieve university passes, especially in mathematics and science. There are still fewer learners passing mathematics and science subjects, with 40 percent of learners dropping out of university because they cannot cope with the demands of the syllabus.
 
“The National Development Plan calls for government, civil society, unions, corporates, private donors and other stakeholders to come together to help address the crisis in our education system and drive systemic change to improve learning outcomes,” says Nxasana. “Education remains the cornerstone of our economic development and gives people critical tools to help them better provide for themselves and their children.”
 
Continued poor learner performance has raised concerns about the quality and competency of teachers in the school system, particularly public schools. This has led to a deliberate focus on teacher development and support interventions funded through CSI entities, such as the FirstRand Foundation and others.
 
“CSI plays a significant role in piloting new, improved and often innovative interventions that can then be taken to scale by government for the benefit of the entire nation,” explains Nxasana. “Effective teacher development interventions will have a multiplier effect in improving learning outcomes and achievement, with a single dynamic teacher impacting between 30 and 40 learners.”
 
According to Nxasana, while the road ahead may be a bumpy one, not everything is necessarily doom and gloom. There are already a number of successful interventions in teacher development across the country that are being supported through CSI funding. Three such interventions were highlighted at a recent FirstRand Foundation event, the first in a series of breakfasts showcasing ‘CSI that works’. Hosted by Nxasana, the event focused on the lessons learnt from CSI interventions in teacher development and in particular their implications for mathematics and science education in South Africa.
 
Mbilwi Secondary School, established to promote the learning and teaching of mathematics and science, is an example of a school getting it right. A shining beacon of hope and proof of what is possible; the school is situated in a dusty district about 76 kilometers from Louis Trichardt in Limpopo. And, it is getting the basics right that its principal, Mr. Lidzhade, attributes to its overwhelming success.
 
“At our core is a strong focus on school leadership, which can enhance learner performance through building and entrenching a culture of excellence among both educators and learners,” he states. This has been instrumental in achieving our consistently high pass rates at the school.”
 
Since its inception in 1968, Mbilwi has had six principals, of which five were former teachers at the school. Mr. Lidzhade himself was both a former learner and educator at the school. Mbilwi only recruits top university graduates with BSc qualifications, who then enrol in a part-time teaching diploma, often through correspondence. Its impressive track record speaks to the success of this approach: Mbilwi is currently the best government school in the country for mathematics, science and geography. Between 1990 and 1994 the school matric pass rate averaged 99 percent, and between 2001 and 2005 it achieved a 100 percent pass rate. In the last five years the pass rate has averaged 97 percent with a 99 percent pass rate in 2012.
 
At Mbilwi the new teachers are mentored by senior and more experienced educators. They also participate in team teaching, ensuring sustained quality teaching and improved learner performance. The teachers also receive further support and targeted training through CSI interventions. School management meets on a weekly basis, and high standards are set when it comes to class attendance, lesson plans and reviews. Teachers dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to ensure that the grade 8 learners have the right foundation skills and competencies to cope with mathematics and science as they progress to higher grades. Learners attend extra support classes in the afternoons during weekdays and on Saturdays, and are exposed to a series of tests, examinations and mathematics and science competitions.
 
“Our success is quite simple,” believes Mr. Lidzhade. “We work hard, and are dedicated and willing to go the extra mile. Our educators have teaching in their blood and our learners aspire to greatness.”
 
According to Zorina Dharsey, director of the Primary Science Project (PSP), based in the Western Cape, 40 percent of newly qualified teachers quit the profession within the first two years after training. “Being a first-time teacher in South Africa is a harrowing experience to say the least. Our teachers graduate with minimum hands-on, practical work experience, and are then faced with overcrowded classrooms, a lack of teacher support and development, a massive workload, learners with a wide range of abilities, different languages and a number of other obstacles to overcome. They are, quite literally, crying out for support.”
 
First-time teachers often face challenges in transferring knowledge to learners and endure frustration dealing with often unexpected responsibilities in the school system. This has led to PSP’s Joint Mentorship Project (JMP), whichprovides much-needed support and guidance to novice teachers, focusing onbuilding their knowledge and showing them how to teach and assess their learners.
 
The project is committed to contributing towards the improvement of primary schooling, where all educators are highly skilled, committed and confident, and are well prepared and resourced to teach. 21 first-time teachers voluntarily participated in the project and were trained at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) over a two-year period, supported by seven mentors. The 14 schools from which the teachers had come were also approached, and agreed to participate in the project. Baseline research was conducted to determine the challenges likely to be faced by first-time teachers and possible support strategies to help them deal with these. The identified needs were then developed into working topics.
 
The support provided to first-time teachers focused on curriculum implementation, classroom management, managing administrative tasks at school, understanding the culture of a new school, and continuing professional development. The mentoring process included individual consultation, workshops, group consultation, classroom observations and team teaching.
 
“Out of the 21 teachers all were trained to teach secondary school learners and yet all had primary school posts. This is a frightening yet common occurrence within our education system. On top of this, only three were actually trained to teach mathematics and science, yet these subjects were part of everyone’s syllabus”, says Dharsey.
 
The Joint Mentorship Project won a Global Best Award in 2012, and whilst evaluation of learner performance is yet to be conducted, ongoing action research by UWC has observed increased teacher confidence, the ability of teachers to balance their workload, the acquisition of classroom management skills and no resignations as a result of the support the teachers received from the project. Notably, subject content knowledge improved by an average 28.5 percent among the teachers.
 
“What we have learnt, and what we can take forward with us is that first-time teachers are rarely fully prepared to deal with the demands of teaching without support. First-time teachers require sustained support in order to adapt to the teaching environment of their specific schools, and schools need to assign mentors to them in order to achieve this.”
 
When compared to other learners in the region and internationally, South African learners lag behind in their performance in mathematics and science. Similarly, these woes affect our teachers as well. According to Dr Sello Rapule, former coordinator of the Sediba Profect at North West University (now Chief Executive Officer of Protec), teachers are undoubtedly at the centre of education in South Africa. It has been demonstrated that the more qualified and experienced the teacher, the more likely it is that learner performance will improve.
 
“The Sediba Project seeks to deepen the content knowledge of in-service, historically disadvantaged teachers, in order to influence learner performance in mathematics and science. Our aim is to build capacity, develop mathematics and science awareness, improve the ability of our educators, provide much-needed support and facilitate an environment conducive to learning,” he states.
 
The project enrols 100 educators annually to study part-time, over a two-year period, for an advanced certificate in either mathematics or science. The educators are required to spend a total of 29 days on campus at the University of the North West during their school holidays. The classrooms are equipped with modern laboratories and computers, and the highly experienced teaching staff use the latest internationally recognised training strategies and methods. Small classes encourage peer-learning, knowledge sharing and mentoring, whilst exposure to the university’s resources helps to facilitate practical work, thereby ensuring effective skills transfer.
 
Over 1 500 educators have enrolled in the project since 1996, with an average annual pass rate of 82 percent. “Each group of 200 educators is exposed to approximately 250 000 learners that directly benefit from their improved knowledge,” says Rapule. “Research results indicate that the examination and test scores of pupils taught by Sediba educators show an improvement and that there is a positive shift in learners’ attitudes towards science and mathematics. Sediba educators have a better work ethic, with a significant number promoted to heads of departments. School principals also favour the project and often refer their teachers to Sediba for enrolment, advice or assistance.”
 
“These grassroots perspectives to the on-going teacher development discourse in the country will help to shape South Africa’s future going forward,” concludes Nxasana. “It is through the individual lens of these and other programmes that emerge pieces of the puzzle that must be aligned in an attempt to provide solutions to the challenges confronting the education sector.”
 
- Laila Hardy, Journalist, Creative Space Media.

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