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Making schooling more effective

Twenty years of democracy! What an amazing milestone for our country.

One can ask the question: What has this meant for the provision and quality of education, especially for the children of the poorest citizens? No one can deny that there is far greater access to public schooling including ECD. There can also be no debate that the State has continued to increase the budget for education. The burning question remains that of the quality of the education that our children receive.

NAPTOSA is pleased that the question of quality as well as that of effective management and governance and other crucial issues in education are now being addressed in a more co-ordinated manner in the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT). This body brings together the important stakeholders in education including the education authorities, big business, the teacher unions and school governing bodies. The objective is not just to identify the issues but to get consensus on strategies to jointly address the challenges that mitigate against the delivery of a world-class quality of education.

The NECT has identified several key areas for discussion that it believes will contribute towards making schools and teaching more effective. These areas are still the subject of intense debate and while NAPTOSA may not be in agreement with some of the opinions expressed, we are pleased to be part of the discussion to finalise these areas:

The centrality of the teaching and learning process: There are many areas of focus in building a strong instructional core for sustainable school improvement. These include, but are not limited to the following: standardized lesson plans; day-to-day tasks and scripts for teachers; standardized learning materials; adequate learning resources e.g textbooks, workbooks; pacesetters and guidance for completion of the curriculum; providing children with support which they may not receive at home; increased opportunities to read; classroom and school libraries; and; among others, in-class coaching and support of teachers.

Literacy and mathematics as bedrocks of learning: The inability of children to read in primary school has a discernable effect on the academic performance and achievements of learners, and in tandem, lack of numeracy skills affects future academic achievement in many subject areas. As a result, literacy and mathematics have become the focus of educational improvements, particularly in early childhood.

External measures as central to improvement: External assessment and accountability play a central role in educational improvement. ANA is a good example in this regard.

Teacher capacity, training, and institutional coaching, as central to instruction: The professional development of teachers is a key component of the change process to improve schools. There are questions about the body of knowledge which makes teaching a profession; the effectiveness of universities in preparing teachers and about the need for some type of ‘service learning” in teaching preparation.

 Regarding building the capacity of teachers there is widespread admiration and approval for the involvement of unions in teacher training. The general sense, however, is that the typical workshops and seminars for teachers are not effective. The preparation of teachers should have three components: professional knowledge; professional practice; and professional engagement.

Teaching practice with day-to-day guidance, lesson plans for example: The key to the improvement of instructional practice is to manage, monitor, and support what teachers do from day to day. In this regard, standardized lesson plans, proper timetabling, and the use of pacesetters in curriculum management are critical to the instructional performance and success of teachers. In this regard, school management teams need to focus on the instructional process and classroom practice because this is what leads to the desired instructional outcomes.

Assessing performance as related to instruction: In this regard, it was suggested that the business process of day-to-day teaching must be re-invented, re-engineered and re-developed to ensure that new practice in instructional reform anticipates the actual performance that is expected of learners.

Teacher accountability as a key performance: Teacher accountability is a critical component of instructional management and a key ingredient in the enhanced performance of teachers. Here, consideration must be given to the extent of curriculum coverage, the level of engagement of the teacher with the curriculum and the sense of professional responsibility assumed by the teacher for meeting a wide range of curriculum expectations.

Managing inequality to give the disadvantaged a fighting chance: One of the basic problems which frame the South African dilemma in education is the fundamental inequity in learning achievement in primary schools. The majority of learners in the poorest schools perform substantially below average in standardized tests. School improvement interventions could not be complete without addressing the psycho-social issues which result in the underperformance of learners. Allocating resources for school improvement must recognize the exceptional needs of some schools for their performance and instructional outcome to be enhanced.

Controlled change management as a catalyst in transformation: The process of change itself is seen as a transaction to be carefully managed. The change process requires different kinds of strategies depending on the phase or moment the school or district has reached in the change process. Deep insights and understanding of change are required in managing the change process, whether it is whole school change, systemic change or system reform with instructional change at the core.

District and school support as critical ingredients in instructional excellence: It has been discovered that school improvement interventions, which do not closely involve district officials, place limitations on success and sustainability. SMTs must understand and embrace their roles in management, monitoring and support of the instructional process.

I wish to emphasize again that this is an ongoing debate in the NECT. There are obviously other matters affecting education and these should all be the subject of serious debate in our staffrooms and in the structures of NAPTOSA and other stakeholders in education so that meaningful intervention can be made.