More time for learning and teaching

New director general of basic education Bobby Soobrayan recently presented a turnaround plan for South Africa’s schools. In his first major interview since his appointment, he told Thabo Mohala more

Is OBE in or out: will it be revised or discarded?
It is important to understand that through the curriculum reform process we are not changing the vision of the curriculum transformation process that started after 1994, but we are implementing changes in order to strengthen curriculum implementation.

The minister has acted on the main recommendations by [last year’s] ministerial committee report, and their major focus is to relieve teachers and schools of some of the challenges experienced as a result of the current curriculum and assessment policies, and leave more time for teaching and learning. The report also recommends targeted support for teachers and schools.

Three committees have been appointed and work has already begun on a single curriculum and assessment policy, on reducing the number of learning areas [subjects], and on learning and teaching support materials.

South African learners perform disgracefully in international as well as regional numeracy and literacy tests.
How are you going to improve learner performance?

The department has undertaken a number of programmes that focus on improving learners’ literacy and numeracy skills. In particular, we are focusing on the foundation phase and through the Foundations for Learning Programme, we have distributed learning and teaching packs for all grade R teachers.

We will make available exemplar question papers to assist teachers with their preparations for the national assessments and we are distributing lesson plans in literacy and numeracy for grades one to six to teachers.

During 2010, the distribution of workbooks for grades R to six will focus on literacy and numeracy. The use of these workbooks will focus largely on preparing learners in grades R to six for the annual national assessments.

We have decided that performance at grades three, six and nine will be improved from the current average attainment level of between 27% and 38% to at least 60% by 2014. The assessments will be conducted in November each year so that the results are available at the beginning of the following school year to inform teaching and teacher support programmes.

Some feel it is high time the department kicked ass in dealing with teacher underperformance. Would you agree?
Teacher performance is critical to quality education and learner achievement. A significant intervention is the establishment of the national education evaluation and development unit (Needu) this year. It will be a professional facility dedicated to purposes of monitoring, evaluation and support. Needu will play a part in identifying weaknesses in terms of teacher performance, but this will be linked to a focused teacher development strategy. The unit will report directly to the minister and will function independently of the department.

A key deliverable in June 2010 will be the National Teacher Development Plan emanating from the multi-stakeholder working groups established after the National Teacher Development Summit held in June 2009. This detailed plan will focus on teacher development over the next five years and the longer-term plan is to ensure a sustainable teacher development system.

How will Needu materially differ from its predecessors regarding whole school evaluation? Aren’t you reinventing the wheel?
Needu will function independently. We shall request Needu to advise us but we cannot prescribe to the unit.

What will you do to address the dismal matric pass rates recorded in 2008 and 2009?
Underperforming and poorly performing schools have been identified and provincial departments are working closely with those schools to ensure that they have turnaround strategies in place. Schools have been charged with the responsibility of holding holiday and extra classes. The department is supporting schools through the publication of study guides and past examination papers to ensure that learners are prepared through directed revision.

In the 2008 matric exam, many learners achieved good maths marks but then couldn’t handle university and dropped out. What will you do to ensure an adequate standard in maths?
The minister has set up a committee whose primary task is to develop a single and comprehensive curriculum assessment policy statement of each grade. This should provide clear guidelines on what teachers ought to teach and assess on a grade-by-grade and learning-areas basis or subject basis.

Some say the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union abuses its numerical strength to disrupt learning and teaching Are you going to rein them in?
All teacher unions have committed themselves to a social contract for achieving quality learning and teaching. The unions led the way in committing themselves to a code of conduct as part of the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign. They are working closely with us to ensure that we uphold the non-negotiables in education, as identified by President Jacob Zuma, that teachers must be in class, on time and teaching; that parents must support their children and their teachers; and that departmental officials must support teachers and schools.

You sent in a crack team to sort out the administration of the matric exam in Mpumalanga, where 60 provincial exam officials are now getting paid to do nothing. What are you doing to do to avoid a further waste of taxpayers’ money?
The department is working closely with the Mpumalanga education department to ensure that the problems that have been experienced over the past years will not recur. The provincial education department is responsible for the redeployment of officials in the province.

Is OBE in or out: will it be revised or discarded?
It is important to understand that through the curriculum reform process we are not changing the vision of the curriculum transformation process that started after 1994, but we are implementing changes in order to strengthen curriculum implementation.

The minister has acted on the main recommendations by [last year’s] ministerial committee report, and their major focus is to relieve teachers and schools of some of the challenges experienced as a result of the current curriculum and assessment policies, and leave more time for teaching and learning. The report also recommends targeted support for teachers and schools.

Three committees have been appointed and work has already begun on a single curriculum and assessment policy, on reducing the number of learning areas [subjects], and on learning and teaching support materials.

South African learners perform disgracefully in international as well as regional numeracy and literacy tests. How are you going to improve learner performance?
The department has undertaken a number of programmes that focus on improving learners’ literacy and numeracy skills. In particular, we are focusing on the foundation phase and through the Foundations for Learning Programme, we have distributed learning and teaching packs for all grade R teachers.

We will make available exemplar question papers to assist teachers with their preparations for the national assessments and we are distributing lesson plans in literacy and numeracy for grades one to six to teachers.

During 2010, the distribution of workbooks for grades R to six will focus on literacy and numeracy. The use of these workbooks will focus largely on preparing learners in grades R to six for the annual national assessments.

We have decided that performance at grades three, six and nine will be improved from the current average attainment level of between 27% and 38% to at least 60% by 2014. The assessments will be conducted in November each year so that the results are available at the beginning of the following school year to inform teaching and teacher support programmes.

Some feel it is high time the department kicked ass in dealing with teacher underperformance. Would you agree?
Teacher performance is critical to quality education and learner achievement. A significant intervention is the establishment of the national education evaluation and development unit (Needu) this year. It will be a professional facility dedicated to purposes of monitoring, evaluation and support. Needu will play a part in identifying weaknesses in terms of teacher performance, but this will be linked to a focused teacher development strategy. The unit will report directly to the minister and will function independently of the department.

A key deliverable in June 2010 will be the National Teacher Development Plan emanating from the multi-stakeholder working groups established after the National Teacher Development Summit held in June 2009. This detailed plan will focus on teacher development over the next five years and the longer-term plan is to ensure a sustainable teacher development system.

How will Needu materially differ from its predecessors regarding whole school evaluation? Aren’t you reinventing the wheel?
Needu will function independently. We shall request Needu to advise us but we cannot prescribe to the unit.

What will you do to address the dismal matric pass rates recorded in 2008 and 2009?
Underperforming and poorly performing schools have been identified and provincial departments are working closely with those schools to ensure that they have turnaround strategies in place. Schools have been charged with the responsibility of holding holiday and extra classes. The department is supporting schools through the publication of study guides and past examination papers to ensure that learners are prepared through directed revision.

In the 2008 matric exam, many learners achieved good maths marks but then couldn’t handle university and dropped out. What will you do to ensure an adequate standard in maths?
The minister has set up a committee whose primary task is to develop a single and comprehensive curriculum assessment policy statement of each grade. This should provide clear guidelines on what teachers ought to teach and assess on a grade-by-grade and learning-areas basis or subject basis.

Some say the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union abuses its numerical strength to disrupt learning and teaching Are you going to rein them in?
All teacher unions have committed themselves to a social contract for achieving quality learning and teaching. The unions led the way in committing themselves to a code of conduct as part of the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign. They are working closely with us to ensure that we uphold the non-negotiables in education, as identified by President Jacob Zuma, that teachers must be in class, on time and teaching; that parents must support their children and their teachers; and that departmental officials must support teachers and schools.

You sent in a crack team to sort out the administration of the matric exam in Mpumalanga, where 60 provincial exam officials are now getting paid to do nothing. What are you doing to do to avoid a further waste of taxpayers’ money?
The department is working closely with the Mpumalanga education department to ensure that the problems that have been experienced over the past years will not recur. The provincial education department is responsible for the redeployment of officials in the province.

There is a perception that you are centralising power—the deployment of teams to Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape in past years being examples. Can we expect more such steps in provinces that perform badly?
It is the responsibility of the national department to assist provinces that are struggling to deal with specific challenges. And the National Education Policy Act compels the minister and the department to monitor and report on the implementation of education policies as well as the progress of the system and to intervene where necessary.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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