In­vest more at foun­da­tion level in schools

Ma­tric re­sults mask ma­jor fault lines in the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

WE ARE again at that dif­fi­cult time of the year. The Na­tional Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (NSC) re­sults are an im­por­tant mile­stone in the lives of all learn­ers who pass well.

They now have to make crit­i­cal choices about the ca­reers they wish to fol­low. For many among them, their choices could have been dif­fer­ent if the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem was func­tion­ing op­ti­mally.

The many who are de­lib­er­ately ex­cluded from en­rolling for Grade 12 be­cause of their poor Grade 10 and 11 marks face a very bleak fu­ture in­deed, given the de­press­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions and the low growth tra­jec­tory in which we are trapped.

A ma­jor ex­pla­na­tion for the per­for­mance of the Free State and KZN in 2016 and 2015, for ex­am­ple, is cer­tainly be­cause they pre­vented com­par­a­tively more learn­ers than other prov­inces from sit­ting the NSC ex­ams in Grade 12.

Th­ese ex­cluded learn­ers, with­out ma­tric, will be swelling the num­bers of those who are not in ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment or train­ing of any kind. Im­pli­ca­tions for so­cial sta­bil­ity as the youth un­em­ploy­ment num­bers in­crease are in­deed very scary.

An ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has dif­fer­ent com­po­nents and di­men­sions. No sin­gle per­for­mance met­ric will be able to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive un­der­stand­ing of how the sys­tem works and where the fault-lines are.

A crit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of the ef­fi­ciency of any sys­tem in­volves mea­sur­ing changes that oc­cur to any in­puts while in the sys­tem and the qual­ity of the out­comes.

The cur­rent fo­cus on the fi­nal NSC ma­tric re­sults is mis­lead­ing and op­por­tunis­tic, un­less we also pay at­ten­tion to the through­put rate of the sys­tem be­tween grades 10 and 12.

When pupils reg­is­ter for Grade 10, they reg­is­ter their in­tent to sit for the fi­nal NSC ex­ams two years down the line. A true mea­sure of the ef­fi­ciency of the sys­tem must be the pro­por­tion of those who suc­ceed in Grade 12 rel­a­tive to those who reg­is­tered in Grade 10.

Us­ing this met­ric, it then be­comes pos­si­ble to un­der­stand what hap­pened to the pupils who did not sit for the fi­nal NSC ex­ams – those who dropped out.

This is the in­for­ma­tion par­ents need in or­der to make in­formed de­ci­sions about the fu­ture of their chil­dren. It also pro­vides a more mean­ing­ful and cred­i­ble way of as­sess­ing the pass rate against the Grade 10 in­take.

A crit­i­cal point to note is that th­ese ca­su­al­ties are com­mon in mainly quin­tile one and two schools that are nor­mally un­der-re­sourced and cater mainly to the poor learn­ers in poor com­mu­ni­ties.

For them, the state of the schools and the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion they re­ceive re­in­forces the poverty trap they wish to es­cape (See Spaull N, “School­ing in South Africa: How low-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion be­comes a poverty trap”, in South African Child Gauge 2015). The pol­icy im­pli­ca­tions are mas­sive. Many learn­ers who join Grade 10 from other in­ter­me­di­ate schools, es­pe­cially those lo­cated in the ru­ral and poor ar­eas, come with sig­nif­i­cant lan­guage, cog­ni­tive and nu­mer­acy de­fi­cien­cies.

It is not pos­si­ble to make up for th­ese de­fi­cien­cies in the three years lead­ing to the fi­nal NSC ex­ams. The ten­dency among many schools fac­ing this chal­lenge is for the weak learn­ers to be ex­cluded from Grade 12 through a process known as culling in or­der to meet the de­mands of their district ed­u­ca­tion man­agers. This is where the prob­lem lies.

High dropout rates have a direct eco­nomic im­pact in terms of poor use of our hu­man re­sources. Mea­sur­ing this de­fect will en­sure we fo­cus our at­ten­tion and re­me­dial interventions at the points in the sys­tem that re­ally mat­ter.

The Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion (DBE) is very much aware of the need to re­veal more about what hap­pens within the sys­tem for the ben­e­fit of the par­ents. The rel­e­vant data is avail­able with the DBE, but in­ex­pli­ca­bly it is ex­cluded from com­par­a­tive eval­u­a­tion of the fi­nal ma­tric re­sults.

We must de­sist from us­ing the NSC re­sults to com­pare the per­for­mance of prov­inces. There are very crit­i­cal con­tex­tual is­sues that have a direct im­pact on the ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity of the pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments to de­liver qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. With­out fac­tor­ing th­ese in, in a sci­en­tific man­ner, the com­par­isons made by the DBE are mean­ing­less, ex­cept for po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing.

The DBE has also iden­ti­fied a num­ber of vi­tal and suc­cess­ful interventions that are aimed at im­prov­ing the qual­ity of our ed­u­ca­tion. We see re­sults in the sharp rise in ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and re­ten­tion of pupils.

School feed­ing schemes is an­other very crit­i­cal area where we should be do­ing very well were it not for the high lev­els of cor­rup­tion that are de­rail­ing this ef­fort.

An area of great need is to im­prove the qual­ity of lead­er­ship and teach­ing in poor-per­form­ing schools. This will mean tak­ing on the South African Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union (Sadtu).

There are three crit­i­cal stake­holder com­po­nents that must be man­aged op­ti­mally in or­der to de­liver the best ed­u­ca­tion out­comes. The state has a con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity and man­date to pro­vide qual­ity school in­fra­struc­ture and teach­ing re­sources.

The school gov­ern­ing boards and the state must en­sure qual­i­fied teach­ers are em­ployed to im­part knowl­edge to pupils and man­age the schools well.

Par­ents must pro­vide sup­port to pupils and the schools to op­ti­mise the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

When all th­ese com­po­nents are work­ing op­ti­mally, the de­sired out­comes are al­ways achieved.

Re­search has demon­strated that in­vest­ing more in terms of qual­ity re­sources at the foun­da­tion lev­els will en­sure bet­ter out­comes at higher grades.

We knew this at the on­set of the tran­si­tion pe­riod, but we did very lit­tle to en­sure that bet­ter qual­i­fied teach­ers were em­ployed at the foun­da­tion level and that qual­ity school in­fra­struc­ture and teach­ing ma­te­ri­als and sup­port were made avail­able.

Our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has con­sis­tently de­liv­ered poor out­comes de­spite the high in­vest­ment made through the bud­get al­lo­ca­tion. We need vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship at the DBE to bring about mean­ing­ful changes with­out fear of Sadtu. Tha­bang Mot­sohi is an or­gan­i­sa­tional strate­gist at Lenomo Strate­gic Ad­vi­sory Ser­vices. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

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