Ru­ral teach­ers to get crit­i­cal backup from as­sis­tants

Mail & Guardian - - News - Bongek­ile Macupe

The depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion is un­der­tak­ing a ma­jor ef­fort to im­prove lit­er­acy and numer­acy in three of the coun­try’s most ru­ral prov­inces.

Over the next three years, it will em­ploy about 700 as­sis­tant teach­ers, who will be placed at pri­mary schools in se­lect ar­eas.

The trea­sury has al­lo­cated an ini­tial R29.2-mil­lion to the ru­ral ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tant project, which will be in­creased to R58.3-mil­lion in the next two years, the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, Angie Mot­shekga, said in her bud­get speech last week.

The South African Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union (Sadtu) has wel­comed the move, say­ing the em­ploy­ment of as­sis­tants will take a huge load off teach­ers and will al­low them to fo­cus on teach­ing.

The gen­eral sec­re­tary of Sadtu, Mug­wena Maluleke, said the union had long said ru­ral pupils needed more help to be on the same level with their ur­ban coun­ter­parts.

He added that most ru­ral pupils did not live with their par­ents, be­cause they were in the cities work­ing. Also, par­ents who were at home were of­ten not lit­er­ate enough to help their chil­dren with things such as home­work.

The act­ing di­rec­tor of ru­ral ed­u­ca­tion in the depart­ment, Phumzile Langa, said the project would be used as a pi­lot study to eval­u­ate the ef­fect of as­sis­tant teach­ers in the foun­da­tion (grades one to three) and in­ter­me­di­ate (grades four to six) phases.

“The East­ern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Lim­popo are the most ru­ral of our prov­inces in the coun­try.

“For the past cou­ple of years, these prov­inces have been in the bot­tom three when it comes to per­for­mance as mea­sured by ma­tric re­sults. “The dis­tricts were also cho­sen us­ing the same cri­te­ria,” Langa said.

Pi­lot projects will be run in the Al­fred Nzo and OR Tambo coastal dis­tricts of the East­ern Cape, in the iLembe and Umziny­athi dis­tricts in KwaZulu-Natal and in the Sekhukhune and Mopani dis­tricts in Lim­popo.

The project’s lead re­searcher will re­port an­nu­ally on its progress and will de­ter­mine the use­ful­ness of the as­sis­tants and de­velop a strat­egy to re­cruit teach­ers for ru­ral schools.

Langa said 188 schools would par­tic­i­pate in the ini­tia­tive.

“These [as­sis­tant teach­ers] will as­sist with a va­ri­ety of cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly im­prov­ing numer­acy, lit­er­acy and read­ing skills, and co-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly co-or­di­nat­ing home­work clubs, maths clubs, read­ing clubs, cre­ative arts clubs and agri­cul­tural projects,” said Langa.

The teacher unions have re­peat­edly called for more teach­ers to be hired, par­tic­u­larly in these prov­inces.

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Pro­fes­sional Teach­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion of South Africa, Basil Manuel, said the project might be a good idea but the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­mained scep­ti­cal about it. He said the depart­ment, by bring­ing in as­sis­tant teach­ers, was recog­nis­ing what the unions had been say­ing all along — that the classes are too large.

“I don’t want to knock the idea be­cause there are issues in terms of lit­er­acy and numer­acy. But is this the best way to im­prove it? To take some­body who is not a teacher, may have ba­sic train­ing and put them in a class­room with a teacher and ex­pect re­sults?” asked Manuel. “Would it not be bet­ter to have small class sizes to get bet­ter de­liv­ery and bet­ter learn­ing and teach­ing?”

But Maluleke said the as­sis­tants would be able to help pupils with their home­work and read­ing, which meant the teacher would not have to waste time on that the fol­low­ing day.

“But, if you ask me, is it enough? It’s not enough. Over and above that you need, in a ru­ral set-up, to have spe­cial­ist teach­ers who will as­sist teach­ers with mod­els of teach­ing in a unique ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment where learn­ers don’t at­tend preschool and are not pre­pared for school.”

Mot­shekga said the project would run from this year until 2021.

“Would it not be bet­ter to have small class sizes to get bet­ter de­liv­ery and bet­ter learn­ing?”

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