Newsletter 258 - School Development & Improvement Planning 2006-2009 - PART 34




Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor
MP, at the Foundation Phase Conference. 30 September 2008
Master of Ceremonies
International delegates
Representatives of our partners in education from higher education institutions, non-governmental and non-profit organizations
Delegates from other spheres of education
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning.
I am delighted to be speaking at the first foundation-phase conference in South Africa, a conference dedicated to issues of education in the critical early grades of schooling. The conference has a clear purpose to foreground foundation-phase education unambiguously as a critical area for development and growth in South Africa. One aim of this conference is to empower foundation-phase teachers to interact and participate in professional discourses and to share their own experiences and successes in the classroom. The response to this conference has been phenomenal. I thank you for your enthusiasm.
I give special thanks to teachers who have volunteered to present and share best classroom practices. Teachers have come from all over the country, from places like George, Mitchell's Plain , Cradock, Libode, Lusikisiki, Nelspruit, Orange Farm and Soweto , and elsewhere. I also commend all our local and international foundation-phase experts and academics who have so willingly opted to share their expertise and experiences at this conference. We have invited four international experts, who have been centrally involved in changing the face of literacy and numeracy in their countries. I am sure that their contributions will inspire us to take up our own challenges in the places where we can make a difference, be that in our own programmes, schools, districts, institutions of higher learning and so on.
This conference is the first of its kind in a series that the Department of Education will promote in order to focus attention on issues in education that are of national and international importance and to provide a platform to share experiences and best practices. Maria Montessori turns our attention to the critical importance of the early learning years when she asserts that the most important period of life is not the age of university, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. This period is referred to as the golden hour, the years when a child learns fundamental competences that will enable him or her to learn and to develop a clear conception of the world. In formal education, the foundation-phase must considered to be an extension of the golden hour, more especially for those children who, through no fault of their own, have been deprived of sufficient support and opportunity to learn fundamental skills and competencies in the years before they enter the formal schooling sector.

In line with the theme of the conference, we need to build a solid foundation for learning. Quality foundation-phase education is critical. It is within the foundation-phase grades, Grades R-3, that basic literacy, numeracy and life skills are developed and advanced. In the foundation-phase learners must learn how to read, write, count and calculate confidently and with understanding. Literacy, numeracy and life skills are the essential building blocks upon which future learning takes place.
The results of the systemic evaluation survey that we conducted on a sample of grade 3 learners in 2007 are now available and soon to be published. I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the results of the survey as a way of contextualising the challenges we face in our quest to build solid foundations for learning. Last year a representative sample of more than 54 000 grade 3 learners from more than 2 400 primary schools participated in the second cycle of systemic evaluation at this level. The first was in 2001.
Learners were tested in the written foundational skills of literacy and numeracy. Some of the key findings emerging from the survey are:

? The average overall percentage score obtained by the learners in literacy was 36%, and
? the average percentage score in numeracy was 35%.

Although the average score in the 2007 survey was a little higher than the baseline 2001 result that was 30%, clearly the scores are still unacceptably low. Achievement of learners in numeracy and literacy varied in relation to the language in which they took the test, which coincided with the language of instruction. English and Afrikaans learners fared better, with average numeracy scores of 48% and 49% respectively, and average literacy scores of 43% and 48% respectively. African language mother tongue speakers had lower average scores. For example, for Siswati and Xitsonga learners, the average numeracy scores were 24% and 20% respectively. The average literacy score for both Siswati and Tshivenda learners was 26%.

Clearly, language issues impact on learner performance in literacy and numeracy. The total number of learners who performed excellently in either literacy or numeracy or both (achieving a score of 70% or above) was 5 439, and they constituted about 10 percent of the total sample. In a total of 148 schools (about 6 percent of the sample), performance was outstanding (learners achieved an average score of 70% or above) in either literacy or numeracy or both. Clearly, there are pockets of excellence' within the system and not only in quintile four and five schools. Grade 3 is the exit grade from the foundation-phase into the intermediate-phase. Low attainment levels in literacy and numeracy are unacceptable because they reduce chances of success in further education. The ability to calculate, the ability to write and the ability to read with comprehension enhance opportunities of success when pursuing learning beyond the foundation-phase.
In summary, some of the clearly intertwined challenges we experience at the level of foundation-phase education include the problem of teacher quantity, quality and ability; lack of sufficient support for African language learners; large class sizes; lack of resources; lack of quality leadership in schools, and the like. They are the shaky ground upon which we build education for some of our learners, especially those in rural and poor areas.

This situation must change. While we acknowledge that the challenges we face are multiple and complex, it would be remiss of me to highlight the challenges we face in foundation-phase education without also highlighting how we, as a department, are creating opportunities to address these challenges in partnership with other key stakeholders in education.

Universal access to Grade R is a key objective for the Department. Already we have over 600,000 young children attending Grade R classes. We have committed ourselves to the provision of universal Grade R education by 2011. Our commitment is not only to provide physical access for all learners to Grade R classrooms, but also to ensure that these learners experience quality education in these classrooms. We have implemented a curriculum that is explicit about the skills and competencies that learners must develop at different grade levels. It clearly spells out the knowledge that needs to be acquired. At the foundation-phase it determines that reading; writing and calculating are core skills for learning and performing effectively. We recognise however, that teachers still struggle to translate the curriculum into good classroom practice.Teachers need support to implement the curriculum. Over the past four years, we have provided resources to schools, particularly the most disadvantaged schools, in the form of packs of reading books and reading toolkits, as a way of supporting teachers in the foundation-phase.

The Drop All and Read Campaign is more and more being recognised as the strategy for encouraging learner and teachers alike to take time to read.

The Ithuba Writing Project has produced nearly 2,4 million story books in languages that have previously been marginalised - stories that are authentic and authored by our own teachers.

These are some of the tools we want our teachers to use to more effectively implement the curriculum and so teach in ways that that will improve how learners perform. The Quality Improvement Development Support and Upliftment Programme (QUIDS UP) aims to improve the quality of literacy and numeracy teaching and learning through the adequate resourcing of all schools in poor areas commonly referred to as Quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools; through the development of effective management and leadership competence in schools, and through monitoring, evaluation and support at all levels of the system.

In addition, on 18 March 2008, the Department launched a flagship programme, the Foundations for Learning campaign. This is a four-year campaign to create a national focus to improve reading, writing and numeracy abilities of all South African children. Through the campaign, we hope to ensure that by 2011, all learners are able to demonstrate age-appropriate competence levels in literacy and numeracy. For instance, a specific target would be to ensure that by 2011, no learner performs at a level of less than 50% in the standardized grade 3 literacy and numeracy survey I referred to earlier.To achieve this, the Foundations for Learning campaign has established the following non-negotiables as issues that it will address:

? First, every classroom must have the appropriate resources for effective teaching . A list of basic resources is contained in the government gazette on this campaign published on 14 March 2008. Each school must ensure that every teacher has at least the basic minimum resources in the classroom.
? Second, teachers must plan and conduct effective teaching . All teachers are expected to be in their classes teaching planned lessons during contact teaching time. The timetable must ensure that every learner in the primary school engages in reading at school for 30 minutes every day, writes a piece of extended writing appropriate to the grade, engages in mental maths for 10 minutes and written maths for 20 minutes every day.
? Third, District Teacher Forums will be established in all districts and teachers are expected to be a member of the district forum, or of a school forum, so that ideas, experience and best practice is shared and teachers can enhance their teaching strategies.
? Fourth, teachers must assess learner performance regularly. Standardized assessments will be provided by the Department of Education and the results of these assessments must be reported to the district office from where the results for each school will be sent, via the provincial office, to my office. To assist teachers to manage the assessment tasks within the continuous assessment framework, my Department has provided milestones for expected attainment in Numeracy and Literacy per term per grade. Annual tests based on the quarterly assessments will be provided to all schools.

Good education relies on the availability of good teachers. These are teachers who are themselves fully versed in the knowledge areas that learners must learn, and just as importantly, have a thorough knowledge of ways in which this knowledge can be learnt. We are struggling to attract African language students into foundation-phase initial teacher education programmes. Commentators have suggested that the low status associated with teaching in the foundation-phase is factor militating against the recruitment of sufficient teachers in this sector. If this is indeed the case, we need to come up with ways to challenge this perception.
The Department is playing a role in ensuring a growing supply of quality foundation-phase teachers by: encouraging high quality learners to choose foundation-phase teaching as a career of choice through a Teacher Recruitment Campaign which is being rolled out in the second half of this year, and providing bursaries through the Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme . This scheme recognises the foundation-phase as a priority area for teacher development, and provides full cost bursaries to students wishing to train in this area.

However, we recognise that we still have a long way to go, and also that we must have the support of other role-players in the sector if we are to make more significant inroads into the challenges we face.

I trust that this conference will crystallise the issues that we must address in foundation-phase education, and start to provide the momentum towards working together for solutions that will benefit us all.

Here are some of the key questions that we should be asking.

? What are the practices that best suit our diverse learning contexts?
? What are the characteristics of good foundation-phase teachers?
? How do we deal with the issue of language so that it becomes a foundation for learning for all learners?
? How can we bring the expertise of various role-players in foundation-phase education together to strengthen quality and expand provision?
? How do we strengthen teacher education to support teacher development in mother-tongue instruction?
? How do we construct foundation-phase teacher education curricula that are relevant to the needs of our context?
? How can we ensure that a focus on cognition is a key component of teacher education curricula?
? How can we raise the status of foundation-phase teaching, and in so doing, attract quality teachers into this phase?
? How do we create professional foundation-phase communities of practice' and teacher associations to support and contribute to leadership of the foundation-phase sector?

To my mind, these are some of the key questions that we must be asking. The invitation is clear and open. All of us need to work together to build and strengthen foundation-phase education in our country. I know that, together, we can ensure that every learner will have the opportunity for a better future.

The sites of learning under stewardship of principals, teachers and parents must teach every child - from the grasslands of Limpopo to the foothills of the Eastern Cape - to learn to read, write, count and calculate at levels that will provide solid foundations for further learning and allow them to operate effectively and competitively in a 21st century environment.
Enjoy the conference, and more importantly, through it, let's learn from and with each other. Thank you.

In 2008, about 750 full cost bursaries have been awarded to students who are specialising in the foundation-phase. These 750 constitute about 15% of the total number of bursaries granted in 2008. About 290 (39%) of these bursaries were granted to students who will be able to teach in an African language. In 2009, we want to increase the number allocated to these students significantly to 20% of the total allocation. This will translate into 1,500 new and returning foundation-phase students receiving Funza Luskhaka bursaries. Our ability to reach this target will rely on the success of the teacher recruitment campaign.

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