Large-scale assessment in the schooling system will not necessarily result in improved learner performance unless the purpose of assessment is clear and teachers are equipped to implement improvement strategies targeted. This was one of the key threads of discussions at the Education Research Indaba hosted by the Department of Basic Education on the 16-17 April 2013.
The Indaba brought together academics, education officials and various other public education stakeholders in Pretoria for a two-day meeting, Education Research Indaba Phase 2, to engage on the matter of assessment in South African education. The dialogue focused on the National Education Assessments in South Africa: Supporting Literacy and Numeracy Improvements.
The purpose of the ERI is to deepen the capacity and dialogue between national and provincial education departments, and the research community in order to promote research utilisation as well as advance evidence-based planning and practice. Phase One of the ERI, held in October 2012 focused on emerging research findings on quality aspects of the education system as well as methods to advance evidence-based education policy reform.
Speaking at the opening of the second Indaba Basic Education, Director-General Mr Bobby Soobrayan indicated that the series of Indabas is an opportunity to improve the interface between research development and implementation.
“There has been growth in the amount of research produced since 1994 but a lot of this information is produced in a utilitarian manner. We have a situation where in many cases research is shaped purely by funding reasons and not on the quality and significance of the work, per se, “ said the Director-General. “We want to ensure that an increasing amount of research and knowledge production is done inside government. The nature of our work means we cannot separate government officials from policy development and research, and we are seeing a move in this direction.
DG Soobrayan also expressed his hope that the Research Indaba would not just be a meeting, but rather evolve to a continuous discussion between officials, researchers and policy developers as they grapple with the key challenges facing the education system.
Research presented at the Indaba covered a range of assessment related topics, including National and International Assessments; Teachers and Assessments; Quality and Assessments and the Implications of Assessments.
One of the common threads emerging from the Indaba was the need for a clearer understanding of what exactly the purpose of assessments are and what the data gained from this process will be used for.
In his presentation, Dr Anil Kajee from the Tshwane University of Technology, pointed out that there is a need for greater and more effective use of assessment data.
“Quality is at the heart of effective teaching and learning as it impacts enrolment, attendance, retention and completion. However quality has multiple and often contesting meanings within and between systems,” said Dr Kajee.
“We have seen an increasing emphasis on assessment due to concerns around declining quality but there is now an emphasis on achievement scores in ‘core’ subjects. Testing indicates areas in need of intervention but not what is required. Therefore assessment and testing does not necessarily equal quality.”
This view was echoed by Professor Shireen Motala from the Research and Innovation Division in the Faculty of Education at the University of Johannesburg. Professor Motala questioned why 20 years after the first democratic elections in South Africa quality education still remains out of reach for many South African learners.
“Policy is not the problem. Since 1994 South Africa has seen the introduction of impressive education policies but the issue seems to be a lack of effective supervision and monitoring of schools. What is measured or done is not always meaningful and what is meaningful is not easy to assess and achieve,” said Professor Motala. “ There must be a renewed focus on values and insistence that equality and social justice drive education reform. Schooling in South Africa is highly valued and this must be used as the entry point for any interventions into the schooling system. “
Ms Jenny Kinnear from the Department of Basic Education suggested that while quality is easily expressed in simple words, little is said about the assumptions about how quality is understood, experienced and influenced in the classroom.
“Quality is influenced by experiences prevalent or created in the classrooms or framed by the nature of interventions,” said Ms Kinnear. “We should perhaps be looking at the function of the monitoring framework to drive quality.”
Presenters and panellists at the ERI included:
Dr Anil Kanjee, Tshwane University of Technology; Dr Stephen Taylor, DBE; Dr Cas Prinsloo ,Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC); Ms Hellen Mkhwanazi, Mpumalanga Department of Education; Prof Elize Koch, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; Ms Roeline Herholdt, JET Education Services; Dr Thabo Mabogoane, DPME; Ms JD Kinnear, DBE; Prof Shireen Motala, University of Johannesburg; Dr George Frempong, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC); Prof Brahm Fleisch, University of the Witwatersrand; Ms Nokhanyiso Mantshongo; Mr Meshack Qetelo Moloi, DBE; Mr Martin Gustafsson, University of Stellenbosch/DBE;