MECs for Education
Provincial Heads of Department
Representatives from Embassies
Representatives of Teacher Unions and School Governing Bodies
Distinguished Guests, I particularly note the presence of Mr Chinezi Chijioke, Founder and CEO of Nova Pioneer Education Group
Members of senior management at the Department of Basic Education and in the provinces
A special welcome to the principals, teachers, learners and members of school governing bodies representing school that work
Ladies and Gentlemen
I consider it a singular honour and a privilege to welcome everyone to this round table discussion here at the University of Pretoria.
Earlier this year, I requested National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) to conduct a study on schools that work. Because performance in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) is an objective measure of the system, this was used as a yardstick to identify schools that work. Whether schools cater for learners in Foundation Phase, Intermediate Phase, Senior Phase or FET, the principles of running a functional school are universal. The NSC is the final step, but each of the twelve years preceding this step is equally important. Learners are very seldom successful in the FET phase, if they have not been achieved in the Senior Phase. Learners cannot be successful in the Senior Phase, if they have not achieved in the Intermediate Phase; and success in the Intermediate Phase is reliant on the mastering of the fundamental skills on the Foundation Phase.
The teacher in the Foundation Phase may feel she (or he) has very little to do with the Grade 12 learner some nine or more years later. But to the contrary, if the fundamental literacy and numeracy skills are not in place, it is almost impossible for a learner to be successful in the NSC examinations. Likewise, if the initial cornerstones are not set in place in the Intermediate Phase, where learners are introduced to the basic principles of content subjects, extending and building their knowledge and skills in Senior and FET Phases is difficult. With regard to language, it is in the Intermediate Phase that learners need to transition from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. If this vital stage is neglected, the mastery that learners need in order to succeed in their further education is significantly hampered.
The whole South African education system can be compared to a series of marathons; to take the analogy a little further we could see each phase of the system as a marathon and the National Senior Certificate as one of As all educationists we all know that In the same way, a learner needs to have a secure foundation to be successful in the NSC.
That our system making progress and that it had developed green shoots. This has been confirmed by the results of such international studies such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) show that the performance of South African learners is on an upward trajectory.
The Education Department has provided markers, or indicators, to assist the sector in moving forward. In 2017, when reporting on 2016 National Senior Certificate results, the DBE moved from focusing on the overall pass percentage to include six further indicators: Mathematics and Physical Sciences pass percentage; Bachelor attainment percentage; Distinction percentage; Mathematics Participation Rate and the Throughput rate.
This shift in the reporting is indicative of a shift within the DBE to focus more on the quality of the NSC, rather than the pass rate alone. The National Development Plan (NDP), which works together with the DBE’s Action Plan, throws some light onto the issues and states that the major shortcoming is the quality of the outcomes of school education.
To refer back to the marathon analogy, it is about running strongly over the finish line, with ample energy and time before the cut-off, and not crawling over the finish line at the last minute. No-one can embark on the NSC without the proper preparation. That preparation does not begin in Grade 10, 11 or 12. It begins in Grade 1 or Grade R. The Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky developed the theory on the Zone of Proximal Development, which describes how a learner can only move to the next level of understanding, if he or she has mastered the current level. Thus taking this into consideration it is crucial that every learner achieves at each Phase of the school programme.
Another indicator of the progress that has been made in the system is the fact that in the past two years quintile 1, 2 and 3 schools are now producing more bachelor degrees than ever before, although statistically, the more bachelor degrees are produced in Quintile 4 and 5 schools.
In the DBEs Action Plan to 2019 – Towards the Realisation of Schooling, 2030, it states that the National Development Plan
“envisions a South Africa where everyone feels free yet bounded to others; where everyone embraces their full potential, a country where opportunity is determined not by birth, but by ability, education and hard work. (p. 24)”.
While working towards the education system envisioned for 2030, the future of generations of children depend on the current system doing the best they can with what already exists. What can be done to help learners in who are currently in the system?
This leads us back to the DBEs Action Plan to 2019 – Towards the Realisation of Schooling, 2030. This plan has 27 goals – today I would like to highlight three of them:
- Increase the number of Grade 12 learners who become eligible for a Bachelors programme at university;
- Increase the number of Grade 12 learners who pass mathematics;
- Increase the number of Grade 12 learners who pass physical science.
The big question is how to do this? There is a huge gap between policy, plans and practice. One of the tasks of the DBE is to draw the policy plans and practise together.
In education, we are doing the same: in 2007, the previous Minister of Education commissioned a study, “Schools that Work”, to find out what was working on the ground. This was a study in which the selected schools “all achieved better than the norm” and they “performed well under conditions that are typical of the mainstream of South African education system”. That study found the following four major positive trends:
firstly, the importance of teachers and staffing; secondly, the good use of time, and making us of extra teaching time; thirdly, good leadership in the broadest sense, was certainly evident in all these performing schools; and fourthly, almost every school in the study reported that the principal, and sometimes the SGB, went to great lengths to acknowledge, praise and motivate staff and learners in public ways for good performance.
Ten years later, we thought it to be prudent to repeat the study, so that we may learn new lessons from the ground. The trends, identified in 2007 study, are universal themes that are equally important in each and every phase of a child’s schooling career, and can be applied to schools which cater for children in each of the different Phases.
The 2007 Study also identified some deficits in the system, perhaps those pot-holes that trip athletes up, which we at the DBE have worked to rectify. With the learnings from the 2007 study, the question arose, could a similar study, which concentrated on the schools where learners were produced, who match the performance indicators mentioned earlier, bring to light factors which could be replicated in other schools? It was with this in mind, that I commissioned, “Schools that Work II” study. It was always my hope that the learnings of the study can be applied throughout the school system.
In the 2017 study the selection of these top-performing schools was based on a set of three major criteria. Firstly, the schools had to be producing learners who matched the performance indicators that were used in reporting on the NSC results; secondly, a pass rate of 95% or above in the past four years (2012-2015); and thirdly, that 100 or more candidates were presented in the 2016 NSC examinations.
To ensure that the 2017 sample was representative of the “the best” schools in the system all schools were first categorised by province and quintile, they were then ranked using the performance markers discussed earlier.
Today we are sharing the findings of the special study I requested NEEDU to conduct. These findings are documented in a report, “Schools That Work II”. It is hoped that by looking at these schools, there are lessons that can be learnt, and that the factors that have made the schools in the study good, can be replicated and used to improve the education in South Africa today.
It must be emphasised that although this study used schools that achieved well in the NSC as a yardstick, many of the findings will be able to be used by schools which cater for learners in the different phases of the educational system.
The publication of “Schools That Work II” is intended to help schools to develop the habits of collaboration, discussion, inquiry and decision-making that are necessary for ongoing improvement.
The schools involved in the study were from all five quintiles,
The purpose of sharing best practices in this publication is to encourage meaningful reflection and discussion and to help schools develop shared goals for school improvement.
I thank you.