Chief Executive of ISASA, Dr Jane Hofmeyr
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to open the Annual General Meeting of the Independent Schools Association of South Africa.
The public sector, as you are aware, has just emerged from a debilitating national strike that has taken our teachers out of classrooms for an inordinate length of time. Loss of teaching time is a matter of extreme concern as improved performance of the sector is a national priority.
Both at a national and at a departmental level, the priority attached to education in this country has never been as high.
In the best interest of our people, government had to lean over backwards to accommodate the demands of the public service. We have put in place recovery plans and are making every effort to ensure improved results at the end of this year.
Since the beginning of this year, I have visited underperforming schools and districts in order to understand their challenges first hand, to fix what can be fixed and set in place processes to address systemic issues. These are often unannounced visits.
During these visits, I have seen firsthand the intractable problems we face, but also hope in the system. There were also hard-working schools and teachers who were resilient and doing their work to the best of their ability. We must build on this.
My approach to the independent school sector is of course built into and flows from national policy which sets out the right to establish independent schools. As you know, we have a long history of independent schools in this country. They have contributed in the darkest days of apartheid to the wellbeing and achievements of learners.
Both public and private schools are equally bound by our Constitution.
I am aware that the private school sector has grown and that it has attracted a more diverse clientele. I am happy to see the growing diversity in the sector and a clear commitment to our national priorities. I am impressed by the achievements of your Maths and English initiative, and I am grateful for the contribution of your members to the improvement of our national curriculum.
I am, in short, as committed to seeing a flourishing independent sector as I am to seeing a quality public education system. We wish for a harmonious and integrated whole in which each can play their part meaningfully and for the greater good. Let the independent sector rest assured that their right to existence is not under threat.
And yet I know there are concerns and challenges. These relate, among other things, to the issue of subsidies, relations with provincial education departments at different levels and the freedom to innovate in curricular terms. I am certain we can work together to address these challenges.
I recently appointed Professor John Volmink, formerly Deputy Vice-Chancellor at UKZN, highly experienced in curriculum matters and former Chairman of the UMALUSI Council, to head up the establishment of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU). NEEDU will help inform our interventions regarding underperforming schools.
NEEDU is setting its structures and processes in place. We are aware that ISASA has its own quality assurance body. But in order to ensure that we gain a national picture of the system, NEEDU will include public and private schools within its purview.
As you are aware, NEEDU will not operate as an old-style inspectorate, but will focus on providing state of the art reviews of the system. Given our enormous challenges in education, NEEDU will focus its development intervention efforts on underperforming schools.
It is not intended to be a policing arm of the Department for either public or private schools. This will be guaranteed inter alia through the appointment of skilled professionals.
As far as the curriculum is concerned, our overall goal is to have a creative, problem-solving and thinking populace. For this we do require a curriculum that will enable the development of these qualities.
As you are aware, the outcomes-based curriculum we started to implement in 1998 was reviewed and revised at the beginning of the 21st century, and again at the end of 2009. The independent school sector was able to make the best out of the Revised National Curriculum Statement and I do wish to place on record my appreciation for the support of ISASA for our efforts to transform the curriculum.
In this latest round of tweaking of the curriculum, the emphasis is on reducing administrative burdens and creating more space and time for quality teaching. The principles, purposes and content of the NCS remain, except in so far as there is a need for updating and closing gaps and problems that emerged in implementation.
Thus for example, the physics curriculum is being modified in line with the criticisms that emerged at the end of last year’s matric exams. We are continually working towards a clearer outline of what teachers need to teach. But this must not be seen as a prescription beyond which teachers dare not venture. It is the basic platform for all teachers. From this, we hope the better teachers will be able to fly, and do more.
Teacher innovation, creative and critical approaches to the curriculum are not circumscribed by this curriculum.
Many people have asked questions about the future of OBE. Our system is still aiming to achieve broad outcomes of a better life for all. Our values and principles remain the same. But there are changes in the design of the curriculum. And we hope to strengthen implementation.
There is considerable research evidence that despite the commitment to learner-centred education in OBE, many teachers adopt different teaching strategies to suit different contexts and purposes. This will no doubt continue. We must place more emphasis on improving content knowledge and pedagogy so that teachers are able to teach better and elicit better learning.
Last Friday, 3 September, we gazetted the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements developed for each subject listed in the National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12, in terms of the National Education Policy Act of 1996 and the South African Schools Act of 1996.
They are now available for public comment. We have published everything except the Foundation Phase, which will be available in two weeks’ time. We have also published Languages as Home and First Additional Language in English. Once we have received the comments from the public and have revised it, we will ensure that it is prepared in all other languages.
As you know, English as a First Additional Language will be introduced as a fourth subject in Grade 1, and not in Grade 3 or 4 as is currently the case. This will be with effect from January 2011. It will also be for those schools that choose English as a first additional language. But please let me allay any fears that we are abandoning our commitment to mother-tongue instruction. This is not the case.
The policy we are following is one widely practiced elsewhere: immersion. We believe that children can be immersed in more than one language from a young age.
I believe that teacher education and development pose a particular challenge in relation to languages, all languages.
But it is a challenge we must grasp NOW. I would also like to urge you to encourage your teachers especially to look at the curricula and let us know what they think.
Changes in the Foundation Phase will be implemented in 2011, and in Grades 4 to 12 in 2012.
The CAPS documents are in line with two of our new initiatives: the Annual National Assessments (ANA) and the workbooks project.
All learners in public schools will write Annual National Assessment (ANA) tests in literacy/languages and numeracy/mathematics from 2011, in Grades 3, 6 and 9.
The best use of ANA will be for diagnostic purposes: to identify which learners are struggling with what. This will in turn help schools to work on areas of weakness and districts to plan interventions to support these.
Once all this is in place, it does not mean that all our problems will be solved. Assessment literacy is still a challenge among many of our teachers. I have been into schools and seen teachers ticking work, but never providing any feedback to learners, let alone conceptual feedback to help improve their work.
This can only come with support to teachers for improving their content knowledge. This content knowledge must include literacy in assessment for learning rather than to meet only reporting requirements.
Workbooks are also being developed in line with the CAPS documents. They are being developed in literacy and numeracy for Grades 1-6 and will be implemented in the lowest quintile schools. Workbooks do not replace textbooks and other resources. They are additional to them.
Our view is that ongoing research on all available textbooks in the market is of the utmost importance. This can inform our processes for determining selection criteria to ensure quality and improve logistics of delivery.
We have to ensure that each child has a textbook for each subject. The challenges are immense and will not be solved overnight.
To ensure that we are responsive to the needs of the teacher in the classroom and that we promote effective teaching, learning and assessment, a five-year plan has been put in place to manage immediate short term interventions, as well as longer-term plans. We are exploring the possibility of introducing a National Institute for Curriculum and Professional Development.
Over the last four months of 2010, and thereafter, we will prepare the system for these adjustments and build supporting structures and processes to ensure that we implement properly and effectively.
In conclusion, I would like to invite you to work with us in ensuring a quality education for all.
I thank you.