During September 2015 the DBE hosted the Year of Evaluations Indaba in the spirit of celebrating evaluations in basic education. In continued support of 2015 as the International Year of Evaluation, the Deputy Minister of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation, Mr Buti Manamela, delivered the opening address at the 5th Biennial South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA) conference during October 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Johannesburg. The title of the SAMEA conference was “Using Evaluation to improve People’s Lives”. SAMEA initiated Government Evaluation Awards as part of their efforts to elevate evaluations nationally with an award ceremony, taking place on 14 October 2015. According to the 2015 Government Awards document the awards recognise evaluations and evidence that contributed towards improving government performance or which were assessed and found to be of good quality with the potential to be instrumental in improving government performance.
DBE’s very own Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Director: Early Childhood Development (ECD), was awarded in sub-category 1 (Utilisation of the evaluation and served at Cabinet) for a Diagnostic Review of Early Childhood Development. Ms Samuels also received a second award, alongside Ms Carol Nuga-Deliwe, Chief Director: Strategic Planning Research and Coordination, and Prof Servaas van der Berg, Independent Evaluator, Professor of Economics (University of Stellenbosch) for the Impact Evaluation of the Introduction of Grade R on Learning Outcomes. This award fell under sub-category 2 (High Quality Assessment Score and potential to be instrumental in improving government performance). Although the awards were only presented to programme managers, Dr Stephen Taylor, Advisor in the Office of the Director General contributed significantly in the finalization of the study.
The study confirmed the strategic importance of the Grade R programme in the quest to improve education in South Africa, but showed that, on average, the learning gains attributable to the Grade R programme have been fairly small. In some schools, Grade R has contributed towards better learning, but in other schools it has not. Clearly, one cannot take it for granted that Grade R is always of an acceptable standard. A low overall quality of instruction in some primary schools, together with disadvantageous home background factors, may also be working against the gains of Grade R provision. Lastly, the study also showed the importance of having systemic data such as the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for understanding the performance of the education system.