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Grade 9 exit plan is not enough

(This article was published at the Saturday Star, 16th May 2015)

The Minister of Education Mrs. Angie Motshekga, when delivering her budget to Parliament last week, announced the Grade 9 School Exit Plan, which introduces a school leaving certificate for Grade 9 pupils. Motshekga anticipates that this “Grade 9 School Exit Level Certificate would address unemployment and the country’s skills shortages.”

Surely something is missing in this plan! How can nine years of schooling help with reducing unemployment when we are still producing school leavers who are mathematically and language illiterate? This has been substantiated over the past few years by the Grade 9 ANA results. In 2014 Grade 9 pupils achieved on average 10.8% in Math, 48,3% in Home Language and 34,4% in First Additional Language.

How will the issuing of this certificate yield any better results than what we currently have?

I am not totally against the Minister’s announcement, but I’d like to elaborate on some points that I feel should be taken into consideration in regard to the “Grade 9 Exit Plan”. Since 1994, The Department of Education has implemented many new changes e.g. they have managed to increase the Grade 1 enrolment to nearly 100%, which is a remarkable achievement. However, the QUALITY of schooling is very poor, as reflected by the ANA results, by international benchmarking and by our matric results. SA is placed last in math education in the world. The 2008 plan to increase the number of teachers has been successfully implemented BUT the QUALITY of entrants to the teaching profession is a cause for concern, as was pointed out in recent research published by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE); Teachers in South Africa: Supply and Demand 2013-2025 If we keep compromising on the QUALITY of education in this country we will continue getting mediocre and below average outputs.

There is no doubt that the Department of Education has to first and foremost ensure that these first nine years of schooling will be of a HIGH QUALITY, providing good resources and sound teacher training.

But let’s take it one step further. When looking at top performing countries in the world in the field of education, Finland ranks as one of the best. Finland has only nine compulsory years of schooling, but has been one of the role models for QUALITY in education, placed top in international benchmarking assessments such as the TIMSS and the PISA. This, however, is not where it ends. In Finland, after nine years of basic education a pupil, at the age of 16, can select from two paths, either to continue their secondary education on an academic track, or choose a vocational track.

Many countries in the world, where ORT schools operate successfully, implement this type of system and are able to offer vocational routes to their pupils. ORT High Schools in France, for example, meet the dynamic needs of the job market by offering optics, banking, informatics and other qualifications. In the Former Soviet Union (FSU), more than 20 vocational training schools and colleges have been established by ORT in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This places ORT as a leader in delivering career-oriented training in this region.

In December2014 CDE published a presentation by Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist, who has been leading an intensive study of the South Africa economy. One of the recommendations Prof. Hausmann makes is for a higher rate of job creation in SA. He suggests that due to SA’s significant skills constraints, the country should aim to shift from non-tradable sectors, such as tourism, finance, construction, retail, wholesale and transportation, which require highly skilled professionals, to tradable sectors, producing things that are exportable, such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

If we were to adopt this recommendation, we would develop a vocational path that would focus on the needs of the market and it would also improve the South African economy. It would be a win- win situation for the country, as it would also reduce the rate of unemployment and increase the labour force. The exit plan presented by the Minister means that those Grade 9 pupils that exit the system at this level will not follow the academic stream for the National Senior Certificate. These pupils could then choose from among 26 skills and vocational subjects offered by technical schools that have been upgraded or technical and vocational education colleges. Maybe, we should look at this proposal by the Minister in a different light; maybe the approach to this plan should be different.

In my view, any Grade 9 pupil, from whatever social background, should be able to make this choice, based on his/her competency and interest, as to whether they follow the academic or vocational route. If a pupil chooses a vocational path it should not be perceived as a poor choice. This requires a change in the mind-set of the nation!

Most South Africans perceive the academic route as the most prestigious and fulfilling path to follow. We should all respect the opportunities that lie within the vocational route. The vocational path should also be appreciated and advocated, as South Africa has a huge shortage of people with these specialized skills. Both routes should be valued and therefore invested in.

Vocational Training providers should also be upgraded so that they are able to offer top quality education and training. As the CDE report concludes “SA needs skills, and it needs a clear strategy, coordinated across many sectors of the state and the economy. Only then will the country grow and create jobs that will reduce inequality and eradicate poverty” Prof. Ricardo Hausmann Education is the most important vehicle to reduce poverty and unemployment. It will grow the labour force and provide equality.

If we want to improve the economy and enhance education in this country there should be a common vision, by all stakeholders, and not silo –policies declared sporadically. So to ensure that immaterial of the school exit level of a pupil, that he/she receives QUALITY education, thus ensuring they leave the system both literate and numerate.

Written by Ariellah Rosenberg, CEO, ORT SA. ORT SA is an NGO in education, vocational and enterprise development training. http://www.ortsa.org.za , Twitter: @ORT_SA , @Ariellah

Building a strong and inspired teaching force in South Africa

I have worked in the educational field for more than 20 years, mainly working with teachers, offering them professional development and training, and giving them classroom-based support. One of the main things I have learnt is that teaching is tough!

The longer I am involved in teaching, the more I realise that teaching is Art and Science combined, as it is such a complex and intricate profession.

Teachers are required to be ‘on top’ in regard to their area of speciality, and they must also be able to adapt to imparting this knowledge, at different depths and levels, to various age groups.  Simultaneously teachers need to take into consideration differentiation, classroom management and assessment tools, while always keeping in mind the home backgrounds and emotional states of the learners, and at the end of all this they must remain well-balanced and sane!  With all the talks on technological trends in education, the one role, I have no doubt will remain is that of the teacher. No sophisticated online, e-learning cloud can replace the physical and mental human being that’s called a teacher.

We therefore need to invest in our teachers, by treating them as professionals and prioritising their status to one of the top ranks on the professional scale.  No other entity has the most impact on the future of education in the country than the teacher. Mckinsey reports, James Stronge’s research and the findings by Harry Wong all conclude that the single greatest effect on student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher. If students’ achievements eventually determine the number of critical thinkers, the level of Science Literacy, and the number of future innovators and entrepreneurs the country produces, then the link of teachers to the future economy of the country is non-negotiable.

In order to raise the professional standards of teachers, some major steps need to be taken in South Africa. There is a need to raise the quality of pre-service teacher training offered by universities, especially in the field of Math, Science and Technology (MST) Education, where the MST Task team, nominated by the DBE Minister, found that the Higher Education Institutes are failing to deliver new adequately qualified MST teachers.
NewTeacherOnce teachers are in the system, a proper induction programme has to be implemented to support them and to prevent them dropping out early in their career. In countries like Singapore, a new teacher is assigned a mentor for a minimum period of 2-3 years.
Continuous and appropriate professional development needs to be implemented throughout a teacher’s career.  “Unless we continue to grow and learn as teachers after we graduate, within 3 to 5 years we will revert to teaching in ways we remember being taught…” Dr Dennis Rose.
So far ad-hock training has been provided to teachers without any Professional Development Plan and reporting system being put in place to monitor growth, relevancy and implementation.

Another important element, which must not be neglected, in applying any educational interventions, is to involve the teacher in the conceptualisation of reforms, or interventions.
The shift begins with the teachers and it will happen if there is buy-in from them. So far educational reforms have been done top-down, without much consultation with teachers. There is a major need to look at a bottom-up approach and get teachers to become proactive from the commencement of a reform, and therefore to become responsible and accountable professionals.

Giving teacher’s prestigious professional ranking, will also require that they are attractively compensated financially.   Another consideration is linking teachers’ performance to pay.

Another challenge that needs to be overcome is the generally negative perception that people have of teachers. How can we change this? That remains a challenge!

Lee Iacocca, an American businessman had this to say about teachers:

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else”.

Engaging learners in STEM education

At Education Week (organised by Spintelligent), which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre, in June, this year, a STEM Panel was set up to elaborate on how to engage learners in STEM education. Members of the panel presented interesting projects, and described different approaches, that could be used to promote learners’ engagement in STEM education in South Africa.

The STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are not very popular and are perceived as difficult, by most of our students and many of our teachers.  This poor perception and negative attitude towards these important subjects is part of a vicious cycle that is reflected in the poor performance of our students when they participate in National and International Benchmarking Tests, in both Math and Science.

Where does South Africa stand when it comes to creating a pool of STEM qualified professionals? Not in a good position at all!
In 2012, statistic of the Grade 12 Cohort showed that 66% of these learners were ‘lost’ somewhere along the way, during the planned 12 year period of their schooling. Only 27% of the cohort, who completed matric, qualified to study for a degree, at a university. In addition to this, if we took 1000 children who started Grade 1 in 2001, only SIX of them would choose to pursue a STEM Qualification at a tertiary level, and of these SIX, only THREE would complete the qualification. (SASOL Inzalo Foundation Report).

There are many factors contributing to this state of affairs. One of the crucial ones is the poor delivery of the STEM subjects, by our teaching force.

Members of the panel presented the following:

The Robotics Project, run by ORT SA CAPE, presented by Dr Lydia Able.  Robotic activities are offered to both boys and girls, from townships schools, in the Western Cape.  The use of Technology for learning and development is done through the use of Lego WeDo and Mindstorm NXT Robotics kits. The children use the kits to design and build robots which, besides developing critical thinking and auditory listening skills, encourage the development of fine motor skills and hand eye co-ordination. If one is to succeed in Mathematics and Science it is essential that one becomes a critical thinker, and this skill is the major skill developed when one participates in Robotics.

The Bloodhound Foundation, presented by Chirstopher Maxwell also shared their exciting project which is to be launched in 2014. The Foundation will bring the first Super Sonic Car in the world to Kimberly!!  When they work in schools, the Foundation aims to get learners to be enthusiastic and interested in science-based subjects.

The above presentation was followed by an interesting presentation, by Olatunde Osiyemi, from the University of Fort Hare, on Mathematical Literacy, and its potential impact on the state of STEM. This in turn, was followed by an inspiring presentation by Seliki Tlhabane, CEO of the Sangari Institute.  He shared his successful approach to the teaching of Mathematics.  Using his approach, he puts pupils into mixed ability groups and all members of the group take responsibility to ensure that all members of their group perform at an acceptable level.  When it comes to informal assessments, the group is allowed to peruse the question paper prior to writing it, to discuss the questions and what is required from them, in order to answer them correctly.  This really caused consternation and much discussion from members of the the audience, and it was eventually agreed that’ if we always did what we have always done, we will always get what we’ve always got. Therefore to improve our Maths and Science results we need to be open to using new and different approaches, especially those where the learners are achieving positive results.

South Africa can overcome its educational challenges with the persistent implementation of strategies, positive thinking and action, working in collaboration and partnership, and by working towards one goal – the child. We have to always keep in mind that investing in our children is investing in our future.  The most important contributing factor to this investment is first and foremost education, so we have to deliver high quality education, to ensure that our children will grow up to be responsible, contributing, independent citizens of South Africa.

Cherish Math with your children

What connotation does the word mathematics brings to your mind?

Many dread the word in any form – Math, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Numeracy and so on. For me the word mathematics brings memories of my Grade 9 High School Math teacher, Angela.  She was a rigid, dogmatic lady who spoke with a heavy Russian accent.  When she peered at you, over her reading glasses, one’s heart froze, and one’s hands and legs started shaking uncontrollably.  This was when my own fear and negative attitude towards the learning of Mathematics began – a fear that I only managed to overcome when I got to university.

Well, thankfully those days are over and I am now a parent of three beautiful daughters, who themselves have had varied experiences of learning mathematics.  Fortunately for them none of their teachers have ever invoked anywhere near the terror levels of teacher Angela, but I do, however, wonder if subconsciously, and through non-verbal cues, I have transferred to them some of my earlier fears and negative attitude towards the learning of mathematics.

What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the abstract science of space, number and quantity. It is a vehicle to cultivate the mind and to get us to think; therefore it is very important when teaching mathematics, to ensure that children have grasped the concept being taught. Well structured questions such as:  ‘Explain it.’  ‘How did you get your answer?’ are a very important means to achieve this end.   It is the process rather than the answer that is important. We need to get away from teaching procedural routines, and encourage our children to think about their thinking (Meta cognition) and get them to appreciate that, just like most things in life; there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.

Dr Yeap Ben Har, a World Renown Math expert from Singapore, visited South Africa recently and gave workshops on the unique approach Singapore take when teaching mathematics, elaborating on the model method they use when problem solving. He believes that to ensure that a child achieves, and develops a positive attitude towards Mathematics the most important contributing factor is adult support and reassurance. According to Dr Yeap Ben Har, when a child is fearful and anxious about learning  Math it originates from the adult interacting with the child (teacher, parent, care giver), and not from the child himself.

Now that we know that the adult’s behaviour and attitude towards Maths is key, we need to ask ourselves as parents, what we can do to help our children master mathematics.  When your child comes home from school with a mathematical problem he can’t solve, be patient, but don’t do it for him.  Begin by asking him:

‘What did you learn about this at school?’

If the answer he gives doesn’t enlighten you, you could then refer to his textbook, workbook or exercise book.  Give your child time to think and explore.  Don’t rush him.  Remember the quality of the practice is more important than the quantity, and never sacrifice your child’s attitude towards mathematics, for the sake of getting good results.

How can we, as parents contribute towards developing a love for Maths in our children?   Make learning fun. For example, when shopping, you can give your child an imaginary budget of X amount, and ask him to work out what items he could purchase, without going over budget.  By incorporating Mathematics into daily life our children will come to appreciate that it is an important life skill.  Playing well known games with your children, such as Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly etc will also develop sound Mathematical concepts, while at the same time ensuring you spend quality time together.   One can also download suitable mathematical games for your child onto their phones, tablets or computers.

We, as parents, also need to be role models for our children, and set an example of being lifelong learners. As Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician said:   “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”.

(Thanks to Jane Horner for Proof Reading and Contribution)

HWEmail

How will technology impact the future of education?

Reflections from a Study Tour to Israel, MOFET 2013

Technology is progressing so fast that we never seem to be able to keep up to date with it.

As teachers, we sometimes feel that we, the “Desert Generation’s” main objective is to lead our students into the “Promised Land,” and by doing so we ourselves may be left behind, just observing the technological miracles envisaged by this new generation.

There is no question about whether or not technology has an impact on education.  Technology has, and always will, have power on shaping education. The real issue is the approach that we take when handling the changes and challenges that technology conveys.

Rabbi Kook, a significant thinker of the 19th Century said “In every era, you need to learn how to use the elements that influence the generation”. Adapting this to the 21st Century, the approach seems to be to learn what the future holds technologically, so that we can prepare this generation to cope with it.  When examining new and futuristic technologies, one needs to keep in mind the definition of Technology, as given by Allan Kay, an American Computer Scientist.  He said: “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”. With the constant and endless changes in technologies today, we need to keep this definition in mind.   Think about the new upgraded cell phone that you have just purchased.  How long will it be before a new version comes onto the market?

In the past 30 years, research on education and technology has shown that since computers were introduced to schools, no change has occurred (Prof Hannan Yaniv, 2013).  There is, however, a need to change the way we think about technology and education. These life changing technologies challenge the digital pedagogy and the approach we take to these changes.  Instead of using new tools to change the way and what we learn we are doing what we have always done, but more efficiently (Jay Hurvitz, 2013).

Prof Sheizaf Refaeli from the Haifa University claims that disruptive technology can lead to disruptive change. The more established the organisation the more resistant it is to change e.g. Education.
Thornburg’s definition of disruptive technology is as follows: “an impossible-to-predict game changer that will fundamentally alter the conventional landscape”. The technology which he predicts will create the third education revolution is the always-connected mobile device.

Research shows how Africa is leapfrogging from an unwired, non-existent e-learning infrastructure to a wireless e-learning infrastructure with whole integration of online and wireless technologies and learning management systems (Brown, 2003). As a result, the potential of using mobile technology in Africa to bridge the digital divide is being re-examined and researched.

In this regard many questions are being posed to researchers and policy makers in the Educational field.  For example:

  1. “Do we understand technology enough to develop policies about it in education?”
  2. “When is learning effective?”

The leading answer seems to be that children need to become “designers for learning” and not the “consumers of learning”.  To achieve this end, there is a need for cultural change, and then one has to ask what the role of the teacher is?   The teacher will then be accountable for the quality of the content being learnt.

How can Technology be the catalyst for change? Examples from the Technion

  1. Use of mobile technology, such as laptops, in crowded classrooms to create active learning
  2. YouTube – used as a platform for assignments
  3. Cloud Pedagogy – learning can take place everywhere, no classroom boundaries

Virtual realities, simulations, mobile technology, virtual platform, cloud pedagogy and digital pedagogy, need to be examined to create lifelong learning.   This will equip our students for a future that we ourselves can’t even envisage.

From tablets to tablets

Reflections on visit to a school in Singapore

The following video was taken at Holy Innocents Primary school in Singapore. This visit was one of the highlights of the Global Math Forum held in Singapore in September. Marshall and Cavendish organised a most valuable and professional forum as  discussed in my previous posts. Enjoy the video and feel free to comment.

Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA

At the recent Global Math Forum organised by Marshall and Cavendish in Singapore, I presented the following Prezi on the Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA.

Notes for the Prezi:

My presentation started with a general background on South Africa, followed by a rather gloomy and most depressing picture of the state of
education in the country.

In a previous post , I portrayed the “Ticking bomb” as described by the Ministry of Higher Education; the distressing situation of the high unemployment rate of a young cohort group, this data being  of Government concern as it has huge implications on the future, as well as the present crime rate and poverty.

When discussing the state of education, it is important to take note of the past, and though 17 years have passed since Apartheid and “the past can no longer serves us as an excuse” as many critics may state, it is interesting to note that 96% of the current teachers were trained during the pre 1994 period with its deep inequalities, leaving them under-prepared for the new system and curriculum.

Therefore the Need-
South Africa is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as Maths and Science.  Moreover,, existing teachers spend too little time in the classroom and many teach poorly when they are in the classroom. With research overwhelmingly showing that good teaching is vital
for better student results, this is a worrying situation. (CDE Recent research).

Government has taken many measures post 1994, and the Curriculum reforms in the form of Curriculum 2005, RNCS and NCS were all based
on “Outcomes Based Education” approach. What is known as OBE is based on Student Centre Learning, with focus on empirically measuring students’ performance (called outcomes). This approach does not specify nor require any particular style of teaching or learning and is based on constructivist methods, discouraging traditional education based direct instruction.

Professor Gopinathan from the NIE Singapore noted in his speech that the Singapore Government when designing its policy, some 30 years ago, based its strategy on building strong fundamentals before introducing flexibility, choice and diversity.

In 2010, the DOE of SA introduced the CAPS Curriculum and “kicked OBE approach out of the door”…some may argue, 16 years too late.

ORT SA Math Programme incorporates three critical factors that contribute to its success as shown in learners’ performance and teachers increased competence, confidence and motivation:

1. The use of high quality materials (the Singapore Math books published by Marshall and Cavendish). These materials have the MCK (Math
Content Knowledge) and MPCK (Math Pedagogical Content Knowledge) both embedded in them. And its structure and focus approach compensate a lack of strong Curriculum.

2.  Intensive teachers training, coaching and on-site support to upgrade teachers’ skills and knowledge and support them in implementation.

3. Assessment of learners and teachers to measure impact of project on their performance and bridge the gaps where necessary.

Lessons learnt

  • ORT’s model of high quality books, PD and Assessment proves to improve teaching and learning of Math in township schools in SA
  • Phase Approach (Starting from Grade 1) is recommended to introduce the Singapore methodologies progressively and build strong foundations
  • Show case success via functions, awards ceremonies, visits to schools. These show cases are a source of motivation and pride to teachers and schools
  • Importance of partnerships with DOE, Corporates, other NGOs all sharing the same aims and goals

Challenges

  • Parents’ involvement is a big challenge. Not only in encouraging and supporting children’s work and instill in them the values in education, but also  ensuring the safety of the school
  • Language – not enough research has been conducted to evaluate the implications of using English written textbooks in the Foundation Phase level, when policy requires the use of home language (there are 11 official languages in SA)
  • Minimal influence on policy and reforms in education. (accountability, compensation of teachers, shared data with DOE on pupils assessment)

Prezi