Since the launch of Curriculum 2005 in March 1997, the media has continued to publish and print a dismal picture of the low literacy levels in the Foundation Phase (FP) and the poor Matric pass rates. The public’s dissatisfaction with schooling is fierce, because of its inability to alter the dismal results. Numerous newspaper articles (The Times 2007; Business Day 2007a; Cape Times 2008) calling for the improvement of the teaching of literacy and numeracy continue to make the headlines. Schooling is held responsible for the poor literacy levels because the public links poor literacy levels with the development of behavioural and emotional problems. The expectation is that it is the school’s responsibility to produce excellent literacy levels so that in turn excellent, obedient citizens who are law-abiding are produced. This, of course, according to the media articles, is not happening (Mail and Guardian 2007:17; Cape Times 2008:5; Sunday Times 2009:9), and schooling is being held responsible for all social ills.
Universities continue to complain about Grade 12 students who are entering tertiary education and are ill-prepared because they are unable to cope with the proficiency tests on entry to university. Prof Brian O’Connell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, in Business Day (2010:4) stated “We have a national problem (regarding) the quality of our school leavers. It is a deep problem…” He also continued to report the fact that he was aware that South Africa’s school learners were not without talent, but that the problem was that they were not competent because they were not taught properly at school. He did not elaborate on his observation of ‘not taught properly’. In the same article, Jody Cedras, from the Department of Higher Education and Training, attributes socio-economic status and race to what he calls the “large and growing” gaps in education at school. From the daily media reports about poor literacy levels in our country, there is a burning need to discover who is promoting and effectively increasing the literacy levels of our Foundation Phase(FP) learners and how and where these best practices can be held up as positive examples of being ‘taught properly’.
With the implementation of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) and the introduction of the new curriculum in 1997 the teachers, after workshops and training sessions, were expected to demonstrate the use of new OBE strategies, methods and techniques. Sadly, the expectations of the dramatic changes have not been fulfilled. Of course the emphasis on assessment and the completion of Outcomes Based Education Schedules have dampened the spontaneity and enthusiasm of many of the teachers. The issue of translating curriculum into good classroom practice is a problem.
The African National Congress (ANC) Polokwane Conference of 2007 declared that education and health should be the two key priorities of the ANC for the next five years, in order to improve the living standards of the workers and the poor, according to Blade Nzimande (a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee) (Argus 2008:5). This Conference also acknowledged that more should have been invested in education during the first decade of our democracy, because there was a need now to improve the quality of education in our schools, by focussing on the effective teaching of literacy and numeracy in the primary schools.
Tests such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRL) reported that more than three quarters of South African Grade 5 learners had failed to master basic reading skills and achieved the lowest scores in a literacy study of Grade 4 and 5 learners in 39 countries (Cape Argus 2007:3). Sarah Howie, Director for the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, commented “What we need is proper implementation of the curriculum in its current form” (Business Day 2007b:3). The following media: Cape Times, Cape Argus and Business Day on the 30 November 2007 all reported on the poor results, both nationally and internationally, showing that our children lag behind their peers in other countries, including developing countries such as in Sub Saharan Africa.
The Department of Education (DoE) over the last two or three years has introduced interventions such as the Foundations for Learning Campaign (FFLC); the Dinaledi Schools programme to promote mathematics, science and technology education; the Quality Improvement Development Support and Upliftment Programme (QIDS-UP), aimed at supporting learning, teaching and school leadership at 3 500 under-performing primary schools in poor areas; the introduction of a pre-school Grade R year for all five-year-olds, and various other initiatives, such as reading tool kits and packs of books, Drop All and Read Campaign and the Writing Project to improve reading and writing levels (Pandor 2008:3).
A former Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, in her address at the UNICEF sponsored FP Conference on 30th August 2008, argued for FP education to be treated as a critical area of
growth in South Africa. The objective of the Conference was to promote literacy as an issue of national and international importance and to provide a platform for teachers to share experiences and best practices. Literacy was emphasised as one of the essential building blocks upon which future learning is dependent.
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