Results of the Annual National Assessment (ANA) in reading and numeracy confirm the depth of the crisis in Education. The Department of Education must respond with a comprehensive plan that includes provision for school libraries.
ANA AN IMPORTANT STEP
The Department of Basic Education’s step to introduce country-wide annual national assessments of literacy and numeracy in foundation and intermediate phase of schooling, through ANA (Annual National Assessments) is an important step in monitoring the education system. This is especially since it can detect problems in teaching and learning at an early stage and, as the department notes, can provide guidance for targeted interventions.
WHAT DO THE RESULTS SHOW AND WHAT DON’T THEY SHOW?
However, the ANA results released by the Department of Basic Education this week provide further evidence of the crisis we face in education. The results showed that nationally, Grade 3 learners performed at an average of 35% in Literacy and 28% in Numeracy, while in Grade 6, the national average performance in Languages is 28% and for Mathematics 30%.
The Department is correct in noting that these results were not unexpected, but they are no less disturbing. The Minister noted that our learners have performed very poorly in International and Local studies on reading and numeracy.
Not only do these results show that our learners are performing poorly across the board, but also that the effects of poor quality and unequal education already have a major impact on learner outcomes from a very early stage. What these results don’t show are the differences which exist between learner outcomes at well resourced, well managed privileged (most former Model C) schools perform in relation to the majority of black learners who attend township and rural schools in our country.
While the ANA results are on their own alarming, they still do not reflect the deeper inequality which exists behind the national average.
WHAT SHOULD BE THE WAY FORWARD?
The DBE report notes that the introduction of workbooks for all grades 1 – 6 has had a positive impact on classroom practice, and that streamlining the curriculum is of the important initiatives aimed at addressing these problems. These are critical initiatives which must be supported and improved further. The same applies to the DBE’s commitment to provide every learner in with a textbook for each subject and to eradicate inappropriate structures by 2014, are all ambitious and important commitments, which speak to the problems in basic numeracy and literacy.
Repackaging the curriculum and providing workbooks may be part of the answer to OBE, but it doesn’t make resources like libraries, the internet any less important resources for the teaching and learning. The minister has publicly stated targets of eradicating mud schools and inappropriate structures by 2014, and providing every learner with a text book for every subject by the same time.
The ANA results provide data which can be used for targeted interventions, as the DBE notes, BUT what the results surely show is that interventions which target the entire system are also desperately needed. To produce a literate society we must ensure that there is a sufficient supply of, access to and use of books. This is most important at school. Widespread research has shown that libraries at schools, which are used properly, have a major impact on student performance.
The Department’s interventions must have as one of its priorities the provision of school libraries, including books and materials to schools, and training of teachers and librarians for the use of those materials. This must be included as part of the Department’s short term goals and targets together with the others mentioned. As a first step in this direction, the Department should at least focus on providing school libraries to primary schools, where developing a culture of reading can have the most impact.
The Department is yet to adopt a clear policy direction to address the fact that 93 % of all our schools are without functioning libraries, while our literacy rate is at 35% at grade 3 and at 28% in languages at grade 6. We cannot afford not to invest in books and reading materials for our learners, trained librarians or at least teachers with library training, and ultimately in providing our schools with the tools to foster a culture of reading and learning.
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