An eye-opening report by the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) – which was completed in 2013 but not released by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga – has been leaked to the press. The Mail & Guardian (M&G) reported on “rampant cronyism, union meddling and teacher appointments that ignore policy”, brought to light by the NEEDU report.
EE expresses very serious concern that Minister Motshekga did not make 2013 NEEDU report available to the public. The M&G’s source indicated that the Department of Basic Education had “actively prevented the report from being released because of how damning it is”. EE has raised concern about the Minister’s sweeping power over NEEDU from the outset. The Minister has never carried out promises to secure NEEDU’s independence.
The National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) is a unit within the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and it reports directly to the Minister. It was established shortly after Minister Angie Motshega was appointed following the general election of 2009. NEEDU assesses how well schools, circuits, districts, and provinces are performing with regard to the DBEs directives (i.e. the match between policy and practice); it identifies problems in implementation; and it proposes recommendations. Its job is to “provide the Minister of Education with an authoritative, analytical and accurate account on the state of schools in South Africa and, in particular, on the status of teaching and learning.” (See here.)
NEEDU now faces a bleak future. No attempt has been made to develop the unit’s capacity or independence. In addition, the contract of NEEDU’s respected CEO, Dr Nick Taylor, will not be renewed. This may be because NEEDU’s findings, some which the Minister has suppressed, have revealed very serious short-comings in the South African education system.
What has NEEDU found?
South African primary schools are failing to equip learners with basic literacy and numeracy skills. A finding also highlighted in the National School Effectiveness Study (2011) (here is a summary).
The report issued by NEEDU in 2012 (which assessed the Foundational Phase in urban areas) and the unreleased NEEDU report of 2013(which assessed the Intermediate Phase in rural areas) both found that basic literacy and numeracy skills of South African learners are well below curriculum specifications. Rural schools – which the 2013 Report speaks to – are less resourced and more remote, and are most affected by the deficiencies in the education system.
NEEDU 2012 looked at the Foundation phase (grades 1 to 3) in 134 primary schools and their respective district and provincial offices predominately from areas with high population inflow (urban areas).
NEEDU 2013 looked at the Intermediate (grade 4 to 6) phase in 219 ‘rural’ primary schools (99 ‘mono-grade’ and 120 ‘multi-grade’ schools).
FET and Senior phases (2014), and Grade R and Special Education Needs Schools (LSEN) were scheduled for investigation in 2014 and 2015 respectively. EE is not aware of the status of these reports.
The NEEDU reports find that while instructional leadership and teaching and learning go hand in hand, it is worth keeping in mind that although good leadership helps teachers to work optimally – by ensuring proper accountability structures and the provision and management of resources – it can only do so much. The quality of classroom interactions and learning progress is still very much a function of good teaching – which is a question of training and development, but also the availability and distribution of good teachers.
While the NEEDU reports draw attention to a lot of very bad teaching practices, it also draws attention to a number of instances where strong teachers and principals are able to make all the difference in dysfunctional districts.
In terms of teaching and learning the NEEDU 2012 report identified some of the following problems:
· Reading and writing is not pushed hard enough by teachers (formally and recreationally);
· Most of the best students failed to read at the adequate level;
· Numeracy was not given the systematic treatment it requires – teachers often relied on poorly designed worksheets;
· In some instances the resources provided by the DBE were underused;
· Teacher in-service training is seen as failing to develop teachers for teaching, even creating perverse incentives where some teachers are incentivized to take easy courses in order to jump a salary bracket;
· Pre-service training is seen as failing to produce skilled teachers, particularly in subjects like science and mathematics.
The 2013 NEEDU report made similar observations, including:
· Time management: Teachers spent too much time marking and doing administration work during school hours, for example;
· Reading with comprehension was not pushed hard enough;
· Writing was not pushed hard enough.
NEEDU 2013 also found that in multi-grade schools (where students of different grade level are taught in the same class) most teachers made no attempt to provide different learning experiences, appropriate to each of the respective grade levels.
Across all schools, very little independent reading or writing was seen in most of the classes; pacing was much too slow; oral reading fluency is a “blind spot” according to the report (in SA generally, but in rural schools particularly); workbooks were under-utilized.
The 2013 NEEDU report identifies a lack of sufficiently qualified teaching staff as one of the main issues in rural areas. Schools in rural areas fail to attract good teachers. In rural areas you have many more schools, distributed over larger areas, and much fewer learners per school. Teachers in rural areas end up being much more expensive for three reasons: they are older, higher salaries are needed to attract teachers to rural areas, and due to small classes the relative cost per-child is higher. Despite these higher costs the content knowledge of rural teachers is far below that of urban teachers.
An appropriate balance must be struck between employing teachers, on the one hand, and technical and administrative support staff, on the other – this ratio is very uneven in South Africa. In addition, it would appear that in rural provinces too much of the provincial budget goes to salaries, which affects how much money can be spent on other resources.
Equal Education Demands:
1. Minister Motshekga must officially release the 2013 NEEDU Report.
2. Minister Motshekga must explain her decision to suppress this report and not to renew Dr Nick Taylor’s contract.
3. Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education must ask the Minister these questions.
4. Minister Motshekga must take immediate steps to secure NEEDU’s institutional independence via an act of Parliament.
For Further info contact:
Wim Louw (Equal Education Researcher) 071 685 8919
Doron Isaacs (Equal Education Deputy General Secretary) 082 850 2111