I read John Matisonn’s article about the steps that must be taken to improve the education system with great interest, and he has hit the nail on the head. The recommendations closely align with what the Western Cape is doing to improve learning outcomes.
The bulk of his argument refers to the importance of improving reading skills, particularly in the early grades. I couldn’t agree more: reading is quite simply the basis of all future learning, which is why we have made such significant investments in improving our learners’ reading scores.
The Western Cape Reading Strategy was implemented to strengthen performance in reading across all grades.
We allocated R118-million in the 2022/23 financial year for a Foundation Phase reading programme in three languages with training for teachers and the distribution of decodable readers and anthologies for Grades 1 to 3.
The Education Assistants working in our schools are playing a pivotal role as reading coaches.
And as a province, we made the decision to allocate an extra two hours per week for reading within the school day in the Foundation Phase for the 3rd and 4th term of 2022. The additional time has now been recommended for schools across the country and continues for the youngest learners of the Western Cape.
But South Africa does not only face a literacy crisis. It faces a numeracy crisis too — one that has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated school closures.
As the only province to undertake annual systemic testing, we are able to track the impact of lost teaching and learning time during the pandemic, which has reversed gains made over the past decade in both Language and Mathematics scores.
We simply cannot say that a child is receiving quality education if so many of our Grade 3, 6, and 9, learners are struggling to achieve the basic pass score for Mathematics and Reading.
And it was clear that we needed to take immediate action to reverse these learning losses if we are to have any hope of delivering quality education in the Western Cape.
It is for this exact reason that we have invested a massive R1.2-billion into our #BackOnTrack programme. It’s the biggest programme to reverse learning losses in our country, with extra resources and training in the Foundation Phase, extra classes for Grade 4, 7, 8, 10 and 12 learners, and extra training for our Grade 4, 7, 8, 10 and 12 teachers.
Our term-time classes on Saturdays have had an average attendance of around 15,000 learners, and over 23,000 learners attended holiday classes. Over 5,500 teachers have attended extra training.
And there is still so much more to do.
The question of why the relatively high education expenditure in our country is not translating into greater educational attainment is a critical one. We need to make sure that every marginal rand we invest is delivering improvements in the quality of education our children achieve.
This is one of the reasons we asked the World Bank to undertake an Education Sector Analysis, which will support us in setting long-term priorities to improve education outcomes.
It will take some time to reverse the damage done to the education system by the pandemic, but we are in it for the long haul.
The bottom line is this: despite the doom and gloom, one province is focusing on the right levers to improve learning outcomes, and we will keep working hard to give our children a better future in the Western Cape. DM