Durban - Teachers, principals, subject heads and even district officials will go back to class this month as part of a new plan to improve the quality of teaching and learning at KwaZulu-Natal schools.
The initiative is the latest in a long list of previous intervention programmes, but is being hailed by stakeholders, including teacher unions, as they fix the ailing school system.
A pilot programme of the Jika iMfundo initiative was launched by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and the Programme to Improve Learning Outcomes last week, targeting the uThungulu and Pinetown districts, reaching about 1 200 schools.
Mary Metcalfe, a “change director” for the learning outcomes initiative, and a former director-general of the national Department of Higher Education and Training, said the new programme would assist everyone, from pupils to parents, to improve learning by working more efficiently with the right tools in place and providing the necessary support.
The intervention aims to enable districts to respond better to schools that need assistance, support school management teams to lead learning, and to support teachers in covering the curriculum, thereby helping pupils do better.
In an interview with the Daily News this week, Metcalfe, also a Wits professor of education, said the initiative was different from previous ones as it would work within the system and support the government to lead the change, rather than the change being led from outside.
It was important to take lessons from the failed initiatives and show that these could work on scale by focusing on the district as a whole, and not just at a few selected schools, she said.
Metcalfe said the first test for the programme was to change the relationships between teachers, principals and district officials and to introduce new ways of supporting each other to cover the curriculum effectively.
The success of the intervention would be weighed in the long term using matric results and annual assessments.
Metcalfe said the programme, which would focus on improving English, Zulu, maths and science, would be monitored frequently to ensure its effectiveness.
“We believe we can only improve teaching if we provide support to teachers, principals and the district to cover the curriculum efficiently every year,” she said. “It is intended to support the subject heads, who will in turn support the teachers, giving districts an opportunity to form better relations with the schools and work less on issues of compliance.”
Metcalfe said she was looking forward to the results, although she expected that the improvement would not be the same at all schools.
Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni said the government was accountable for pupils’ results and that failure was not an option.
Nkonyeni said the support of the teachers’ unions - the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the National Teachers Union (Natu) and National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa) - was a crucial component of the programme’s success.
“We are very pleased to be working with the unions along with business and civil society to ensure that the future leaders… achieve their potential,” she said.
Naptosa’s KZN chief executive, Anthony Pierce, said they were impressed by the amount of research that had gone into this programme, adding that it had been discussed for years.
Metcalfe “has done a lot of investigating and you get the sense that she is aware of what the shortcomings are”, he said.
Allen Thompson, the spokesman for Natu, said the pilot would zoom in on districts and highlight the schools that needed additional support from the department.
“We can never oppose any attempt to improve teaching and learning. We will do all that is possible to give support,” he said.
Sadtu representatives were not available for comment.
Labby Ramrathan, an associate professor at the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said he looked forward to seeing the pilot unfold.
He said he was conducting research at KZN schools, talking to pupils and their communities about how they felt schooling could be improved.
Ramrathan said previous department interventions which looked at teacher development, curriculum changes and improving leadership capabilities of principals had yielded no positive results.
“It makes sense to go directly there, be there and work with the teachers and learners,” he said.
The pilot will be funded by the department and the National Education Collaboration Trust.