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Durban - The fundamental problem with the schooling system was that most teachers had limited knowledge of their subjects and knew only marginally more than what they had to teach their pupils.
This was despite years of training by provincial education departments, universities and NGOs, which had produced “disappointing results”.
This was according to a report by the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit, presented to Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, in Pretoria on Thursday.
The unit’s mandate was to provide an authoritative account of the state of teaching in the country - of which this report was the first.
Entitled “The State of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase”, the research sought to identify why schools performed as they did, rather than how well.
It focused on grades 1 to 3, the learning phase that is critical for mastering reading, writing and calculating.
Aside from teacher capacity, the report, released by the unit’s chief executive Nick Taylor, revealed the myriad problems posed by language.
Schools in two districts from each province were sampled.
In KwaZulu-Natal these were Ilembe (Ballito) and Umlazi (greater Durban).
The report said a recent analysis of a language comprehension test written by a sample of Grade 6 teachers in 2007, found that while teachers did well when asked to retrieve information that was explicitly stated (75 percent), their scores took a nosedive when the questions required interpretation (37 percent) and evaluation (40 percent).
The maths results were similar, and there was no reason to believe that the subject knowledge of grade 1 to 3 teachers was any better, the report states.
In terms of language, while the government advocates teaching African children in their home language, parents were increasingly opting for their children to be taught in English and Afrikaans.
In Ilembe, at only three of eight schools were pupils taught in the language which was the home language of most pupils at the school.
Unit evaluators who visited the schools also found that the complexities of teaching reading and writing were exacerbated by a diversity of home languages at a school.
Up to five different languages (some foreign) were spoken in a single classroom at an inner city Durban school.
At township schools in the Umlazi district, where Zulu was the language of teaching and learning, Xhosa had become the second most widely spoken language.
A common problem was that the African language spoken by many township children was seldom the standard form of that language.
Switching from the language of teaching and learning to English during maths lessons was also common, given the complex terminology.
Teachers in the Umlazi district were particularly vocal about the difficulties of teaching maths in Zulu.
Motshekga welcomed the report, and she intends asking Parliament to give financial support to its intervention strategies at a budget hearing next week.
* Meanwhile, the cabinet has condemned as “anarchic” the display of women’s underwear last week during a teachers’ protest calling on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to resign.
Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane said protests should be within the confines of the law and dignified.
Additional reporting by Sapa