Most education stakeholders have welcomed the recommendations made by a task team that was composed to look at the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS).
In July 2009, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga appointed a task team to investigate the nature of challenges experienced in the implementation of the NCS with the intention of better aligning the current realities of the classroom with that vision.
The team consulted widely with teachers and other stakeholders from all nine provinces and found that the curriculum was broadly welcomed.
After consultations, key recommendations were made on the NCS. These included the need to reduce the amount of administrative work for teachers, which results from the planning and assessment requirements of the NCS as well as the discontinuation of learner portfolios.
The report recommended reducing the number of learning areas from eight to six, including two languages as well as giving priority to English as a first additional language at lower grades.
It further recommended the training of teachers to support the curriculum statement and that all support staff should undergo training on the Curriculum and Assessment Policy.
The report noted that the teacher hearing and submissions suggested that the current teacher development policies to support the curriculum were often too generic and superficial and did not provide the needed support to teachers.
"Teachers complained that most tertiary institutions did not cover the NCS thoroughly enough and that many newly trained teachers were not competent to teach.
"It was unanimous that any future training needs to be subject specific and that support staff such as school management, subject advisors and district staff also need to be trained and clear on their roles and responsibilities," the report noted.
According to Development Bank of Southern Africa education policy analyst, Graeme Bloch, the report showed that both teachers and departmental officials were confused about what to teach, how to do it and what kind of assessment was relevant for the students.
"There is very little realistic support to teachers in their classroom practice, this is a serious criticism of why our education system isn't working, it shows that the NCS faces far more than just teething problems that can be overcome with training," Bloch noted.
He applauded the department for considering the recommendations, noting that the honesty with which problems were being confronted was one of the good things about Motshekga's approach.
"The fact is she showed she won't sweep problems under the carpet and that she will move decisively where she can.
"These 'little things' make an enormous difference and give people hope; we will move forward. This is the kind of decisive leadership around core issues that we need to see the minister taking - she must give a lead and mobilise the public behind her," Bloch told BuaNews.
He also welcomed the recommendation that proposed the reduction of administrative work for teachers, adding that the move will make a direct impact on the classroom.
He emphasised that teachers needed to know exactly what was expected of them and be given direct support to enhance the basics and foundations of learning.
"It shows the minister is hearing the problems that teachers have raised - listening to the teachers is the first step to getting them more solidly on board to help find solutions, but these measures are just the first step.
"Administration has been one of the major teacher complaints as it keeps them from their primary job of teaching; it also enhances unnecessary control by junior officials over experienced teachers - rather officials need to think how they can more effectively support teachers in the classroom.
"Also important is that we don't destabilise the whole system and build on where we are at the moment, but removing paperwork is a major positive measure for teachers, most importantly, but also to get district officials in the department to think about what it means to provide support rather than insist on compliance for its own sake," he said.
On giving priority to English as a first additional language, Bloch said it showed creative and focused thinking that can only be helpful - on practical and theoretical/educational grounds.
National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA) President Ezrah Ramasehla said the recommendations were about making improvements and not about making compromises.
"They are about making the lives of teachers easier so that they have more time to do that which they are already doing better."
He said what made this procedure different was that the department embarked on a process of listening to classroom teachers.
"The findings and recommendations are therefore based on evidence, presented by the teachers themselves about the kinds of problems they are experiencing and there has been remarkable consensus about what these problems are."
The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) also welcomed the recommendations by the task team, saying it will benefit learners and teachers and improve the quality of teaching and learning.
"We welcome the reduction of the number of subjects in the Intermediate Phase from eight to six, this reduction of learning areas and content will enable teachers to focus on developing deeper conceptual understanding than was previously possible," SADTU spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said.
On the discontinuation of learner portfolios, Cembi said it would give learners and teachers more time to focus on other more educationally beneficial day-to-day classroom activities.
"SADTU looks forward to engaging the Department of Education on processes to reduce the teacher's administrative load in relationship to planning and assessment, focused plans and assessment will contribute towards improving learner performance.
"The union would like to engage the department on these matters as soon as possible so that the implementation for some of the recommendations can take place in 2010 and teachers are given clear messages about expectations," she said.
The report is still a draft and will be considered by the Council of Education Ministers. Motshekga will make an announcement at the end of October on the measures her department envisages will bring immediate relief for teachers.
Some of them will be implemented from the beginning of 2010, while others will need more planning and consultation.