Pupils need support to reach full potential

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

From today until Friday pupils across the country will be sitting for the fourth Annual National Assessments (ANA).  The purpose is to identify education challenges, some of which are result of apartheid policies. It is easy to forget that apartheid relegated Africans to “hewers of wood and drawers of water” through sub-standard numeracy and literacy education. This no doubt had a knock-on effect on our ability to participate in the economy.

However, this has all changed with our strong focus on using education to address many of our developmental challenges, including unemployment, the advancement of women and to provide a skilled workforce to the economy.

The assessments were introduced in 2011 by the Department of Basic Education to annually measure progress in pupil achievement towards its target of ensuring that at least 60 per cent of had achieved acceptable levels in literacy and numeracy by this year. 

The tests are set nationally and written by grades 1 - 6 and Grade 9s. They are administered in all the 11 official languages in the foundation phase and in the two languages of teaching and learning in the intermediate and senior phases. Necessary adaptations are effected for those who experience learning disabilities to ensure that every pupil has the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in the assessment.

Only literacy and numeracy are tested as these have been found to be the key foundational skills for successful learning in school and beyond.

After the tests, schools are also required to send reports to parents and guardians so they can familiarise themselves with their child’s competency levels. This feedback is critical and assists them to motivate, support and encourage pupils to excel.

In addition, the results provide teachers with empirical evidence on the capabilities of each pupil at a particular stage or grade, thus facilitating the development of specific interventions. Moreover, assessments assist schools in improving their academic plans; identifying challenges in the curriculum; developing teachers and identifying additional learning materials.  District offices can also determine which schools need additional support.

The Department of Basic Education uses the results to assess the degree to which national pupil workbooks, Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) and initiatives targeting areas of weakness had an impact on learning.

The annual assessments are great tool to identify problem areas so that remedial measures can be implemented. According to Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, these assessments also serve as a true reflection of the state of our schooling system.

“As an indicator of the health of the education system, ANA has yielded not only valuable information on the status quo. ANA has also pointed to those areas calling for urgent attention to improve performance,” she said.

Due to invaluable information that the assessments provide, the Department of Basic Education is considering to increasing its scope. It was decided that this year the Department will pilot the assessment to a sample of pupils in Grades 7 and 8. Based on the findings, a decision will be taken next year whether the assessments will be extended to all.

To the prophets of doom, we urge you not to treat the results as an end in themselves and to show how the education system is failing our pupil. We reaffirm that these assessments are meant to help us raise our performance and build a better education system. 

The government has made quality education the cornerstone of our efforts to overcome many of the country’s social and economic challenges. For this financial year alone, the basic education budget stands at R19.7 billion.

This investment will ensure that we reach our vision as set out in the National Development Plan – that by 2030 South Africans should have access to education and training of the highest quality, characterised by significantly improved learning outcomes.  

By reaching this we will start to create an inclusive society, uplift individuals and produce a skilled workforce that will make the country more competitive and boost our economy. We will also produce more pupils who can further their studies in scare skills professions such as engineering, science and various artisan fields.

The government will continue to use the results and other measures to improve the education system. However, we cannot solely be responsible for the education of our pupils; parents and guardians must play their part by supporting and motivating pupils to enable them to reach their full potential and in the process move the country forward.


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