Duration of Project: 2005 – 2008
Location of Project: KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape
Name of Evaluation Service Provider: Dr Howard Summers
The project was a three-year educator intervention programme aimed at upgrading the qualifications of Foundation Phase (FP) educators in Mathematics/Numeracy and Language/Literacy education.
There were 31 educators from 16 schools in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and 28 educators from 17 schools in the Eastern Cape registered with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and funded by the Zenex Foundation for a BEd degree.
In partnership with Mathematics Centre and READ, the NMMU provided theoretical input and accredited the BEd course while Mathematics Centre and READ offered practical input to assist educators improve the content knowledge that was not covered in the BEd course and pedagogical skills through workshops and school-support visits. It should be noted that while the numeracy component presented by Mathematics Centre started in 2005, the literacy component was only brought into the project in August 2006.
The project aimed to:
- Increase the number of qualified Mathematics and language educators through a BEd degree
- Coach and mentor educators to implement curriculum content knowledge covered in the BEd course
- Provide classroom support to improve planning and pedagogical skills of educators
- Provide resources needed for the effective implementation of the curriculum.
The learner performance results pointed to a number of issues:
- In the Eastern Cape there was overall improvement in the learner scores in numeracy and literacy.
- In KZN there was a disturbing note that the learner scores dropped in both numeracy and literacy from the Baseline Study to the Impact Study – the evaluators were not able to explain this except for possible problems in the test administration with learners being given “a little” assistance during the Baseline Study.
- Given that non-project learners and control learners also improved in the Eastern Cape, the improvement with project learners could not be attributed to the effects of the project teachers.
- Even though literacy scores appeared high (even at Baseline level), the area of reading and writing was still a problem area.
When it comes to assessing whether the educators have acquired the necessary depth and understanding of numerical concepts in order to contribute to learner performance, the evaluators noted that the project educators did well in the numeracy and literacy modules in the BEd (FP) course. The teachers had the opportunity to develop skills in teaching of numeracy through the completion of the formal qualification and through the additional workshops and classroom support provided by Mathematics Centre and READ. However, during the observations, it was discovered that teachers do not expand in the teaching of Mathematics concepts. Also, the outcomes in the numeracy test revealed that critical skills such as basic operations were still not mastered by the learners. Transfer of learning from the academic level to actual classroom level had not yet taken place.
On the issue of whether the educators’ content knowledge and classroom methodology, and the quality of their numeracy teaching, had improved, there was a discrepancy in the findings.
The Mathematics Centre facilitators, principals and project teachers indicated improvement in content knowledge and classroom methodology, but the classroom observations findings pointed to the following concerns:
- The pace of lessons was still too slow
- Teachers did not sequence lessons
- Teachers made statements and repeated them without explaining
- There was not enough written work being done in work books
- Teachers did most of the talking and learners sat and listened.
- Teachers were unable to teach numeracy and literacy concepts at the correct level.
These observations suggest that academic knowledge had not transferred and that while teachers may “feel better and motivated” it had not translated into classroom practice.
The model did not seem to be an effective one as a large scale school development mode for addressing the problem of poor results in numeracy and Mathematics. From the cost perspective, a very small number of learners and educators will be impacted despite all the time, effort and money that have gone into the project. Also, there may have been some shortcomings in the conceptualisation - it was not ideal to have the project facilitators responsible for delivering the lectures as well as do the onsite support for project teachers. It was difficult for project teachers to link what they did during contact sessions and practice, therefore the knowledge gained from the lectures did not necessarily translate into classroom practice. It also became evident that obtaining the degree became the focus of the project to the detriment of classroom teaching.
The teacher questionnaire responses and all those interviewed indicated that project teachers successfully passed on their knowledge to their peers for the benefit of the whole school. According to the Eastern Cape Mathematics Centre facilitators, by and large the project teachers had great influence on the rest of their schools, but the extent differed from school to school.
The evaluators concluded that the project was too expensive and learner performance did not justify the cost. The evaluators were of the view that there was little teacher-to-learner impact which did not justify the costs.
The recommendations of the evaluators included:
Review the BEd programme as a vehicle to improving numeracy and literacy skills for teachers. Consider an intervention that will focus on mastery of numeracy and literacy skills through INSET workshops (in-service training) and classroom support with special emphasis on:
- Mastery of basic number operations and focus on Mental Mathematics
- Encouraging teaching of fewer concepts, but aim for mastery
- Relating Mathematics to everyday lives of learners, encouraging mathematical reasoning, problem solving and application of knowledge
- Promoting the use of a comprehensive text book that teachers and learners can work through
- Use of different methodologies based on the quality and suitability of the approach at a given time.
If the Zenex Foundation would like to offer teachers the opportunity to undertake a BEd then it would be essential to:
- Review the concept and delivery model of the project. Consider staffing of the service providers and the time spent on theory and support. Further, the outsourcing of the delivery of the contact session to an NGO did not work well for the project in terms of the ability of the NGO staff to handle both the academic work and the required support.
- Consider appointing an implementation person that would focus on school support visits to monitor teacher and learner progress throughout the intervention.