Summary of the evaluation of a bridging programme to improve the quality of Grade 12 Mathematics and Science results
Duration of Project: 2009-2011
Where is the Project based: Gauteng
Evaluation Service Provider: Benita Williams/Feedback Research and Analytics
The evaluation was of a bridging programme offered to learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to improve the quality of their Grade 12 Mathematics and Science results. The bridging programme was presented through a College funded by a JSE-listed technology and engineering company.
The bridging programme focused on recruiting and selecting learners with the requisite potential to enter the Mathematics and Science faculties at universities, or to take up job opportunities in Mathematics and Science careers. In addition to providing teaching in Mathematics and Science, the bridging programme also provided mentoring to the learners, and a life skills programme to prepare the learners for higher education.
The Zenex Foundation partnered with the College by funding 15 learners per year for three years (from 2009 to 2011) to attend the bridging programme.
The evaluators were commissioned to investigate the model applied at the College to help learners improve their academic results and life skills, and advise on the feasibility of replicating the model.
Findings from the evaluation report included:
- In assessing whether the College learners demonstrated significant improvement in their academic performance at graduation compared to their academic performance before admission, the evaluators recognised that that learners who entered the College with the lowest matric scores showed the greatest improvement. Most of these learners, however, were not able to reach the benchmarks set by the Zenex Foundation of achieving a pass in Mathematics and Science at Levels 5, 6 or 7.
- The evaluation showed that the learners who achieved the highest scores in matric at selection, showed the lowest levels of improvement. It appeared that the College catered for two streams of academic achievement i. e. learners who want to improve their pass rates and proceed to universities, and learners who improved their pass marks to enter the job market.
- The evaluators noted that teachers at the College moved at a very fast pace and tended to focus on preparing learners for examinations at the expense of meaningful learning that was underpinned by good understanding of concepts.
- There was no evidence of a differentiated approach to teaching and learners were all given the same amount of dosage and content even though the programme purported to be selecting for two streams of learners.
- The selection process was not able to adequately discriminate potential at the higher end.
- The College offered extended time on tasks: 375 hours per year were allocated for Mathematics and 250 hours for Physical Science, whereas in ordinary schools, 160 hours per year was allocated for each of these subjects.
- The evaluators found that practical work and demonstrations seemed to be limited in Physical Science.
- The teaching content tended to be driven by exams i.e. preparation for exams was the focus of most lessons.
- Even though the preferred teaching style was teacher directed, the evaluators found evidence that learners actively participated during the lessons.
- The College had high expectations in terms of the level of effort required for learners to succeed. However, there seemed to be good balance between what was expected from the learners and the high levels of support offered by the College.
- In addition to the academic package, the College offered a comprehensive programme of support comprising mentoring, career guidance, life skills, English communication and computer skills. Data collected from the evaluation seemed to suggest that while academic benefits were appreciated by learners, the social benefits were found to be equally important to learners. It seemed that learners continued to uphold the value systems fostered by the College even after they had left the institution.
- Competition for bursaries and potential job placements proved to be critical in motivating learners to stay on the programme and to work hard. From focus groups held with learners, it appeared that the financial needs of learners pushed them into career paths offered by the sponsoring company’s bursaries, even if that was not their career choice.
- The College needed to consider a differentiated targeted approach to teaching and learning if they continued to target learners with a wide range of learning abilities and if there were two outcomes for learner results.
- The College needed to define the concept of potential and set levels of improvement expected after the year of intensive intervention
- The Zenex Foundation should extend the Tertiary Access Programme to the College’s learners to open opportunities for them to access various bursary options (as an alternative to the career paths offered by the sponsoring company’s bursaries).
- A lot of the College success could be attributed to the positive learning environment created by the personnel and the resources made available in the programme. This implied that the selection of staff for programmes like this may need to be as elaborate as the selection process of the learners to ensure that there was unity of purpose.