Foundation Phase Curriculum Recovery Project
The Foundation Phase Curriculum Recovery Project was designed during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, when schools were still operating under rotational learning. The project aimed to improve curriculum coverage, topic choices, and sequencing at the differentiated level to deal with learning backlogs and gaps. The education eco-system has subsequently changed, with a full return to school for learners, and the project partners changing from virtual to face-to-face training and support.
The extent of learning loss suffered during the pandemic has also become clearer. While teachers were dealing with learning backlogs prior to COVID-19, the problem was exacerbated by the loss of school time in 2020/2021. The NIDSCRAM study estimates learning losses in no-fee schools (which comprise 80% of all South African schools) to be 70–100%. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) 2022/3 Annual Performance Plan recently confirmed that learners in the Foundation Phase in 2022 are a full grade behind (two grades for Grade 3 learners). There is a need for interventions to assist schools with curriculum recovery that focuses on addressing learning backlogs because of lost school time.
As a result of the contextual changes since approval, research released on the extent of learning losses, and developments within the DBE, a redesign of the project was necessary.
The aim of the project is to address learning loss experienced by schools prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is approved for implementation for the Foundation Phase (Grades 1 to 3) at 60 schools, divided evenly between Gauteng (Johannesburg Central District), the Eastern Cape (Buffalo City District), and KwaZulu-Natal (iLembe District) for a two-year period (2022 to 2024). The implementing partners are expert learning and intervention-orientated organisations: Khanyisa Inanda (KwaZulu-Natal), Nelson Mandela Institute (Eastern Cape), and Penreach (Gauteng).
The project activities that have taken place since approval in November 2021 include district and school selection based on Zenex’s selection criteria; school engagement with principals and teachers; appointment of implementing partners, development or alignment of project materials; and evaluation workshops to prepare for the evaluation of the project.
The evaluation team, together with Zenex and the implementing partners, undertook a detailed review of the content, implementation modalities, and level of all three interventions. The overarching redesign elements include the increase in face-to-face delivery to counteract immense challenges with virtual training and support, curriculum content and teacher support, and prioritisation of Foundation Phase Home Language and Mathematics.
The Foundation Phase Curriculum Recovery Project has the following revised outcomes:
- Increased quantitative curriculum coverage.
- Improved qualitative curriculum coverage.
- Increased learner written work.
- Improvement in learner performance.
This project aligns with Zenex’s overarching strategic focus on reducing learning backlogs. The rationale for the focus on learning backlogs and the link to learning gaps resulting from the loss of school time during COVID-19 school closures have been outlined in the March 2022 Zenex publication and seminar titled Perspectives on learning backlogs in South African schooling.
This project redesign aims to address learning backlogs by utilising a strategic approach that includes a trimmed curriculum, and teacher support, including teaching assistants, coaching and training.