Schools in South Africa have faced intermittent disruptions since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown restrictions. These disruptions have resulted in a significant number of school days being lost in the academic calendar and negatively affected teaching and learning in the broader schooling system. This has posed serious challenges for teaching and learning, including loss of instructional time, timetabling, management, planning as well as the delivery of the curriculum.
To overcome this loss in teaching and learning time, the Zenex Foundation and its implementing partners, the Khanyisa Inanda Community Project (KICP), the Nelson Mandela Institute and Penreach Thandulwazi Trust are implementing a Foundation Phase Curriculum Recovery Project. The project will be implemented in 60 schools in three Districts in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal for the period January 2022-December 2023. The intervention aligns with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Recovery Plan.
Data from the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (NIDS-CRAM) Survey, a nationally representative study, shows that schools have lost 50% – 75% of teaching time since March 2020 when the first lockdown was initiated. More concerning is that learners in the Foundation Phase lost more school days due to the staggered return to school in 2020.
The lost schooling days in 2020 and the delay in the start of the academic year in 2021 have meant that schools need to put in mechanisms to recover the curriculum. Part of the measures put in place was the rotation and platooning timetabling approaches which were implemented to deal with health and safety protocols. This posed challenges for School Management Teams (SMTs) who had to manage the timetable, while trying to meet the curriculum obligations. The extended time away from school, the rotational learning, and other forms of timetabling, meant that learners were absent from school for extended periods and required teachers to reteach work previously taught. SMTs and teachers faced significant challenges with curriculum coverage and dealing with learning backlogs built from the time learners were not at school.
The Foundation Phase Curriculum Recovery Project has the following objectives:
- Support SMTs in curriculum management, timetabling, parental communication, and learner tracking.
- Support Foundation Phase teachers in curriculum delivery, classroom management and resource management.
The project partners will work with the DBE to explore the use of their national diagnostic assessments which schools have been encouraged to use for assessing where learners are at the start of each grade. These diagnostic assessments, along with the collection of Learner Workbooks, will form the basis of measuring project success. Furthermore, Zenex aims to share knowledge about curriculum recovery approaches with key stakeholders for sector learning.
Training: The training component is aimed at building capacity of both SMTs and teachers allowing them to plan, manage and deliver the curriculum.
Coaching: The project has built in a support component, through expert coaching, which follows from the monthly/termly training. Coaching will focus on instructional support (teachers) and management responsibilities (SMTs).
Materials: Overall, the project will work from the principle of using existing resources and will not develop new resources unless it is necessary. All three implementing partners will use already developed resources, but where necessary, these will be repackaged in alignment with the trimmed curriculum.
Teacher resources: The project shall not develop new teacher resources but will fund adjustments to existing teacher resources to align with the trimmed curriculum.
Learner resources: A range of learner resources aligned to the curriculum will be developed and printed. Learner Activity Books (LAB), which learners take home, are a fundamental part of the project.
Teaching Assistants: The Educator Assistants (EAs) will be contracted for the period November 2021 – March 2022 (five months) and will be responsible for a range of school activities such as ensuring a safe and conducive learning environment through adherence to COVID-19 protocols, homework assistance, summarising notes for teachers and assisting in the creation of peer learning groups.
The conceptualisation of the project is underpinned by a high-level Theory of Change (TOC). The immediate outcomes include:
- Improvement in management of the curriculum, timetabling and learner tracking by SMTs.
- Improved communication between the schools, parents and the schooling community.
- Improvement in the utilisation of psychosocial support networks (non-governmental organisations, government) in the target schooling community.
- Increase in the coverage of curriculum as per Annual Teaching Plans (ATPs).
- Improvement in teachers’ strategies in identifying learner backlogs and supporting learners.
The core success of the project will be the improvement in the completion of the trimmed curriculum. This can only be achieved though strong district support, functional schools as well as buy-in and commitment from teachers.