Foundation Phase Teacher Assistants Project
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. While the learning gaps among learners have always existed before the pandemic, despite the government’s high expenditure on education by international standards, the school closures exacerbated the problems with the education system. In South Africa, school closures and rotational timetabling resulted in schools opening for 93 days between February 15 and the end of June 2021, with in-person teaching and learning only being half of those days.
To overcome the loss in teaching and learning time, the Zenex Foundation and its implementing partner Funda Wande are implementing a Teacher Assistant Programme in the Eastern Cape over the period March 2022 to March 2024. This programme is implemented to reduce learning backlogs in the Foundation Phase.
In 2021, Funda Wande piloted a government-led programme in Limpopo and deployed teacher assistants in 23 schools. The Limpopo intervention was designed to test whether unemployed youth with matric could be productively employed as teacher assistants to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes in the Foundation Phase (Grade R-3). The project was implemented through a randomized control trial of 120 schools. A midline evaluation conducted in 2021 showed that the intervention was effective in improving learner outcomes in both mathematics and literacy as a result of a rigorous selection criteria of teacher assistants and a well-structured training programme before deployment to schools. As a result of the noticeable impact the teacher assistants had in supporting the Foundation Phase classes, Funda Wande has partnered with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to use the lessons from the intervention to provide strategic support for the national rollout of The Presidential Youth Employment Initiative-Basic Education Employment Initiative (PYEI-BEEI). Furthermore, the evidence from the Limpopo intervention was a steppingstone for the implementation of the intervention in the Eastern Cape.
In planning for the next two to five years, Funda Wande is influenced by two concerns impacting learning outcomes in the Foundation Phase. These are losses in learning and teaching time coupled with the pervasive learning backlogs. With this project, Funda Wande aims to:
- Ensure curriculum catch-up programmes that support the curriculum and assessment programme.
- Identify and pursue viable pathways to scale towards improving teaching and learning in the Foundation Phase.
- Work with government as part of a broad strategic approach aimed at impacting systemic change in the early grades.
- Identify and test levers that create the most impact in improving learning and teaching.
- Effective recruitment and training of young people between the ages of age 18-28 who are eligible to be Funda Wande teacher assistants with at least Grade 12/NQF Level 4, who are unemployed at the time of recruitment, and come from the communities that the schools serve. The group is then filtered according to their language and numerical competency through an assessment by Funda Wande.
- School and teacher preparedness to make sure that schools are ready to receive teacher assistants in their schools. Schools will be prepared for a structured teacher assistant programme.
- Limited time for remediation and play with learners due to school closures and rotational timetabling put teachers under immense pressure as they still needed to complete the curriculum. Teacher assistants are trained on remedial activities and games that are designed to reinforce knowledge and spark the learners’ love for learning.
- Targeted programme for lost instructional time to address untapped potential for after-school learning clubs where the teacher assistants will focus on remediation with a few learners at a time. This will be done without interfering with the normal functioning of the school, with Foundation Phase learners in Grades R and 1 being released from school an hour earlier. An after-school programme will be led by the most experienced teacher assistants.
- The in-classroom model: Teacher assistant training will include classroom management, content knowledge (use of reading materials) and inter-personal skills. Teacher assistants will conduct a baseline assessment and conduct assessments at the beginning of each term. The information from this assessment will help refine the programme as well as assess the impact of the programme.
This intervention is aligned to the Zenex Foundation’s Strategy 2025, which focuses on working in the Foundation Phase with a view of providing learners with the requisite skills to succeed in school. The Foundation does this by focusing on supporting teachers. The strategy recognises that learners, for various socio-economic reasons, enter the school system with learning backlogs. The strategy aims to find models to address these backlogs by testing innovations that can be taken to scale. The evidence from the Funda Wande Limpopo intervention demonstrates that teacher assistants can be the lever that supports the eradication of learning backlogs.