It is widely known that a large proportion of learners in South Africa perform several grades below their required grade competencies. Research points to learning backlogs starting early in the Foundation Phase and worsening as learners progress through to the higher grades. If not dealt with, these backlogs eventually become near impossible to resolve, impacting on learners’ chances of attaining quality passes in all subjects, particularly mathematics. The causes of learning backlogs are complex, systemic, and multi-faceted. These include poorly resourced schools, large classes, the density of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) which teachers are unable to cover in full, and teachers’ own pedagogical and content knowledge gaps. The backlogs are further exacerbated by the switch to English as a medium of instruction from Grade 4 for most children whose home language is an African language. This small-scale pilot project explores in-school and after-school models for addressing backlogs at Grade 4 that have the potential to be up-scaled. ‘
The purpose of this project is to test the most efficient and cost-effective model to address mathematic backlogs in Grade 4. Zenex is partnering with Brombacher and Associates, Social Innovations and OLICO between June 2023 and December 2024 to implement four different models (two in-school and two after-school) in urban Quintile 1–3 schools in the Western Cape.
The two in-school models (each in 10 schools) provide diagnostic assessment to place learners into groups based on their level of backlogs, have 16 differentiated workbooks and a teacher guidebook, and provide training to teachers. However, teachers in one model receive weekly in-class coaching and the second model omits this. The two after-school models (each in 10 schools) is on a learner volunteer basis two afternoons per week. Materials cover select early grade work, an online course with videos and a guide for the teachers/teacher assistants (TAs). The first pilot provides a maths teacher from the school and the second provides two TAs, both groups receiving six days training over the year and have 30 learners per group.
The goal of these pilots is to compare the impact of the varying in-school and after-school interventions and determine the overall best model with which to approach learning backlogs. The pilot that delivers the highest quality results can then be upscaled as a model of choice and reshape the manner in which backlogs are most effectively addressed.
- Upskilling teachers in terms of helping learners understand content and concepts needed for progressing with the current curriculum.
- Upskilling teaching assistants to test whether they can make an impact on helping learners close knowledge gaps.
- Bridging the gap for learners making the shift from counting to calculating and reasoning where there is a big jump in cognitive demand in Grade 4 mathematics (together with now being taught in English).
- Learners will be able to advance at a normal pace in subsequent grades.
This project is aligned to the Zenex Foundation’s strategy of working in mathematics in the early grades and supporting closing gaps in learning. This is important, knowing that the problem of gaps in learning is pervasive with a significant drop in performance in Grade 4 mathematics learners. The hope is that working with these children for a year will result in improvements in maths performance that leads to learning through the curriculum.