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The Gauteng Classroom Library Project: An evaluation

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01.23.2024

The Gauteng Classroom Library Project: An evaluation

Research has advanced our knowledge of how to improve the teaching of reading in the early grades, but little is known about how to improve one aspect – the teaching of independent reading. To address this, the Department of Basic Education and certain universities developed a low-cost classroom library comprising a collection of African language storybooks, management resources, training and support.

Piloted in 2017 in the North West and subjected to a randomised control trial in KwaZulu-Natal in 2022, the main finding was that the libraries substantially increase the number of books children take home. Subsequently, the Gauteng Department of Education, working with Zenex Foundation, implemented the model in Quintile 1-3 schools in three languages – Sesotho, Sepedi and Afrikaans – in 2022 and 2023. The Foundation commissioned a rapid evaluation focusing on two questions: To what extent was the model implemented with fidelity? To what degree did teachers and learners use the libraries? The evaluation was informed by interviews with 36 teachers and 312 Grade 3 learners from 11 schools, a photographic record of management charts, the service provider’s implementation report, and found:

Classroom size mattered: One of the striking findings was the prevalence of large classes with over 60% of teachers teaching in large and very large classes with 28% teaching classes with more than 50 learners. One fieldworker described the school with the largest classes, the biggest at 69 learners in a single class, as “chaotic with very little learning taking place”. Even though additional libraries were provided for these classes, an overcrowded setting makes planning, allocating time for children to select books, and administering the process almost impossible. The management challenge of using the libraries under such conditions cannot be underestimated.

Teacher training was useful: Training was well attended with only 17% reporting that they had not received any formal training. However, the training did not go as planned. The training happened only after school hours and schools were clustered together so the ratio of trainer to teacher was higher, the set-up process in classrooms happened less often, and there were no follow-up visits. This resulted in delays in library set up with evaluation fieldworkers visiting less than two weeks after setup. The majority (63%) of teachers reported using the five-finger rule and 24% found it helpful. Teachers mostly agreed or strongly agreed that the classroom libraries were easy to use and improved learners’ habits of reading.

Learners accessed books: More than half the learners reported taking out two or more books and almost 40% took two or more books home. Prior to the project, access to books was limited to the DBE’s Rainbow Workbooks and classroom readers (textbooks) with few learners reading newspapers and magazines. The evidence suggests that there was a positive response in approximately one in four classrooms.

Implementation was hard: Teachers mentioned the difficulties that Afrikaans FAL students had with reading and pronunciation and some schools received libraries in the wrong language. They also complained that some learners do not return books or return them damaged. It appears that some teachers were not using the books for independent reading but rather for group guided reading.

More work is needed to include parents: Teachers reported sending letters to parents, but less than 40% reported having met with parents. Except for parents not signing the library cards, the fieldworkers observed the components of the classroom library were present more than 80% of the time.

Recommendations for the future: Some teachers requested a big library rather than a classroom library. Possibly the most common recommendation was that class sizes should be reduced. Suggestions for changes to the library included providing some English books, books with stronger covers, a bigger range of books, a proper storage cupboard, the addition of flashcards, and more books at the easier levels.

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