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Preparing learners for success

Forty years ago, Dr Makgabo Reginah Mhaule began her teaching career, using an old fashioned chalk board and her passion for education to inspire a love of learning in children.

Although she is today the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Mhaule’s determination to shape young lives remains unchanged.

Speaking to PSM the Deputy Minister said that although the department invests a lot of money in training and capacitating teachers, there is often little return on investment. She bases this on the performance of schools, particularly those in rural areas.

How can we do better?

Wanting to establish what was going wrong, she launched an investigation that led to her making various recommendations to her superiors to improve overall school performance.

During this exercise, she identified a number of challenges.

“For instance, when teachers are assessed, they write down their training needs but sometimes the department does not include what they [the teachers] have indicated when they develop training material for teachers. This means that the training material does not correlate with the indicated needs,” says the deputy minister.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has subsequently tasked her, as the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, with ensuring that the recommendations she has made to the sector are implemented.

In addition, Basic Edcucation Minister Angie Motshekga gave her the responsibility of leading a team of experts tasked with improved teacher development.

Top priorities

Alluding to what she is most excited about in her current position, Deputy Minister Mhaule mentioned an opportunity to translate government objectives into departmental priorities.

“The three most important objectives of government on which the department is focusing, are job creation and economic transformation, education and skills, and providing citizens with basic and quality services. It is important for us as a department to provide our learners with the basic skills and competencies needed for a changing world.”

Her areas of interest relate to early child development (ECD) and information and communication technology (ICT).

“Learners need to be taught the necessary skills from a very young age, starting at ECD level, moving to the foundation phase and right up to the tertiary phase of education. ICT is the most important part of our education system as we are living in an ever-changing world where technology is of the utmost importance in our day-to-day lives. We also need to ensure that teachers are capacitated to deal with issues of ICT.”

This year the department will also strengthen its implementation of Sectoral Priorities. These include:

  • Improving the foundation skills of numeracy and literary, which should be underpinned by a reading revolution.

  • Ramping up ECD, which includes the urgent implementation of two years of compulsory ECD before Grade 1, and the migration of zero to four-year-olds from the Department of Social Development to the departments of basic education, health, cooperative governance and traditional affairs to develop a comprehensive and integrated framework for ECD, which is expected to be launched soon.

  • The immediate implementation of a curriculum with skills and competencies for a changing world in all public schools. The focus will be on the three-stream model (academic, technical vocational and technical), the Fourth Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurship, schools of specialisation and the decolonisation of the curriculum, among others.

  • Dealing decisively with quality and efficiency through the implementation of standardised assessments at various exit points of the system.

  • Working with the departments of sport and recreation, arts and culture and health, as well as the South African Police Service, to teach and promote social cohesion, health and school safety.

  • Improving and strengthening the provision of education for learners with special needs.

The department is working on the coding and robotics curriculum.

“Currently, a team of curriculum experts and subject advisors are working closely with software giant Microsoft to develop a curriculum that will be the backbone of the teaching of coding and robotics across South African schools.”

Promoting a reading culture

To ensure that the department plays its part in promoting a reading culture among learners, and teaching them about the importance of reading for comprehension, Deputy Minister Mhaule encourages teachers to allocate more time for learners to read in the morning.

“There is a campaign led by the President to encourage reading amongst South Africans, especially learners. Each school must implement a rule in which learners are allocated time to read in the morning.

“A learner’s ability to read, write and calculate is considered vital to success and in managing life in general.”

She adds that the department is steering the formation of reading clubs and Spelling Bee projects throughout the country.

Looking ahead

While the 2020 school year has only just kicked off, the Deputy Minister says if the desired school results are to be achieved, education must be taken seriously from the beginning of the first quarter.

“It is dangerous for learners to start a year with the attitude that there is still a lot of time for them to study because the year has just begun. They must start studying as if they are preparing for final examinations.

“All the grades must be taken seriously because you start building up from Grade R to Grade 12.”

She also urges teachers to ensure they cover all aspects of the curriculum and teachers and learners to be tolerant of each other because the generation gap can sometimes cause conflict.

She calls on parents to support their children’s schooling by:

• Creating a suitable environment at home for children to work.

• Maintaining a healthy relationship with teachers.

• Partnering with schools to enable the holistic development of their children.

• Getting involved by attending school events and parent meetings and also keeping abreast of the children’s performance and behaviour.