Rural Education Project conference 2008: Notes

The Rural Education Project (REP) conference was held from 27-28 August 2008 in the Western Cape, SA. In addition to my blog posts about the conference, notes from the various sessions are presented below.

Clifton Frolick, Director, Cape Winelands Education District spoke about Rural education: Challenges and possibilities:

  • Rural education (RE) refers to rural town schools, farm schools and multi-grade schools. Most schools in rural areas are multi-grade.
  • Context for RE initiatives: MDGs, AsgiSA, JipSA.
  • Features/challenges of RE:
    • Poverty, underdevelopment
    • Unqualified or under-qualified teachers
    • Isolation of teachers (not tapped into social networks) (I think that Siyavula can help here!)
    • The language of learning and teaching (LoLT) differs from mother-tongue
    • No adequate teachers in the Maths and Science
    • Lack of critical skills amongst learners
    • Limited access to ECD programmes
    • Lack of understanding of local and global environment
    • Absence of adequate transport for learners to/from school
    • Cost of school uniforms
    • Failure to complete FET
    • Hunger/illness/HIV-AIDS
    • Lack of basic services
    • Lack of ICT resources
    • Minimal district support
  • A framework for action
    • Improving quality of teaching and learning
    • Improving infrastructure
    • Strategies to attract and retain learners
    • Building partnerships to enhance community development

I can’t help thinking that many of these challenges also face urban and peri-urban schools that exist in under-resourced areas. A defining feature of the rural context, of course, is geographic isolation, which only exacerbates the perception, held by many teachers, of not being supported in their work. Any RE strategy must therefore have a local community focus.

Diane Hendricks: Changing hearts, changing minds at whole school level: Curriculum management as an entry point for whole school development. Below are interesting quotes and references that she gave about educational change as well as the role of the teacher.

  • David Hopkins argues that the complexity of changes in education challenges those involved to make huge shifts in order for impact to be seen at classroom level. “Such shifts in understanding and beliefs are difficult to achieve, but without them we will continue to wallow helplessly in the face of the inevitable” (Hopkins, 2001: 35).
  • We should also bear in mind that the factors that facilitate or inhibit change differ from school to school. Fullan, states the following, “The number and dynamics of factors that interact and affect the process of educational change are too overwhelming to compute in anything resembling a fully determined way” (2001)
  • The successful implementation of the NCS depends and relies heavily on what the teachers  do in educational institutions. No effort at educational change can ignore the pivotal role that teachers have to play in order to ensure implementation of any kind.
  • Fullan (2001:70) states the following: “Many attempts at policy and program change have     concentrated on product development, legislation and other on-paper changes in a way that  ignored the fact that what people did and did not do was the crucial variable.”
  • In an article of The Educator’s voice, South African Democratic Union writer Sherman Mannah  highlights the capability of teachers by stating the following: “The role of educators as active agents of change in society cannot be overemphasized.” (1999)
  • Books:
    • Developing Teachers: The Challenges of Lifelong Learning by Christopher Day – 1999. Teachers who wanted to improve their practice were characterised by four attitudes: they accepted that it was possible … to improve, were ready to be self critical, and to recognise better practice than their own within the school or elsewhere, and they were willing to learn …
    • Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform by Michael Fullan – 1993. “… and hence that professional development was a never-ending process, a way of life.” ( p. 72)
    • Changing Teaching, Changing Times: Lessons from a South African Township by J. Clark, C. Linder – 2006. And finally, like the teachers in Nias et al.’s (1992, p. 73) study, “she was willing to learn what had to be learned in order to be able to do what needed or had to be done.”

Anthea Roberts: Why a text book series as a structured, systemic intervention approach? regarding the SDU’s Maths for all textbook series:

  • Their baseline studies (Primary Education Upgrading Programme and the District Development & Support Programme) revealed that teachers have too many text books. They use a bit from this book, a bit from that book. Insight: Standardised teaching and learning support materials can be one of the most effective ways to support less-experienced and under-qualified teachers.
  • Adequate resources are necessary but not sufficient to improve delivery. Schools have large quantities of learning resources. Teachers not trained to use them effectively.
  • Anthea then spoke about Beeby’s four stage model of professional teacher development (1966) as a helpful way to categorise schools on a developmental ladder.
  • Stage 2 — teachers are still insecure: open to change but easily discouraged. Siyavula can help here.
  • Who will mentor teachers from stage 2 to 3, and ultimately to stage 4?

Chester Davids, teacher from Citrusdal:

  • He unpacked the jarring transition for learners from Foundation Phase (grade 3) to the Intermediate Phase (grade 4).
  • He suggested interesting approaches to preparing the teachers as well as the learners to make the transition.

Gary Powell and Kaashief Hassan: Developing and sustaining effective learning and teaching using electronic media supported by an electronic communication network:

  • Baseline problem: group of schools targeted performed poorly in gr 3 and gr 6 assessment tests.
  • Remedial development and support for learners hampered by isolation of schools and distances between them.
  • One solution: use effective elearning tools.Support teachers with:
    • electronic media, e.g  (DVDs, CDs, etc.)
    • electronic neworking: email, cellphone, SMS, telephone and fax
    • online collaboration: chatrooms, blogs, wikis and LMSs
    • website searches and sourcing of learning materials
  • Although, challenges abound! In many situations, the computer room is not effectively used.

Gary and Kaashief often present at ACE classes. Interesting ideas above – will definitely  keep in touch.

Brenda Sonn and Karen Collet, Teacher Inservice Project (UWC): Reflection on project implementation. They interviewed many teachers and principals — some key points below.

  • Cami Maths and Cami Reading software captures learner data, but this is not mined.
  • Recommend: management should encourage to share good examples of teaching strategies, lesson plans, and assessment tasks as part of their curriculum and professional development.
  • For headmasters to champion instructional leadership, they need time and therefore cannot be full-time teachers themselves.
  • Parental support is almost non-existent in RE. They are often illiterate and very poor. Is it a middle-class Western expectation for parents to be fully involved in their childrens’ homework? Quite possibly.
  • Two ways to work around this:
    • After-school facilities where homework can be done.
    • Giving learners very basic homework to do at home — that other kids, e.g. siblings, and parents can help with.

TIP is an independent education research unit at UWC.

Dr Ronald Cornelissen, Deputy Director General, Research Services, WCED: Contextualising the Grade 6 Diagnostic Test Results:

  • In the 2003 and 2005 tests, samples were used. 2007 test: all  learners were tested.
  • Schools in quintile 5 — the richest or “least poor” schools — perform the best.
  • Learners are struggling most with: Fractions, division and multiplication.
  • Very NB to look at average results, possibly a more important figure than the pass rate.
  • The percentage of learners who are pushed through grades vs the test results is frightening, e.g. 97% of learners made it through grade 6, but only 14% got more than 50% on the standardised numeracy test. Is the test too hard, or are individual school standards too low and thus learners pushed through too easily? An audience member remarked that the tests show that the “wholesale, romantic pretense that kids are passing” is totally untrue.

Panel: Towards quality teaching and learning:

  • Sociological reality in this country that children are in trouble. Gangsterism, drugs, illiterate and uninvolved parents, violence, HIV/AIDS, hunger, etc. etc.
  • Joey Daniels: Gone are the days of schools competing with each other. The new thinking is around collaboration and sharing of ideas. They’ve started a Maths and Science school for gifted learners.

Susan Meyer and Cally Kuhne: Research directions for REP:

  • What the diagnostic test stats don’t tell us: pass rates in relation to learner age, school size, ex-Department, geographic location (relative isolation). They’ll talk to Tim Dunne about this.

Final notes:

  • Am going to meet with Gary and Kaashief, to talk about further research to do with REP, either funded entirely by SF or as SF partnering with Claude Leon Foundation.
    • IT usage in schools
    • Which ICTs are best suited to particular contexts/needs, e.g. to foster communication between teachers use SMS over email
    • Pre-service teachers: ICT-literate ones, involve in gaming, mlearning pilot?
  • Spoke to Susan Meyer about school typologies. We should keep talking about how to extend this with REP data, Beeby’s work, etc. She is an independent education researcher.
  • Jonathan Clark (UCT SDU). Talking about education research, he used the metaphor of prospecting for oil. You can’t scratch on the surface, you need to drill narrow and deep over an area and begin to map out the terrain.

6 thoughts on “Rural Education Project conference 2008: Notes

  1. I am a qualified Linguist focusing particularly in language and education. How can I get involved in the REP, it sounds like something that could really help make a difference.

  2. Hi there! The REP sounds like a definite step in the right direction regarding the improvement of the poor state of education that this country is currently in. I completed my honors degree in Architecture at the Uinversity of Pretoria, BArch(Hons) this year, and focussed mainly on Primary and Secondary Education in the Pretoria region. This however unlocked several doors and triggered the thought of getting involved in rural educational projects. The idea of using my aquired skills to help the hundreds/thousands of rural schools in South Africa had me extremely excited. I’m not sure what the scope of my involvement would actually be yet…but I guess documenting and critically analyzing individual cases would be a starting point??? I’m very passionate about this subject and would like to know where/how I can get involved in programs/projects/companies that are involved in this field???

    Kind regards
    Dewald du Plessis

  3. Thanks for the comment, Dewald. I suggest you get hold of Cally Kuhne of REP — I’ll email her details to you.

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