Angie Motshekga’s tests take Tembisa school from fail to flourish

2013-09-17 10:00

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In 2011 Annual National Assessments showed maths and literacy in the doldrums

Introducing the Annual National Assessments (ANA) is the best thing Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has ever done, says Montle Makgatho.

And Ipontshe Primary’s principal in Tembisa, Joburg, should know. Her pupils smashed their literacy and numeracy results from around 20% and 30% to more than 80% in a year because they took the assessments so seriously.

Motshekga has likened the assessments – which pupils in grades 1 to 6 and Grade 9 wrote countrywide this week – to visiting your doctor.

“If you are sick, you go to a doctor. He gives you a diagnosis of what is wrong with you and gives you a prescription. He tells you how you must adjust your lifestyle in order to get well. The ANA should be seen in that light. It helps us to systematically and scientifically identify problems, which schools, teachers and pupils need to be supported on.”

The assessments, which Motshekga introduced in 2011, have offered a dire diagnosis of pupils’ levels of learning.

The report into the 2012 results, which was released in June, makes for grim reading. Pupils could not spell, count or understand what they were reading. They could not construct basic sentences or solve basic equations.

“We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong. There are serious problems with numeracy and literacy,” Motshekga said.

When the 2011 results came out, Makgatho was among those shocked into action. Only 28% of her Grade 6 pupils passed their first additional language assessments and only 21% achieved a pass in maths.

So she called a parents’ meeting and explained that their children would now spend two extra hours each day involved in programmes designed to improve numeracy and literacy.

“We also had a staff meeting with teachers where we took stock of where we were and why things were wrong. We analysed the results at the meeting. We looked at all the questions in which pupils struggled. We identified all the concepts in which both pupils and teachers were struggling. We asked teachers to reteach those concepts and drill them in.”

The school got hold of exemplar question papers and pupils studied these each day.

They also took advantage of the Gauteng maths literacy and maths strategy programme, the brainchild of Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy.

As part of this programme, expert tutors are sent to schools to help teachers and pupils with the concepts they struggle to understand.

“They come here and sit with both teachers and pupils after school. They also check if the work schedule is being followed to the letter. We also encourage parents to not do homework for their kids, but to help them. We usually send them letters when the assessment approaches so that they make sure their children are not absent,” Makgatho said.

The school’s hard work paid off. In 2012, the same class whose poor results had spurred Makgatho and her team into action achieved 84% in literacy and 80% in numeracy.

A Grade 2 pupil writes on the board during class at Ipontshe Primary School in Tembisa while his classmates look on. The school has become a model of how to improve results. Picture: Sifiso Nkosi/City Press

Motshekga has praised Ipontshe Primary for its incredible turnaround.

“The ANA has gone to the heart of the problem. Every district has analysed school by school. They have checked their coverage of the curriculum, which topics teachers struggle with, what kids are struggling with and we come up with intervention programmes specific to them,” the minister said.

More than 7 million pupils wrote this year’s assessments. The tests were prepared and administered by the department, were quality assured by Umalusi and were moderated by independent agents.

Motshekga said it was important for people to remember these were benchmark tests – they did not determine whether pupils would be held back or would progress to the next grade. The results are due out in December.

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