Mentor teachers so pupils succeed

2017-08-20 06:17
Nombeko Mbava

Nombeko Mbava

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There are many causes of poor academic achievement in South Africa’s high schools and the concomitant dropping out of 16- to 18-year-old learners. These include a poor foundation in reading and comprehension, which means learners cannot perform well in their subjects. This poor academic performance contributes to even poorer results at Grade 12 level.

The most effective way of breaking this vicious cycle is to improve reading outcomes among poor children. This requires the coaching and mentoring of foundation-phase teachers. Research has shown that learners taught by foundation teachers, who were supported and coached by reading experts, surged ahead by about 40% in a year of learning compared with learners taught by teachers who did not receive intervention.

This is one of the findings of the Early Grade Reading Study, released by the department of basic education this week. The study shows significant improvements in the reading abilities of learners whose teachers were coached by reading experts. In addition, oral reading fluency had a positive effect on home- and second-language literacy as learners were able to comprehend and write well.

Most teachers in the study had between 38 to 45 learners in their classes, which affected their ability to give individual attention to learners. The intervention helped teachers to better manage their classes as they could reorganise classrooms by setting up small reading groups, thereby achieving effective teaching. Clearly, structured learning programmes at foundation level, accompanied by effective and carefully monitored on-site mentoring and coaching to foundation-phase teachers, improve learning outcomes.

Regarding future education policies, the practicalities of implementing these findings must be considered. What are the implications of this study for teaching and learning at foundation phase? Who, within the school hierarchy system, should fulfil the role of being reading coach to foundation-phase teachers? Can existing staff take on the role, or should such expertise be sourced externally? Alternatively, should the role of reading coach be organically grown and developed within the basic education system?

While these practicalities, as well as the cost of implementing this intervention, must be considered, the study serves as a welcome contribution to impartial, evidence-based research on what works for early-grade reading.

The department is commended for leveraging public-private partnerships. Gathering such evidence is enlightening as it provides first-hand experience of what works at the foundation phase. The findings must be incorporated into policies that address challenges prevalent in the early school years.

Mbava completed her PhD at Stellenbosch University, researching impact evaluations and their usefulness to policymakers

Read more on:    education

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