Stakeholders addled with correct approach to ANAs

2015-10-01 06:00
The black educator

The black educator

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Last month I was inundated with questions and concerns about the administration of the Annual National Assessment (ANA) in 2015.

It all started when the Department of Basic Education reneged on the scheduled administration of the ANA’s which were set down for 15 September.

The announcement came late on the 12th September, thus throwing parents and schools into a complete disarray.

With the confusion that followed the announcement that the ANAS were now suspended to February 2016, it seemed the centre could not hold.

For this came with little explanation on how this will be administered.

Then Minister Angie Motshekga held the Council of Education Ministers or CEM on the 17th September 2015 and released a detailed press statement the following day.

In the CEM statement it was stated that ANA will be administered from 1st to 4th of December 2015 conflicting the earlier date of February 2016.

The CEM statement supports this date by saying “In our engagement with unions last week, it was agreed that we would postpone the assessments for a period of 90 days, the dates agreed at CEM are in line with that 90 day period as agreed.

Even though we raised the possibility of writing ANAs in February, CEM felt very strongly that it would be in the best interest of the learners and the administration if it is written this year.”

The following Monday South Africa woke up to news that five unions in the education sector were to have a press conference in Tshwane.

In that press conference the unions unanimously agreed that they will not administer the ANAs in December 2015. In the late afternoon, the DBE shot back saying that they will administer the ANAs with or without the unions because they simply need a representative sample of the grades cohorts to write them.

Politics aside, why was ANA suspended.

In order to get a clear appraisal of what is happening, it is perhaps good to go down memory lane.

Since 2011 the DBE has been instituting the ANAs as a policy directive to achieve system diagnosis.

In the past 5 years the testing has been largely carried-out in grades 1-6 and 9 with the aim of expanding to grade 7 and 8. ANA’s are meant to test reading, writing and counting for children in primary schools and the first two years of secondary schooling.

It compares your child to all the other children in the country. It provides parents with cumulative information to make proper investment decision about the education of their children.

I spoke to Xolisa Guzula, a University of Cape Town Doctoral Student in Education and literacy specialist with extensive experience in poor communities.

She stated that the ANAs are not that important for boosting literacy levels in education.

“They expect too little from the children and they test skills that do not explain the whole range of experiences that children have with literacy. Teachers (focus resources) to teach to the(outcomes of the) ANAs, leaving out a whole range of skills and strategies they need to teach.

They bring anxiety to teachers who happen to just drop everything and drill children on ANAs instead of teaching them for life(skills). We need to educate our children for life (knowledge), not for tests. They bring anxiety to children and result in both teacher and learner bashing, which further results(contributes to) in lack of confidence.”

Asked what interventions are needed, Ms Guzula stated: “Train teachers well, mentor and apprentice them on site and show them what needs to be done. Team teach with them if needs be. Immerse children in books and meaningful reading experiences.”

There seems to be similar concerns about the ANAs shortcoming from numeracy academics.

Professor Mellony Graven and Ms. Lucy Sibanda of Rhodes University cite linguistic complexity as a challenge disadvantaging children whose language of learning and teaching is not their mother tongue.

Graven is chair of SA Numeracy at Rhodes University. She said: “The ANAs have been useful in pointing to a desperate need for remediation of gaps in learner knowledge, but they have not pointed clearly to what those gaps are.

My sense is that the ANAs need to be reworked in such a way that they are able to clearly inform teachers about the levels of their learner’s mathematical thinking, rather than simply a percentage that generally states that they almost all failed. A national average of 11% for Grade 9 Mathematics ANAs (as was the case in 2014) is not helpful to teachers or learners-rather the ANAs should point to the level at which teachers need to begin remedial work with learners”.

It is clear that the unions seem to have won this round. I also do feel there is enough room for ANA’s and remedial plans to co-exist.

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