A high school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, speaks out about the Annual National Assessment boycott.
The Teacher's Union has encouraged its members to boycott the Annual National Assessments (ANAs), which has sparked much conflicting debate between teachers and governing bodies.
What effect does the Department of Education really have on schools and what is the sole purpose of ANAs? A Cape Town high-school teacher explains what she believes are some of the key problematic factors surrounding the issue:
The Annual National Assessments
My thoughts on this issue are conflicting as I, as we all do, have scraps of information and most of that information is based on a visceral, emotional response to anything that has to do with education in South Africa at the moment.
With regards to the ANAs: I have always felt that they seemed to lack direction and purpose. The premise behind the tests, I believe, is sound. The idea to assess where children are in terms of the literacy and numeracy is beneficial to the schools that teach these learners and to the department in order to implement strategies to improve the percentages in each of these categories. I also appreciate the process in terms of systematically testing the same children every few years to see whether there has been improvement or not.
"The intention is good but the lack of structure and the lack of proper planning creates even more frustration"
My concern regarding this system lies in the implementation and the lack of intervention for our large numbers of learners who are functionally illiterate and have very low numerical ability.
My questions are: What does the department do once they have gathered the statistical information from the ANAs? How do they use this information to improve numeracy and literacy in under-performing schools? As far as I am aware the whole process of ANAs has a “hurry up and stop” feeling to it.
I have been teaching for 9 years, I have taught in 3 government schools and I have not once felt that the Department of Education has done anything proactive to get schools to improve in their performance nor has it been effective in improving the learning environments of the learners who are under-performing.
Teachers are under enormous pressure. The addition of ANAs into their already astronomical workload is grossly unfair and not to mention exploitative. I say this for three reasons:
- The department has mandated that every school has to complete ANAs – these are above and beyond the assessments that have to be completed in order to make up the results that reflect on a learner’s report. This means that the teachers have to mark this as well as their normal administration which at this point is already far too much.
- The department pays teachers to mark Grade 12 papers but they expect teachers to mark ANAs without extra remuneration. It does not seem right that teachers be expected to do extra work without pay. Especially in the light of controversy around the ANAs and the importance that has been placed on them.
- Schools that perform well are rewarded. Some financially. This is great however, they are missing the point: the schools that are underperforming need to be resourced better and have more competent teachers appointed there in order to get them to the standards of the schools that are performing well. The teachers in disadvantaged, under-resourced schools are incredibly demotivated and disillusioned.
"The discussions around the ANAs should have taken place months ago"
There should have been clear communication with the unions before the process was started. Surely, it makes sense to have cleared up any concerns surrounding an assessment that affects the majority of schools in the country? I feel that it is embarrassing to have a Department that makes blanket decisions and then has to publicly rescind on those decisions. The ANAs had been sent out to the schools and schools had arranged for them to be written, and to be given this information via the press was disconcerting and incredibly frustrating.
I am not anti the ANAs, nor am I anti the Department. As I have stated above there is merit to doing these assessments. However, I am frustrated by the lack of transparency and forward thinking and planning shown by the department. I am not a SADTU member but I do understand the action that they have taken. I am not one to protest nor would I have refused to administer the ANAs but that is my choice and I have my reasons for this, they are not relevant to this comment.
The discussions around the ANAs should have taken place months ago, so that the administration and teachers who are on the ground can perform their duties to the best of their abilities. It is a mammoth task to get geared for these assessments and it is exasperating to do all the administrative work that is required to administrate these tests and then to have them postponed.
I find this issue particularly controversial. Learners in South Africa have to face issues that even I cannot comprehend in its entirety. Issues of poverty, crime, gangsterism, gender, race, distance to school, hunger, drug abuse, abusive parents, under-resourced schools, etc. These are just a few of the issues that they face. Our learners are battling to learn languages that they hear and come into contact with on a daily basis, indigenous languages.
My concern is that the decision to put Mandarin into the school curriculum is not based on sound educational theory or, for want of a better phrase, “in the best interests of the children”, I fear that it is a political move that is being used to placate the trade partners we have acquired in the recent past.
In the FET (Further Education and Training) phase (Grade 10-12) other languages are offered as a third language, for example French and German. If Mandarin is to be introduced into our education system this would be the place for it, an elective in the senior years of schooling.
Education should never be used to push political agendas and I fear that there may be a move in that direction. The Apartheid Government used the education system to entrench their belief system into children and the results have been catastrophic. There needs to be a voice of reason that allows us to see the reality and leave education in the hands of the experts, the teachers on the ground level.
There is no doubt in my mind that we have some of the most brilliant and resilient people working in our schools. These are the people who should be consulted as to the way education should be in this country. Not some person sitting in their office who has no real idea about the reality.
"We are not a first-world country and therefore we cannot be expected to function like one"
Teachers need to be respected for their collective expertise, experience and knowledge. They should be consulted and have their opinions heard in order for the education system to fully grow and develop in the way that it should. The way that it can.
South Africa has an incredibly diverse society and therefore it makes sense that the education system be as diverse as the society it serves, or should I say, is supposed to serve. You cannot expect that a child who lives in Khayelitsha or Alexandria can be expected to achieve the same results, in the same system as a child who comes from Bishopscourt or Sandton. It’s preposterous.
We are not a first-world country and therefore we cannot be expected to function like one. Bringing in a systematic testing system or a language across the board is not only unrealistic but foolish. We need to create a system where the learners coming out of disadvantaged schools are given the same opportunity to flourish as those that come out of advantage/well-resourced schools.
There needs to be more thought and structure that goes into the way the Education Department approaches the way it implements policy. I believe that the intention is good but the lack of structure and the lack of proper planning creates even more frustration in teachers who are already stretched to their limits in terms of the issue they have to deal with on a day to day basis.
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