Thursday, 5 January 2017     Keep The Matric Drama in Perspective As We're All Unique

This is the time of the year that draws an enormous sense of anticipation out of parents and their children. In just a few pupils it creates a sense of dread too, and in some, an overwhelming sense of their inadequacies.

People develop and evolve over their lives. To measure someone on a moment, a snapshot in November, often proves an inaccurate assessment of that individual.

How many school failures become great successes later in life? How many school successes never reach that potential expected of their 18-year old selves?

I am a marker and moderator of many years' experience and I have just returned from a week in Johannesburg where I spent my days guiding a team of markers in their assessment of the 12,500 Independent Examinations Board exam scripts written by matric English pupils who write under the auspices of the IEB.

There are a far greater number who write the National Senior Certificate papers. Both systems provide an astute and highly credible assessment that is rigorous and demanding of pupils and assessors.

Whenever I interview a new pupil looking to come to Woodridge College and Preparatory School I ask them to hold up their index finger. Being an English teacher by profession, I can't help but add some drama to the scene. What I am doing is drawing together a critically important message that everyone should be hearing.

After carefully scrutinising the digit, I remark: "Yes, just as I thought! I have never seen a fingerprint like yours ... and I won't ever see one just like it again."

You see, everyone is an individual; priceless, precious, wonderful, unique, special and very, very dear to the many people associated with that child. We tend to pin everything on certain specific moments in our lives and it breaks my heart when I read in the papers of the suicides that take place after matric results are released.

We need to keep everything in perspective. If we measure success on the benchmark of matric results, then we do a massive disservice to so many who will fall short of expectations.

Children are special ... each child is a priceless and unique individual who can make an invaluable contribution to the vast tapestry that makes up humankind. To measure someone purely on what happens between the start and end of November of one's matric year is to critically underestimate human potential and it is one of the reasons why our society isn't close to reaching its potential. Mr Simon Crane, Headmaster, Woodridge College and Preparatory School, Eastern Cape from The Star Newspaper

And we concur ... The Headwise Team!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016     Home is Where the Learning is

Learning is not a formal process that begins on the first day of school. Instead, it is a cumulative process beginning with the early introduction of educational activities which starts in the home or, at least, it should.

Early learning activities stimulate children's interests and their cognitive and social development.

What parents 'do' or 'don't do' with their children matters alongside what they have. The fewer the resources available in the home, the more difficult it is to prepare a child for formal learning but a simple song and dance routine, playing games using any manner of easily available items, like bottle tops, or telling stories, can enhance a child's cognition and subsequent performance in formal schooling.

The more positive inputs a child experiences - in the form of educationally-rich activities and settings and high parental educational expectations in the early years, the better their overall academic performance is likely to be.

Formal schooling must then provide the appropriate resources to stimulate a love for learning and foster excellence in teaching by improving the conditions of service for all teaching staff.

No matter what preschool education exists, it is becoming imperative to make a high quality investment in the early formal schooling years so that learners are equipped with the foundational skills essential to build core knowledge that will develop and unfold throughout their education and into the Economy as a whole. Dr Tracey Stewart

Thursday, 22 December 2016     Don't Lower the Pass Mark, Upskill Teachers, Particularly in the Foundation and Intersen Phases

On receiving requests seeking clarification on the recent policy to condone a drop in the national mathematics pass mark to 20% in Grades 7 - 9 in order to promote learners weak in maths, Spokesperson for the Department of Education, Elijah Mhlanga said, "... Not everyone is inclined in maths. It has been shown that grade repetition can lead to increased school dropout, increased truancy and a number of other adverse effects."

University of Pretoria education expert Professor Kobus Maree said the Department needed to be honest on why it wanted to change the policy now. He said: "What I find puzzling is why they want to change the policy now. Why now? What is happening in maths classes? This shroud of secrecy is alarming. We need to know why the Department is now going against its own policy (of a 40% pass mark in maths)?"

Maree went on to say that promoting learners without the proper requirements would have long-term effects. "If we are promoting learners without the proper skills we will not be able to deal with the alarmingly high unemployment numbers. We need to have learners who are proficient in maths and are ready to join the workplace."

He said the blame for senior learners struggling with maths might be linked to the system not having enough qualified maths teachers in the lower phases.

Given that South Africa is among the lowest five in mathematics in the world, the solution may well lie in stronger teacher practices in the Foundation Phases of all learning. Educators in these phases should be highly qualified and extremely competent, not only in all aspects of teaching but also the skills in how best to bring out the potential in each learner. This will cause a significant drop in the current percentage of 56% of learners who cannot read properly at Grade 4 level and it will increase the number of learners in Grades 7, 8 and 9 who require better comprehension skills in order to pass maths with a minimum of 40%. It will increase the levels of motivation to stay-in-school and provide the required inspiration to give learners hope for a better future. Upskilling of and investment in, the ongoing development of Educators seems to be the most obvious solution. Dr Tracey Stewart

Monday, 12 December 2016        No Such Thing As 20% Maths Pass Mark

The Department of Basic Education moved to clear up confusion over reports that it would now allow junior high school pupils to pass maths if they achieved 20% in the subject. "To start, there is no such thing as a 20% pass mark for mathematics and there has been no change in the progression policy to reflect such," said spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga.

He said departmental policy to date had stated that a pupil would fail the year, even if they passed all their other subjects with distinctions, but got less than 40% for maths.

"While the policy is under review, a decision was taken to condone those who did not meet the 40% criteria in Mathematics to the next grade if they met all other pass requirements and obtained more than 20% in mathematics."

The decision only applied to Grade 7-9 pupils for this year as an interim measure.

It effectively excluded pupils who were failing other subjects.

Compulsory 'pure mathematics'

Mhlanga said the department was aware that not everyone was mathematically inclined.

At present, it was compulsory for pupils in these grades to do "pure mathematics".

"Some people are more inclined towards the arts, others are better with technical subjects, making this policy unfair to those who are forced to take mathematics, but are not good at it."

On Thursday, a statement by the department said an administrative decision had had to be made within the limited time available.

A circular referring to the "special condonation dispensation" was recently issued to heads of departments, principals, managers, directors and exam and curriculum heads.

It stated that only pupils who passed Grade 9 maths with 30% or more would be allowed to continue with the subject in Grade 10. Pupils in the 20% range would be compelled to take mathematical literacy. The Star Newspaper