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The rural South African education project that’s driving ‘substantial’ improvements

Picture: Pixabay
Picture: Pixabay

Despite having a large budget relative to many other developing nations, South Africa’s schooling system is a serial underperformer.

As many as 81% of Grade 4 pupils can’t read for meaning, according to the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) report.

This shocking statistic is partly the result of a lack of teacher training and support, and overcrowded classrooms that don’t allow for one-on-one interactions, experts say.

However, one project in a largely rural part of the country is helping to turn the tide.

A non-profit called Funda Wande set up a teacher-assistant programme in Limpopo, which has the third-highest unemployment rate of South Africa’s nine provinces.

To do so, it took advantage of a government programme aimed at giving young people job experience to combat the scourge of youth unemployment (more than six in 10 young adults under the age of 25 are unemployed nationwide).

Funda Wande trained and supported matriculants to assist teachers with classroom management, and to increase the frequency of small-group and one-on-one teaching.

It also gave schools a set of high-quality teaching materials, in a range of local languages, to assist them further.

A research unit at the University of Cape Town is evaluating the programme’s outcomes. So far, the results are encouraging.

“The provision of Funda Wande-selected, trained and supported teacher assistants to classrooms over six school terms has proved highly effective in improving foundational reading and mathematics skills,” the most recent assessment reads.

Learners in classrooms with Funda Wande teacher assistants are significantly outperforming their peers in comparable control schools, in both literacy and numeracy.

Some noteworthy data points:

  • By the third term of Grade 2, learners in classrooms with Funda Wande teacher assistants had outperformed their peers by 0.5 standard deviations. “These gains are substantial, translating to around 1.25 years of learning in ‘business as usual’ environments.”
  • Learners in teacher-assistant schools are almost twice as likely as learners in control schools to reach the department of basic education’s grade 2 benchmark for Sepedi.
  • Learners in schools with the Funda Wande materials and teacher assistants complete roughly three times as many pages in their workbooks than their peers in control schools with no support.

The full report can be found here.

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