Matric Starts in Grade 1, Education Conference Hears
If you really want to change a nation and invest in a child’s future, the best and brightest teachers should be right down there in Grade 1, says Professor Elizabeth Henning of the Centre for Education Practice Research at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
Henning was speaking at the 2nd South African Education Research Association (SAERA) conference hosted by UKZN’s School of Education.
Her presentation was titled: “Where to with the Science and the Social Justice of Child Assessment in South African Schools?”
The presentation focused on research conducted by Henning and a team of researchers from UJ that focused on the translation and standardisation of a German Mathematics competence test in four South African languages. The test was translated into isiZulu, SeSetho, English and Afrikaans.
‘We were concerned about five years ago about the dip in Mathematics achievement in Grade 3 and the dramatic decline in Grade 4. We cottoned on to some German researchers who had designed a test with a very strong theoretical base to test children aged between 4 and 8.
‘We then modelled it. It’s a firm model and we asked to borrow it and brought it to Soweto. We now have something that will say: “This kid is struggling here” or “This kid has a serious problem here”.’
The test, called the Marko-D, is a conceptual model of mathematical concept, says Henning, and is able to discover where children are stuck in their work and then identifies where remedial help can be provided.
‘Our kids were tested at the same time as those in Germany and guess what, we are on par - they did not do better than us. It is a standardised diagnostic test so that we can see when kids are in trouble. We hope to make the Marko-D widely available.
‘We’re now talking about how matric begins in Grade 1. It’s no use trying to patch up mathematics in Grade 9 - it is too late. Because when you build something you dig a foundation and you have a very specific mix of concrete to put into that foundation,’ said Henning.
Earlier, School of Education Academic Professor Michael Samuel, Chair of the Conference local organising committee, welcomed the close to 250 delegates to the Conference by highlighting some of the pertinent issues that the Conference would focus on.
‘Many of the papers talk about the limits of policy and the concern about whether policy will offer us a solution. I think this comes in the wake of a policy euphoria that characterised the early stages of post-apartheid; 20 years now into a new democracy what are the kinds of issues that we realistically need to be putting on the table. Should we be thinking about teacher centred versus learner centred or should we follow the comment of let’s be learning centred in our pedagogy as we try to organise systematic processes of inquiry for the growth of our future citizens.’
A concern for many of those looking at the new liberal tradition that’s coming through education is also the concern about the way universities are increasingly becoming business oriented rather than knowledge producers said Samuel.
‘I think that there are possibly threats to educational research and these are the following: We might end up choosing only those students who we believe will succeed; we might end up choosing simple studies rather than complex studies to be able to engage with. I want to encourage this dignified dialogue in the Conference to be able to say how do we borrow, exchange, redirect our heritages from the past, each of us bringing those heritages into this Conference, but how do we draw from it and move forward. How do we use our paradigmatic positions in a positive way, how do we borrow models of what is valuable or not to the long term agenda, whose models are we inheriting and why do we choose to inherit them. Could we discard them or reformulate them and can we dream ourselves anew,’ he concluded.