Evaluation of the Grade R Research Project
Name of Project / Intervention: Grade R Research Project
Duration of Project: 2009-2010
Province, Area: Eastern Cape
In the light of the policy imperative to incorporate Grade R into the formal schooling system, the Zenex Foundation commissioned a study into the readiness of the South African education system to formalise Grade R. The study was conducted in 2009 and included a review of relevant government policy documents as well as discussion groups and interviews with Grade R teachers, government officials and training providers. Six Grade R sites were visited in the Eastern Cape.
Grade R is the final year of children's early development before entering formal schooling at Grade 1. The goal of universal enrolment in Grade R was planned for 2010, but given that some provinces were inadequately prepared, it was shifted to 2014. Inadequate funding was one reason for the postponement.
Furthermore the role and purpose of Grade R in relation to the 10 years of compulsory schooling has not been sufficiently unpacked. For example it is not clear how to bring "play" into the fold of proper learning. Resolving this will require clarity about the role, purpose and nature of Grade R within the conception of child development in the 10 years of compulsory schooling. There is a constant tension between the need for holistic development through play-based learning and the demands of a formal school curriculum.
In this context the Zenex Foundation funded research in 2009 into the readiness of the South African education system to formalise Grade R.
Key Findings and Recommendations
A push to implement universal enrolment in Grade R too quickly can undermine the intention of the policy. There are many challenges that needed to be dealt with before full scale implementation was possible. This included funding, infrastructure, curriculum and the development of teachers. Phased implementation of Grade R was necessary.
Patterns of inequalities between schools were evident in terms of class size and provision of learning and teaching support materials. Equalising these conditions should be a continuing priority for the Department of Basic Education (DBE).
Current resources were spread too thinly. Greater clarity was needed in relation to where money should be allocated, what it must be spent on and who is responsible. Funds could better target pilot projects or build on existing strengths in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) and schooling system.
Policy and strategy
Rather than integration into the schooling system, the introduction of Grade R should be driven by educational programmes. A clear, accessible definition of the philosophical approach to Grade R was sorely needed. It should include placing value on non-formal learning through active play experiences.
Grade R represents a transition for children from parental to school care. Parents need to understand what role to play, particularly with respect to harmonising the language(s) used at home and in the classroom. The policy preference for home language instruction in the foundational years of schooling must be supported by the provision of appropriate materials.
Teaching resources for ECD practitioners were scarce and what was available was often in a language not familiar to them or loaded with too much jargon. The research found that lesson plans, frameworks and curriculum support documents should be simpler and more straightforward, and accompanied by understandable teaching guides. More training and support was needed for practitioners in a multilingual context.
The qualifications and skills required by Grade R teachers needed to be clearly defined. The differences between ECD 'practitioners' and other Foundation Phase teachers had to be narrowed, especially if they were to enjoy the professional status due to them. A form of teacher mentoring could do this in the short-term, as it provided opportunities to share and practice teaching. Site visits could complement this mentoring approach, whether by district curriculum advisors from the DBE or field workers from NGOs. Visits from teachers in well-functioning schools could also lend peer support.
Standardising Grade R
Full support for the programme by the families would follow once a sound administrative basis was established for Grade R. The targets and indicators for the delivery of a quality Grade R programme had to be determined in order to allow collaboration and effective communication between schools, departmental officials and parents/caregivers.