Its all about ANA

19 September 2015

This article was written in response to the news re postponement of the ANA (Annual National Assessment)

“In a last-minute move, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on Friday announced that the 2015 Annual National Assessment (ANA), which was scheduled to start on Tuesday and be written by 8.6 million pupils, has been postponed until February next year,” News24 reported on 13th September: This news raises some questions and controversy regarding the DBE allegedly giving in to pressure by teachers’ unions: the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) and the South African Onderwysersunie (SAOU).

There is a sense reflected in the media of the discontent from this decision, although it was clear from previous reports that academics, schools and teachers’ unions were dissatisfied with the standards of the ANA and there was a need to re-examine and review the benchmark testing model.  Why the disappointment?  I think it is based on three main elements:

Leadership (or lack thereof) – the announcement was originated two days before the ANA exams were supposed to be administered. Some schools testified that they had already collected the exam papers and were prepared for the 15th of September. Why did negotiations between the two parties break down at the very last minute? And why were sms’s sent from the unions notifying schools of the expected cancellation while no notification from the Department of Basic Education was sent or received? This government body, whose role, according to its mission is  “ to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century”, should be calling the shots, not the unions.

Accountability (or lack thereof) – the announcement by some of the teachers’ unions demanding that the assessments be done in three-year cycles in order to create time for remedial action, as published by IOL on the 14th of September, is worrying. If this statement is any indication of what is expected ahead, the purpose of administrating such benchmarking assessments collapses.  A period of three years for remedial action is excessive, unnecessary and defeats the role of assessment in education.

Opportunity (or missed one) – ANA caused tremendous debate in the scholar, academic and political world and many agreed that the way ANA is designed, administered and checked is not credible, not-authentic and not valid. The energy and efforts should focus on improving this benchmark assessment in order to use it as information for improving rather than auditing performance.

According to Grant Wiggins, an assessment expert, we must recapture the primary aim of assessment; to help students better learn and teachers to better instruct.  Teachers’ job is to teach to the outcomes, not to the test.

Students deserve a credible, relevant and user friendly assessment, they deserve timeous feedback and opportunities to practice and improve.

To achieve this, I believe that the DBE should focus also on teachers’ professional development, incorporating assessment.

In the ORT SA-Bidvest Math ICT programme, we include in a teachers professional development programme, the practice of planning, scoring, analysis and recording of pupils’ assessments on an on-going basis. Feedback to pupils and parents is practiced as well as adjusting teaching in alignment with the analysis of results. Assessments have the power to improve teaching and learning and teachers must be empowered to utilise it rather than be intimidated from it.

Albert Einstein reportedly had a sign on his office wall that stated: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Tests don’t just measure; they teach what we value.

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Reflections from Education Week SA July 2011

Education Week, a conference held at the Sandton Convention Centre recently, convened some important stakeholders in education, raising concerns regards the state of education in South Africa and sharing possible solutions and case studies. The state of education in SA has been exposed over the media and in academic articles, so the issues that arose in both morning panels on the 7th and 8th of July, were not new discoveries to most delegates. Both Ministries for Basic Education and Higher Education are openly disclosing information and strategies to the problem. For example, statistic shown by Mabizela Nathledi, who represented the Minister of Higher Education, revealed the numbers behind what he called the “Ticking Time Bomb”. Numbers of unemployed, not in education and not severely disabled at the 18-24 age cohort. This staggering statistic shows 2.8M unemployed between the age of 18-24, out of which about 2M – TWO MILLION have less than Grade 12 qualification (0.5M Primary education and less, 0.5M less than Grade 10, 1M less than Grade 12). In South Africa where the rate of unemployment is min 28% this statistic is of huge concern (compared to Tunisia where unemployment rate is 5%). Mazibela noted that the SA economy requires a pool of artisans and technicians as well as academic, teaching staff and researchers. Another concern raised is that the quality of students seems to be going down. He also added that poor education in primary level is the concern of DHE as well since the need to strengthen the basics; Math, Science and Literacy are fundamentals when getting to higher education.

I  enjoyed Brian O’Connell’s talk that conveyed some hope by mentioning that we will succeed as we did before. The 2005 Curriculum was wrong, but it’s not the end of it, since early civilisation, we have tried to make sense of things but we’re not always right. The Aztec, ethic group in central Mexico who sacrificed humans is an example that civilisation don’t always get it right first time. Lets’ just hope that it won’t take too long for our country to get it right.

Using Gapminder – world map, scaled by different variables of education, Brian demonstrated the huge challenges SA faces. When scaled by number of patents, tertiary enrolment and books borrowed – you can hardly see Africa on the World map, but when it comes to TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS, Africa seems to be the biggest continent in the world. Brian O’Connell presented benchmarking and TIMSS results that demonstrates the poor performance of our learners.

Brian’s outreach to SADTU regarding this challenge in education is an important call for the shift needed in education achievement. I strongly believe that in order to succeed in our efforts to elevate the state of education – it is the call of the communities to take proactive measures to eradicate poverty and hunger that impacts our learners achieve better.

Credit: Zapiro