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.

Innovation in schools

This article was published in The Jewish Life Magazine August 2015

In the past few months worldwide, the broadcast and print media have covered taxi driver protests objecting to the operations of Uber. Uber is an online taxi application which allows one to order a taxi using a mobile device. You are given the name of the driver who is collecting you, the registration number and type of car, the time you will be picked up and all this is done at a very competitive rate. This innovation has created huge resistance from taxi drivers in countries where Uber operates, as their livelihood is threatened by this system.
However, Uber may not be the ultimate disruption in public/ private transportation. We may find that another innovation such as the driver-less car will soon take precedence over both Uber and Taxis. Fantasy? Google, Volvo and other well-known car brands have already produced the first prototype of cars that cruise the road without a driver! One can only imagine the implications of such innovation, not only on our own lives, but also on the lives of the future workforce.
Globalization, skills shortage, escalation in the unemployment rate, leadership crisis, the need for a sustained plan to look after our natural resources and the climate crisis are all challenges that motivate us to transform education. The perception is that any future growth and prosperity will depend upon the education system -systems that theoretically are meant to provide our students with 21st century skills that will equip them to adapt to an uncertain future.
This requires schools to become leaders in innovation and to embrace and adapt it as part of their values and culture. I believe the three main components to drive innovative leadership in education are curriculum, pedagogy and leadership. What we teach, how we teach it and the leadership to do so in an innovative manner.

“If you are not changing your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing” Heidi Hayes Jacobs.
ORT Argentina realised the importance of entrepreneurship for the future of the economy and incorporated it as a part of their school curriculum. They have adopted the approach that although entrepreneurship can be taught, they do not guarantee to produce a Bill Gates or a Donna Karan, any more than a physic professor can guarantee to produce an Albert Einstein, or a tennis coach to produce a Venus Williams. However, by getting students with a suitable aptitude to start a business, ORT Argentina guaranteed to make them better entrepreneurs.

“If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey
How we teach must echo how our students learn and it must also prepare them for the future. Education systems are more and more adopting an approach to teaching that takes into consideration the learning and teaching that will be required in the 21st Century.
In Israel, Kadima Mada has implemented Smart Classrooms in schools at the periphery of the country, simultaneously training the teachers on the new pedagogy. The Smart Classrooms are technology enhanced classrooms that foster opportunities for teaching and learning by integrating learning technology, such as computers, specialized software and audio/visual resources.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower” Steve Jobs
Becoming innovative schools leaders, who promote innovative teaching and stimulates innovation amongst students and teachers, requires a proactive approach from school principals and school management teams. Innovation cannot be delegated and has to be modeled by the leaders of the schools. This can be done, by embedding it into schools’ values, promoting programmes such as exchanges students/ teachers with other schools to learn and explore other successful models, by continuous learning of future trends and by modelling creative thinking and communicating.
The World ORT ICT Seminars are held globally. In South Africa it is hosted by the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) and driven by ORT SA. They assist Jewish Schools to learn about cutting edge technologies and trends and to actively learn about new pedagogies which support 21st century learning.

We all need to be able to learn to operate in a challenging, unpredictable environment. Change cannot be avoided and unfortunately cannot be predicted either. We therefore need to adopt an approach of innovation and leadership that will assist us with adopting change and gaining skills to help us cope effectively in unfamiliar and complex situations.