The Department of Policy Monitoring and Evaluation has released a major new study undertaken by ReSEP on the effect the introduction of Grade R in most schools has had on learning outcomes in subsequent grades. It is widely accepted that early learning programmes are the most appropriate interventions to overcome the disadvantages faced by children from poor home backgrounds. But the Report found that
“…the impact of Grade R in South Africa is small and there is virtually no measurable impact for the poorest three school quintiles, while there are some impacts for the higher quintile schools. Thus, instead of reducing inequalities, Grade R further extends the advantage of more affluent schools. Grade R impacts convert to only 12 days of normal learning gains in maths and 50 days in home language (for a school year of 200 days).” (Policy Summary p.3)
In the light of expectations that Grade R can help to overcome the learning deficits of poor children, the results are discouraging. The report concludes that
“The differential impact may imply that impact is associated with capacity, manifested in the supportive framework for Grade R in schools, availability of good teachers and parental support. Low and differentiated learning impact may be due to a wider endemic quality issue in schools rather than specific to Grade R. Quality thus needs attention.” (Executive Summary, p.6)
The authors of the report were Servaas van der Berg, Elizabeth Girdwood, Debra Shepherd, Chris van Wyk, John Kruger, Janeli Viljoen, Olivia Ezeobi and Poppie Ntaka. By creating a major new data set from administrative and test data, the ReSEP researchers were able to statistically estimate the size of the impact of the introduction of Grade R using a fixed effects approach. The report has been praised for its technical quality and the excellent literature review of the evidence on the value of early learning. In response to the report, the Department of Basic Education has held a two day workshop to develop an Improvement Plan that mainly focuses on improving the quality of Grade R.
In response to the release of the Report, Prof. Servaas van der Berg, lead researcher, said he was impressed with the fact that DPME is serious about measuring the impact of government policies and releasing reports such as these. He was equally encouraged by the DBE’s response to address the real reasons behind the capacity constraints that inhibited learning in many poor schools. This is a structural problem that goes deeper than simply the roll-out of Grade R and that needs constant attention.
Summary versions of the Report, the full report, as well as the DBE management response to the Report, can be found on the DPME website. Alternatively, the same versions of the document can be downloaded here.
It includes the following:
i) the Policy Summary (1 page), Executive Summary (4 pages) and Report Summary (30 pages) as a single document,
ii) the Main Report (88 pages), but this only starts on page 10 and is again preceded by the Policy Summary and the Executive Summary in the same document, and
iii) a Response by DBE Management to the report.
Update: In response to reactions following the publication of the report Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has defended the benefits of Grade R. Ms Motshekga explained that the evaluation was undertaken to identify areas of improvement and to ensure maximum benefits of the programme in terms of quality. Proposals for the development of the Grade R curriculum and the conditions of service for Grade R teachers had emerged from the report. She said Grade R teachers’ qualifications would be enhanced.