Why Your Most Experienced Teachers Should Be Teaching Grade 8 and 9


In a webinar Reflective Learning recently hosted, a panel of experts sat down to discuss the Matric Maths results for 2023. Topics were hot and discussions were flowing, particularly about the disparity of skillset distribution throughout the different streams and grades.

Same Grade, Different Problems For Teachers and Students

Our panel outlined how schools lack the resources to be able to provide specialised teachers across all streams and all grades. By prioritising resources, schools, no doubt unwillingly, are forced to allocate these resources accordingly.

The most specialised and experienced teachers per subject are allocated to the highest performing streams and grades in an effort to boost the school’s ranking in South Africa’s cohort of schools. This ranking is measured on the performance of the top students in each grade, rather than the entire grade. Consequently, when schools allocate teachers in this way, they are giving the best performing students yet another leg-up and ‘cutting their losses’ with the lower streams.

Because Matric results are such an important metric by which schools are measured, the teachers with the most experience and specialisation are often allocated to Grade 12 classes. But is this doing more damage than good? Is there a way to ensure all students get the chance to catch up learning gaps and exceed in the subject?

By schools being so results and reputation-driven, have we lost the true essence of learning and gotten distracted with the metrics?

In an article published by The Standard, an argument was made for the vast difference between exams and being life-prepared. The article explored how teenagers don’t feel prepared with the skills needed for work and life after school, despite having passed exams. The article stipulates that the urgency to pass exams surpasses and eclipses the need for students to learn life-skills and prepare them for the working environment.

“My biggest concern is how the focus has been on the exams. It’s always on the exams and results. The focus is not on the learning. Students learn to recognize types of questions and answers to questions, but they don’t actually learn to think. And that actually, I think, is the biggest challenge we’re facing.” – Tracey Butchart, Co-Founder of Reflective Learning

Students’ learning for self-development and to expand their knowledge base has been warped into learning-to-pass. Students will focus their efforts on where their successes are measured. If their pass rates dictate their success, this teaches them that the purpose of learning is to pass exams, and everything else is secondary. When they leave school and no longer have exams to focus on, what do they look to? By neglecting to focus on expanding their knowledge base and life-skills, students find they plateau after high school as they are not well enough prepared to tackle the realities of life after school, according to The Standard. They likely have to start all over again to learn the skills actually needed to enter the work forces and succeed in life after school.

Now consider this: what happens to the students who’s learning has not only been warped, but who have also been cut off from the resources they need because they were placed in the lower streams?

Not only are they ill-prepared for life after school, but they are forced to look for external resources to assist in preparing for their studies during school and university. This, it could be argued, is one of the major driving factors of a thriving tutoring industry in South Africa. Parents look to tutors to not only help their children pass their exams, but to provide their children with the resources they need that they aren’t getting from their school.

Seeking tutoring for students who are struggling is a solution, but not the best one. Though we can’t change the system in a day, we can transform learning again to be about empowering our students for success in life after school, and to be about expanding our knowledge to be better humans.

But if tutoring isn’t the answer, what is?

We have proven that students can catch up and embrace their learning journeys on their own and excel whilst doing this. By addressing the root of the problem, we have found that students bounce back more resiliently than you’d think. Identifying where students lost their way in their learning journeys also identifies where they can find themselves again.

Though this process already exists in schools through diagnostics assessments and targeted teaching, teachers just don’t have the resources and capacity to help each student individually, and schools just don’t have enough teachers to assist. In addition, with the decline in teachers entering the workforce, we need to find innovative solutions to this problem. This process, therefore, needs to be reigned in and improved in ways that address the modern problems schools face.

Adjusting Our Outlook

How we view learning and prioritise our learning goals will determine how we address this problem. We need to realign learning and shift our focus back on learning as self-preparation and expanding our knowledge base. By refocusing learning goals, we are reevaluating how we teach students to succeed, and inevitably teaching students to prioritise learning as a mechanism for self-development and success for life after work.

Shuffling Around Our Resources

If the lower streams of each grade are the ones struggling the most, why aren’t we giving them the resources they actually need, instead of further stunting their learning development? Would a doctor withhold treating the sick to heal the healthy? No. So why are we doing this with students? We need to allocate our most experienced, specialised teachers to the students that need it to remedy learning experiences. By properly allocating the right resources to the right students, we remedy their learning experiences and ensure a healthy learning future.

“The DBE states that the Matric results are meant to serve as a health barometer of the overall health of South Africa’s education system. It’s meant to provide diagnostic information. Our issue at Proteus with Matric as a diagnostic tool, is that it’s utterly useless because the kids have already finished school. The only time we get a systemic snapshot is by the time it’s too late”  – Jon Molver Founding Director of Proteus Advisory

Based on this, Grade 8 and 9 students should be getting the most intervention as they are in a critical stage of their learning journey. By ensuring that students get intervention as early as possible, we’re making sure that they get the help they need, when they need, and when it counts.

This is all good and well. But how do we actually do this?

Simply put, teachers and schools alone just don’t have the resources and capacity for this type of transformation. Correctly allocating resources is the start, but on top of this new, innovative solutions need to be adopted to further assist teachers.

The surge in EdTech and AI programmes is more than just a trend. It comes from the need for realistic, solution-based ways to enhance teachers’ and students’ education journeys. But we’ve recognised that it’s more than enhancing experiences. These programmes can be used to directly address students’ needs and transform their learning in ways traditional processes realistically can’t by providing valuable data and teaching tools. This, however, needs to be done in conjunction with appropriate resource allocation.

“We recognize that providing the data is just the start. Obviously then you need to work together with teachers to support them on data analysis, insights and action. You need to equip them with the right sort of teaching techniques to run the right sort of catch-up programs and interventions students need.” – Jon Molver, Founding Director of Proteus Advisory.

When used as a teaching tool, EdTech programmes provide teachers with accurate data telling them where exactly students are in their conceptual understanding, as well as where they need intervention. These programmes not only save time, but they also allow teachers the time and opportunity they’ve dreamed of to help individual students to catch up their learning gaps.

Our data shows that it is possible for students to catch up years’ worth of gaps and to transform their learning in a matter of a few years, and sometimes even months of intervention. Consider this story from one of Reflective Learning’s CO-Founders, Tracey Butchart, who has dedicated years of her life to teaching and research:

“I ran a Maths intervention program 12 years ago for 50 students, where we focussed on each students’ needs and learning gaps. One of the boys who did the intervention’s initial assessment on basic Maths principles got 25% on the test. He was at the equivalent of a grade four level in Maths. This boy was lost in that mass of kids in his class in school.

Over the three year period that he was involved in the intervention he became the top performer of the 50 students. He matriculated with 93% for maths and is now a Maths HOD in his community, and a star Maths teacher. Because we tend to focus on the kids who we think have got a chance, we kind of forget that actually every single one of those kids has the potential to be a Maths star.”

South Africa’s education system is at a very pivotal point and transformation is imminent. Join us as we recenter what learning is about: our students. By refocusing resources and reevaluating our definition of ‘student success’, we can ensure that students are prepared with the skills they need for their future, and not for the exams that they will leave in the past. By using EdTech programmes to address the root of the problem, student’s are equipped to reach true conceptual understanding, which inevitably leads to high pass rates.

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