#BackOnTrack: Western Cape students will spend 60 extra learning hours on Maths and Reading

19 Jul 2022 in Where We Govern

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) will be taking decisive action over the 3rd and 4th term to address severe learning losses in the Foundation Phase (Grades 1 to 3), by enabling an increased time allocation for Mathematics and Reading each week. These are the grades that were most severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and we must do everything we possibly can to ensure that our youngest students are not disadvantaged in later grades.

The intervention will see an extra 2 hours per week allocated to reading and 1 extra hour per week for Mathematics, for all Foundation Phase students in the province – amounting to an increase of at least 60 learning hours per student in the subjects over the remainder of the year. The intervention will support other recovery plans that are already underway.

These increases will be accommodated by adjusting the amount of time allocated to Life Skills, so the intervention will not increase the length of the school day. We recognise the importance of Life Skills teaching in the development of our students. It is therefore important that the remaining time for the subject be used effectively within the new timetables.

2021 Systemic Test results

The Western Cape is the only province to undertake standardised systemic testing in Mathematics and Languages, and we therefore have a comprehensive understanding of the scale of the learning losses caused by the pandemic.

Earlier this year, we announced that the results of the 2021 systemic tests reveal severe learning losses associated with the pandemic. While we had previously made great progress with a steady increase in performance in years preceding 2020, these gains have unfortunately been reversed.

The greatest learning losses can be seen in the Foundation Phase. We have always maintained that the loss of contact (face-to-face) teaching time would affect our youngest students the most as they do not have the same self-discipline, maturity or structure that our older students would have to cope with rotating timetables and learning at home.

Comparing the 2021 and 2019 Systemic Test results, Grade 3 pass rates in Mathematics dropped by 13.8 percentage points, and in Language by 8.0 percentage points. These learning losses will have serious knock effects as these students progress through their school careers.

Foundation Phase intervention

The pandemic derailed our steady progress, so we must take immediate action to get #BackOnTrack in these subjects. Education experts recommend the allocation of additional time for the teaching and learning of Mathematics and Reading, more teacher support and improved teaching practices, and encouraging parental support and involvement to catch up the time and learning lost.

Accordingly, the WCED will implement an additional 2 hours of group-guided reading per week, and an additional hour of Mathematics per week.

We have engaged with union representatives, principals’ associations, WCED officials and senior Foundation Phase teachers who are supportive of this intervention. We all recognise that we cannot afford to wait until next year to address learning losses. A minute will be sent to schools outlining what is required and providing suggested timetables when implementing the intervention. All Foundation Phase teachers will participate in a webinar on Monday 25 July 2022, to take them through the intervention before it is implemented.

The intervention will be monitored over the remaining weeks of the school year, and a review report will be produced to inform the steps we will take in 2023. Schools that have already made their own adjustments to address learning losses in this phase will have the opportunity to request exemption from the change, if they can demonstrate that they are effectively addressing the losses.

We appeal to all teachers and parents to support us as we ramp up our efforts to reverse the impact of the pandemic. We will need to work together to ensure that Foundation Phase students receive quality education in the Western Cape.