Casme works primarily with teachers to build their capacity, skills and competence in subject content knowledge, pedagogical skills and the use of research-based strategies. Part of their work includes the integration of technology in teaching. The project not only focuses on Mathematics, Science and English teacher development and support but also includes components that address curriculum management, tertiary access and e-learning.
CASME’s vision is to the change the lives of learners through quality and innovative mathematics and science education development. The project started in 2017 following a successful bid by CASME in response to an invitation from the project funders. We work primarily with teachers to build their capacity, skills and competence in subject content knowledge, pedagogical skills and the use of research-based strategies. Part of our work includes the integration of technology in teaching. The project not only focuses on Mathematics, Science and English teacher development and support but also includes components that address curriculum management, tertiary access and e-learning. As a result, CASME is one of a number of NGOs working together to deliver a wide-ranging support programme.
The Izimpande Zokukhanya project aims to improve the quality of mathematics, science and English teaching in 6 schools in the Ilembe Disitrct of KwaZulu-Natal. It also takes as its key objectives the increase in participation rates in mathematics and science, hence a particular focus on the Senior Phase i.e. Grades 8 and 9, and achievement levels.
The project has 4 key components to address the whole learning ecosystem in the targeted schools. The work with teachers involves an immersive coaching approach with subject specialist coaches in mathematics, science and English working with teachers and learners to embed routines and procedures for diagnostic assessments, remediation and collaborative lesson planning. The work with school management includes support to principals and heads of departments for effective curriculum leadership. The efforts in this regard support initiatives like the provincial roll out of Jika Imfundo, a campaign to enhance curriculum coverage. In addition the project has a particular support component for the accelerated roll out of the Data Driven Dashboard (DDD) programme. For learners there is a selected cohort of FET learners involved in a technology driven practice programme backed up by face-to-face tuition sessions.
In this project in particular, CASME forms part of a broad consortium of implementing partners each with specialist knowledge and experience in the different components. This includes the Environment and Language Education Trust (ELET), Siyavula, Tsebo Education Network and New Leaders Foundation. Funding is provided by The Zenex Foundation who also provide coordination and project support through an independent project manager. Within the broader district context, the work is implemented in close partnership with a district steering team which includes subject advisors.
Where feasible, external evaluation is undertaken, a process usually driven by donors. However, CASME has significantly developed it internal monitoring and evaluation capacity to the extent that this is largely embedded in programme design and delivery. We feel it is important emphasise that outcomes are not exclusively quantitative. It is important to document outcomes on a case-study basis and consider the individual success stories behind the data. At a macro level is also important to distill lessons and share these to improve future programme design. We have been fortunate to work with innovative partners and donors who understand the complexity of education development.
It is still early in the project implementation and already through a thorough consultative process involving the NGO partners, the Department of Education and the funder, the project is undergoing a re-design as a result of initial M&E results. Check back with us at the end of the 5-year period and we can talk again. However, our initial, anecdotal view, is that there is significant change happening, particular where we have the opportunity to engage directly with learners. However, the objective is to leave a sustainable legacy of embedded routines, processes and behaviors that will impact these schools well after the project concludes. This kind of social change, particularly in education, takes time.
Evolution and lessons learnt
The re-design process mentioned above has seen the project put greater emphasis on the senior phase. In the initial design it was felt that two years would lay sufficient groundwork to progress the project to the FET band. However what we have found is that we are faced with significant learning backlogs and this is increasingly supported by evidence from other programmes around South Africa. This opportunity to pause, reflect and adjust the project is as a result of initial M&E findings but also as a result of the funders long experience in education development and an openness to engage frankly and honestly about challenges. We are fortunate to be part of this process which in itself holds lessons that are valuable not only for us as an NGO but for processes, replicability and impact assessment.
A significant challenge has been the gap between what the project intended to do based on our initial understanding of the context, and the reality on the ground. Schools and teachers face many cumulative system challenges such as large grade level competency gaps, teacher post provisioning, learner transport and a socio-economic context that negatively impacts learning outcomes. As a result, progress is slow.
Whilst support from the District has been positive, capacity constraints also exist at this level.
In the best cases teachers are transforming their teaching practice, adopting more learner centred approaches and the early stages of professional learning communities are emerging. A particular focus on science practical work is generating enthusiasm around the subject and should see an increase in participation levels in the higher grades as the project progresses.
Potential for scaling up
Let’s start by admitting that this project would be near impossible to scale due to the nature of scale within the education sector. Scale implies that the project could be absorbed into the day-to-day processes, policies and practices of the system, broadly. There are certainly elements and practices that could be scaled but the depth of support provided, through external input and resources (financial and human) into this project would, I would venture, be impossible for the state to replicate at scale. So, the objective is not to scale but certainly given that there is an ongoing commitment from the corporate and donor community to invest in education projects, it is essential that the lessons be shared so that there is an opportunity to replicate that which is successful.
Within this project there has the opportunity to explore the use of ICTs and to hone some of the approaches tested in earlier interventions. For example, the use of diagnostic tools to identify learning gaps and the application of gap filling strategies is one. We are also currently piloting remote support for teachers as part of the project’s innovative response. There are valuable lessons and we are working closely with the District on documenting the lessons through a newly established Digital Learning Community of Practice.
The project is set to continue for a further 3 years. An external evaluation is being undertaken which will provide lessons and enable measurement of impact. As mentioned, the focus is shifting to the earlier grades in order to respond to cumulative backlogs which should see learning gains in the later years. Through the re-design process there is also a rethinking of the technology integration and career guidance components of the project. The pilot remote support initiative will be continuing, and this is likely to pave the way for increasingly leveraging this approach to supporting teachers.