The South African curriculum policy statement on teaching, learning and assessment (CAPS) provides details on what teachers need to teach and assess in each grade. It is seen by many as aiming to lessen the administrative load on teachers and ensuring that there is clear guidance and consistency for teachers when teaching and assessing.
Its ultimate goal is to improve the quality of learner outcomes in the country- this is of particular importance given the very poor performance ranking of South African learners on international benchmark tests.
Research indicates that many schools only cover a fraction of the curriculum in the school year – as low at 30% in some of the lower grades – and consequently the focus of many large-scale school improvement interventions (such as the NECT and PMDP) has been on improving the extent to which teachers’ cover the curriculum.
Early findings however suggest that where increased levels of curriculum coverage have been achieved, the expected improvement in learner achievement lags behind.
The data must of course be treated carefully and there many shortcomings such as the lack of standardised testing (abandonment of the ANAs and no equivalent in primary schools) so it is important to bear this in mind before coming to any firm conclusions.
However the data does suggest that in cases where teacher knowledge is lacking, and where HoD’s management skills are rudimentary, increased curriculum coverage may lead to shallower attention to content and more use of time for assessments rather than teaching. In these cases then learning outcomes may well decline.
In our next newsletter we will discuss the implication of these early research findings.