Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Training Grade R Teachers to Impart Visual Perceptual Skills for Early Reading

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Training Grade R Teachers to Impart Visual Perceptual Skills for Early Reading

Article excerpt


In South Africa there is consensus that 'getting basic education right' is foundational for the future of this country. When national Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga spoke about the importance of the Grade Reception Phase (R) programme for five and six year-old learners, on 09 February 2013, she focused on the teachers delivering the programme:

We recognise the challenges of teacher training; working conditions and supply of skilled practitioners ... We accept the task of ensuring that Grade R teachers are paid well and know what they are supposed to do. (Department of Basic Education 2013a)

Motshekga's comments imply that the quality of the Grade R teachers' knowledge and skill is pivotal to the effectiveness of the Grade R programme. The McKinsey report on the world's top school systems cites three best practices which are all related to teacher knowledge, namely:

1. getting the right people to become teachers

2. developing them into effective instructors and

3. ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction to every child (Barber & Mourshed 2007:5).

Teachers interact with cohorts of learners year after year. What the Grade R teacher knows, and does, based on that knowledge is, therefore, extremely important. Teachers impart what they know. Once what they know is identified, then they can be developed further, during both pre-and in-service training.

It is not helpful only to present findings on what Grade R teachers know and can impart. Professional development must be promoted which will empower Grade R teachers to impart more knowledge more effectively in the classroom. This development includes pre-service training, in-service coaching, further studies, workshops and systemic monitoring by the school and educational department.

This article seeks to describe and recommend best practices of such professional development. The recommendations below are based on an overview of the current professional development landscape, a brief exposition of the Subject Content Knowledge (SCK) of visual perceptual skills (VPS), a document analysis of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum and finally, a case study with a discourse analysis involving four Grade R teachers.

At the outset it is important to assess the following two aspects related to Grade R teachers: firstly, the extent to which Grade R teachers are currently being trained for their task; and, secondly, the general level of equipping they possess at present. An investigation of such considerations is beyond the scope of this article. However, the Grade R professional development landscape needs to be reviewed briefly, in order to clarify the context within which the teachers featured in the case study perform their task, particularly with reference to their SCK of VPS and visual training.

The Grade R professional development landscape

A review of teacher training provides some background for present and future professional development. After 1996 the then Department of Education (DoE) decided to spend less on teachers to enable more spending on infrastructure in public Grade R facilities managed by School Governing Bodies (SGBs). As too few schools could offer departmental posts, most public posts were SGB funded.

Before 2007 the Grade R teachers were trained by means of either: a four-year higher diploma in education (HDE), including three years in Junior Primary followed by one year specialising in Pre-Primary; or a four-year B Prim Ed which included a Pre-Primary module.

Of particular relevance to the case study is a third option which took shape from 2007 onwards, when a National Diploma course was launched in colleges, known as Early Childhood Development (ECD). ECD 5 (NQF Level 5) was designated for teaching 4-6 year-old children (one year full-time or via distance learning over about 18-24 months). It had to be either accessed via a school leaving qualification, or Level 4, or a Higher Certificate in ECD. …

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