Leg up for province's poorest schools

12 November 2007

Concerned by the "very low competencies" in literacy and numeracy among grade 3 and 6 pupils at 38 rural schools in the Western Cape, the Schools Development Unit (SDU) has teamed up with funders the Claude Leon Foundation and Foschini, and the Western Cape Education Department to boost performance.

The result is the Rural Education Project (REP). Their work is important because, without a solid foundation in numeracy and literacy, the impact is felt higher up and reflected in drop-out rates and poor maths and science marks.

REP, a four-year flagship project,) is run by a team of 13 from the SDU. Project manager Cally Kühne says: "With their long track record of working with rural teachers, co-ordinators Diane Hendricks and Zonia Jooste and their teams are particularly well placed to do this kind of intervention.

"They will provide programmes to boost literacy and numeracy in these schools while supporting curriculum advisors, teachers and principals."

The schools are in the South Cape Karoo, the Breede River/Overberg and West Coast winelands regions. The project reaches 510 teachers and over 20 000 children.

Importantly, it is aligned with the Western Cape Education Department's Strengthened Numeracy and Literacy Strategy and other professional development programmes.

Long-standing supporters of UCT, the Claude Leon Foundation, has made R5 million available to the project. Importantly, the core funding stretches over four years, time enough for meaningful intervention, Kühne says. Commending the foundation for their willingness to underwrite a seed project, she added: "It's a long-term commitment and doesn't try to accomplish results in a year."

The project represents other firsts for UCT. This is the first time the unit has been given the opportunity to write up the results of REP's findings in an analytical way, with important implications for research and policymaking.

"We need to ask why performance in rural school is so poor and find solutions and strategies in the context of these schools," Kühne added.

But the project has an even further reach. UCT has offered teachers from REP an opportunity to register for the Advanced Certificate in Education in mathematics, language and curriculum leadership.

Already 72 teachers have registered, with 60 on bursaries from the Western Cape Education Department.

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