Instructional guidance for literacy teaching in Limpopo, South Africa: a case study of the foundation phase policy and practice
Mbhalati, Nkhensani Brenda
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Over the years, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in South Africa tried different instruments through which to provide support and guidance to change classroom practice. At the heart of all these initiatives is the desire to improve learner performance, especially in grades 1 to 6 and 9 (where the National Assessments in literacy and mathematics are administered). Unfortunately, evidence from the national and international assessments continues to be disappointing, pointing to the fact that learners in South Africa perform at levels below the benchmarks set for mathematics and literacy. The major challenge is the observed decline in the reading levels of learners in primary schools. The provision of guidance and support for literacy teachers by instructional leaders has become a highly prioritised activity in the entire education system. This study reports on the findings of an investigation into the practices of selected instructional leaders in support of literacy instruction in three districts of Limpopo in South Africa. The mixed methods study used questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to understand the realities of providing subject leadership for literacy instruction in selected schools in Limpopo, South Africa. The findings are reported in five articles that address different research questions. The first set of findings suggests that in most schools, heads of department (HODs) play a prominent role in supporting literacy instruction compared to other school-based instructional leaders. This could suggest that HODs carry the heaviest workload in terms of the expectations to provide the support needed to change literacy instruction in the classrooms. The second set of findings point out that the practices of curriculum advisors and school-based instructional leaders do not have significant effects on literacy instruction and learner performance. Some of the reasons include a shortage or lack of the following: curriculum advisors, a clear goal communication, collaboration among instructional leaders and capacity-building workshops. This might begin to explain the persistent poor performance of learners in literacy. The third set of findings suggests that provision of support for literacy instruction by curriculum advisors specifically is rather limited, in part because of the shortage of circuit-based curriculum advisors, literacy lead teachers and a lack of DBE accountability with regard to the Annual National Assessment (ANA) administration and the lack of teachers’ guides to complement the DBE workbooks. The fourth set of findings suggests that school-based instructional leaders are negatively affected by a lack of the following: support from curriculum advisors, cooperation among literacy teachers, training, collaboration and role clarification. Misplacement of school-based instructional leaders also presented itself as a serious challenge. The final set of findings reflects that some of the school-based instructional leaders have limited capacity to lead literacy instruction. In the current structure, there are four subjects in the foundation phase in which school-based instructional leaders are expected to monitor, support and provide guidance. This task proved to be a challenge for them to achieve. The study concludes with a discussion of the circumstances surrounding the provision of guidance and support for literacy instruction in the foundation phase, identifying the lack of teamwork among school-based instructional leaders as the major drawback in the effort to provide support for literacy instruction in the foundation phase. The investigation has established that there is an urgent need to enhance collaborative teamwork among school-based instructional leaders, curriculum advisors and literacy teachers. Therefore, the study recommends that the DBE should consider proper staffing of schools and districts with appropriate instructional leaders and providing capacity-building workshops to strengthen the capacity of the district and school-based instructional leaders to lead literacy instruction in the foundation phase.