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Quality Assurance in Schools - Quo Vadis?

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Marietta van Rooyen

Minister Naledi Pandor takes her duties seriously and is working towards better education for all. This is clearly reflected in events such as the Most Approved Schools Awards function in Pretoria on 5 April 2006.

In her speech called "Improving Schools' the Minister announced some positive statistics, such as the fact that 86 531 learners passed the Grade 12 exam with a university endorsement (over a thousand more than in 2004).

However, there are other statistics not usually shown, such as that more than 40% of children drop out of school by Grade 3.

Of those left over more than 40% drop out after Grade 10, leaving only 36% of those that started school. Of these learners in Grade 12 the pass rate is 70%, but only 10% of them go on to higher education (2,5% of the original total learners in school), and only 40% of them make it to degree level (1% of the original total learners in school).

Consider the fact that most of our curriculum is preparing learners for higher education. The other 99% who need vocational and occupational skills are hardly catered for at all.

One of the most worrying areas in our education and training system seems to be the government schooling system. Who should take responsibility for quality in schools?

Obviously it should be the Minister of Education, who delegates this function to the Director General (National Education Policy Act 1996) and the National Department of Education. The Department monitors and evaluates provincial education provisioning and reports on their findings to the public and the cabinet.

According to the General and Further Education Act quality assurance should be done by the GENFETQA (Umalusi). Umalusi decided that they will do this quality assurance by only looking at the provinces, not the individual schools.

So they check the quality of education at a place where delivery does not take place. If this involved them monitoring the quality assurance of schools by the provinces, it might work, but this is not done. Umalusi is basically only concerned with the exit exams of the provinces. Granted, this in itself is an enormous task.

Although the Department of Education and the provinces started a system of "whole schools evaluation', it was discontinued due to problems identified by SADTU. SADTU and others objected to the way teacher evaluation would have been done. Since then, the responsible bodies came up with the Integrated Quality Management System, which includes a more practical form of teacher evaluation.

The IQMS system relies on self-evaluation and peer evaluation of teachers. Their training and development needs are then taken up in a school improvement plan, which is sent to the district.

The district is supposed to then work on a district improvement plan, to be presented to the province, which should develop a workplace skills plan for their province. Apparently, with some exceptions, starting from the district level, this does not happen.

Why do we not encourage individual institutions to start working on their own quality management system (QMS)? Most principles of schools have never heard of quality assurance and could not create such a system. If Umalusi were serious about quality assurance, they would insist that all senior managers at schools are trained and mentored into a good understanding of quality management systems.

Having introduced an ISO 9001:2000 system in a small training organisation, I know it is not so difficult to adapt this international standard for use in educational institutions.

It is a services-orientated standard and covers most areas of operation in an educational institution. Nevertheless, one does not want to force any specific system on the educational milieu. There must be many examples of systems successfully implemented in schools across the world.

It is clear that quality delivery by good teachers is not the only part of delivery we need to consider when evaluating quality education. One also needs quality administration, materials, assessments and support for learners. In short, we need to have quality management systems in each school, and on every level of education.

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