n Journal of Educational Studies - Curriculum reform paradigm : a turnaround strategy




The notion of school underperformance is relative and contestable. For many schools, it is a label that is applied and removed as curriculum policies change and the concomitant political imperatives alter. This article is a brainchild of the Community Engagement Project undertaken with six high schools in Limpopo province which had been labelled as chronically underachieving. These rural schools were in extremely pathetic circumstances, as the percentage of learners achieving success in gateway subjects was zero. The project, commissioned by Unisa's Department of Curriculum and Instructional Studies, aimed to develop a strategy that would turn around learner performance. With the assistance from the district, the best teachers in mathematics from a number of (star) schools where seconded to the six failing schools to assist temporarily with the intervention and enrichment programmes for three years. After the first year, results in all schools started to creep up, and by the time the project finished, all schools were well in line with South Africa's NSCE norms. The project was held up as a great success and the schools rightfully celebrated. Yet this success story was short-lived and improvement was fragile. This study employed a qualitative approach to attempt to assess what actually transpired before and after the intervention programme. As the number of variables bearing on the situation in the schools is very large, three variables (technical jargon, lack of clear target and professional development of teachers) were chosen as the primary focus of attention in the study.


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