Pretoria — As from next year, learners in Grades 1 to 3 will be required to take four subjects to help them cope better with the work load expected of them in the higher grades.
"The curriculum review process in 2009 alerted us to the fact that there is far too big a leap between the Foundation Phase (Grades 1-3) and the Intermediate Phase (Grades 4-6). Learners jump from three subjects to eight. This may account for the drop in results that we see as children move up the grades," said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
She was speaking at the release of the Annual National Assessment results on Tuesday.
English will also be a requirement for learners who will be later taught in the language.
"All learners whose Language of Learning and Teaching will be English from Grade 4 onwards will be required to take English as a subject from Grade 1. What this means is that the teaching of English will occur alongside home language instruction for those learners who choose English as a Language of Learning and Teaching in later grades," said Motshekga.
The move to include English as a subject from Grade 1 follows recommendations approved by the Council of Education Ministers in 2010 that from 2012, the language chosen by the learners as a Language of Learning and Teaching from Grade 4 shall be taught as a subject from Grade 1, and not from Grade 3 as is currently the case.
From 2012, all learners in Grades 1-3 will be required to take four subjects, namely Home Language, First Additional Language, Numeracy and Life Skills.
The minister said they will also reduce the number of subjects in the Intermediate Phase from 2012 as a means of ensuring that the "emphasis on the foundational skills will continue to be strengthened."
She, however, emphasised that English will not replace the home language in the early grades and each learner will be taught in his or her home language in the early grades, where it is practically possible.
"The move to English in Grade 1 is intended for those schools whose home language is not English."
Motshekga also acknowledged that improving the English language skills of teachers, whose mother tongue is not English, will be a challenge. However, the department is committed to doing this through a range of programmes.
Turning to Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Grade R learners, Motshekga said the department will continue to strengthen its interventions in ECD and Grade R and also working towards universal access to Grade R by 2014.
Between 2007 and 2010, there was an increase in the number of schools offering Grade R, from 12 480 schools to 16 020 and an increase in the number of learners in Grade R, from 487 222 to 707 203.
"This intervention is critical as early exposure of learners to Grade R programmes assists in the smooth transition between home and school. In addition, children will learn the basics in Language, Mathematics and Life Skills.
"The evidence is uncontested that children who have attended a centre or school-based preschool programme in the year before school entry, perform better on assessments of reading and math skills.
"Our task remains to improve qualitatively the level of qualifications of Grade R teachers to ensure that we reach our goal of quality and teaching at this level as well," Motshekga said.