Durban - Matric geography and life sciences pupils who were given inexpensive, government-developed study guides just before their final exams saw a “significant” impact in their marks.
For about one percent of these pupils, this was the difference between passing and failing matric, according to research commissioned by the Basic Education Department.
The research investigated the impact of the department’s Mind The Gap study guides, which were designed to help pupils in weakly performing schools.
The guides are written by teams including teachers, examiners and academics, and are designed to be effective without needing a teacher to go through the content.
Not teaching the entire curriculum is a feature of many weakly performing primary schools and high schools, which leads to pupils having accumulated learning deficits by the time they reach matric.
The research, undertaken by Stephen Taylor and Patricia Watson, is an example of how governments can conduct rigorous evaluations of specific learning interventions at fairly low cost. It also makes a case for the government to conduct similar research into interventions that make a difference to literacy and numeracy in the early grades.
Taylor works as an adviser and researcher in the office of the director-general in the department, and Watson is the department’s director for technical support.
For the research, 79 Mpumalanga schools were handed the Mind The Gap study guides.
The estimated cost to produce each guide was R42. They are available on the department’s website at no cost to pupils (http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/MindtheGapStudyGuides/tabid/670/Default.aspx).
The sample of schools was restricted to those where accounting, economics, geography, and life sciences were offered.
Study guides for those four subjects were delivered in late September, just less than a month before the final exams began. There was no training accompanying the guides, and no visit or monitoring by officials or field workers.
The average impact of the guides for students was an increase of two percentage points in the pass rate for geography and life sciences.
The researchers also did a simulation to see what the effect on South Africa’s overall matric pass rate would be if all geography and life science matrics had received study guides.
Using the data of the matric class of 2010, the research showed that had all 2010 matrics who took geography and life sciences achieved two percentage points more than they did, 5 609 more pupils would have matriculated that year.
The accounting and economics guides, however, did not have a significant impact.
A possible explanation for this was that the quality of the guides might have differed.
A second possibility was study guides might have different effects depending on the availability and quality of learning materials which pupils already had access to.
Nic Spaull, an education researcher at Stellenbosch University, said the change in the matric marks of two percentage points was big, and impressive, for such an “extremely light touch” intervention implemented so close to final exams.