If you had to take your child to a secondary school to start with grade 8, and ask the principals the following question: How many days would my son/daughter be taught (including facilitation of learning, and formative assessment, but exclude the examination days and any other formal ‘non-teaching’ days) for the year? Most, if not all principals will struggle to respond immediately because education doesn’t look at this issue from a ‘systems’ point of view. Most teachers, principals and departmental officials know about the 27,5 hours of teaching and learning per week, as indicated in the CAPS (curriculum and assessment policy statement) document. They will also be aware of the ‘time allocation per term’ and the 40 weeks of teaching and learning, which will include ‘revision/assessment’. Unfortunately most officials, principals and teachers are not aware of the provision that 34 out of the 40 weeks must be allocated to teaching and learning time, while the other 6 weeks should be for summative assessment (examination) and ‘non-teaching’ days.
In general the 170 days are under utilised or wasted as there is no culture of teaching for learning in most of our historically Black schools. We have drawn attention to this issue when we discussed one of our school turnaround principles, namely ‘dysfunctionality by design’. During the Apartheid days, it was not in the interest of the system/department to insist that the 170 days of teaching and learning should be protected. The latest research related to this topic (Chisholm, 2005), indicated that on average, we spend 82 days teaching and learning. This is less than 50% of the allocated days. This mal-practice where teaching and learning days have been compromised for past 21 years, has contributed to the continued failure in Black education. Tragically, we have not reinstated or raised the awareness around this issue since 1994, and this culture continues to prevail. It is therefore common for schools to request time off for ‘athletics days’, ‘valentines day’, ‘derby days’, etc. You will often hear ‘well crafted arguments’ why these days are important, but the bottom line is, that it will compromise on the days that should be utilised for teaching and learning. This results in doing a disservice to learners. We assess learners who have not ‘learned enough’, but in reality we have not ‘taught enough’. This inevitably results in poor learner outcomes.
In our methodology, we take the 170 days very seriously and expect the principal, SLT and SMT to proactively map out their days for the upcoming year. We take into account the historical context re: teaching and learning days, but we support the school to reach 170 days of teaching and learning during our 3 year intervention. Our commitment to restore the 170 days is aimed at those learners who need the full 170 days of tuition and support from their teachers. We capacitate schools to work with the 5 types of learners as identified by Philip Schlecty, namely (i) engaging, (ii) strategic compliant, (iii) ritual compliant, (iv) retreater, and (v) rebel. Compromising on teaching and learning time does not affect the engaging learners so much, but the other types are all affected negatively. We also champion that district officials monitor and evaluate these days on a weekly basis. This is the most important task to ensure ‘time on task’ in our school system is honoured.