Foundation Phase Teaching

Foundation Phase Teaching in South Africa is a critical period in a child’s educational journey, as it lays the groundwork for their future learning experiences. This initial phase extends from the Reception Year, known as Grade R (5-6 years of age), through to Grade 3 (± 9 years of age). During these formative years, educators are responsible for fostering a positive attitude towards learning and nurturing the development of essential skills and knowledge in students.

Various institutions and universities, such as Wits University and Central University of Technology, offer degree courses in Foundation Phase Teaching. These educational programmes are designed to equip aspiring teachers with the necessary skills and expertise to cultivate a supportive and engaging learning environment for young learners. Moreover, these programmes aim to inspire a new generation of dedicated educators, passionate about shaping the minds and lives of children in the early stages of their academic development.

The significance of competent Foundation Phase teachers cannot be overstated, as their influence directly impacts the academic achievements and personal growth of their pupils. By fostering a solid educational foundation, these passionate teachers contribute to the overall development of a thriving and educated South African society.

Foundation Phase Teaching in South Africa

Grade R to Grade 3

The Foundation Phase is the first phase of formal schooling in South Africa, catering to children aged 5-9 years old. This phase spans from the Reception Year, known as Grade R (5-6 years of age), to Grade 3 (± 9 years of age). Teachers during the Foundation Phase play a vital role in laying the foundation for future learning and holistic child development.


The curriculum for the Foundation Phase is designed to foster a strong foundation in literacy, numeracy, and life skills. It focuses on providing children with a solid base in reading, writing, and mathematics, and aims to develop their problem-solving abilities, creativity, and critical thinking skills. In addition to academics, the Foundation Phase curriculum places significant emphasis on social, emotional, and physical development, ensuring that children develop the necessary skills to thrive in the later years of their education.

Key Competencies

The Foundation Phase curriculum encompasses several key competencies that teachers need to address and develop in their students. These include:

  • Literacy: Developing reading and writing skills, as well as comprehension and expression.
  • Numeracy: Building a foundation in basic mathematics concepts, including numbers, shapes, and measurements.
  • Life Skills: Fostering social and emotional development, and teaching essential skills such as teamwork, communication, and responsibility.
  • Creative Arts: Encouraging artistic expression and creativity through various forms of art, music, and dance.
  • Physical Education: Promoting physical fitness, coordination, and overall health through regular exercise and play activities.

To become a Foundation Phase teacher in South Africa, educators must obtain either a 3-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree in Early Childhood Development, Foundation Phase, or a 2-year National Diploma in Education: Foundation Phase (NQF Level 6).

The aim of Foundation Phase teaching in South Africa is to ensure that every child receives quality education that builds a strong foundation for their continued growth and development in the subsequent years. By focusing on these key competencies and prioritising early education, the Foundation Phase sets the tone for a successful educational journey in South Africa.

Becoming a Foundation Phase Teacher

Bachelor of Education

In South Africa, an individual who desires to become a Foundation Phase Teacher can opt for an undergraduate degree known as the Bachelor of Education (BEd) in Foundation Phase Teaching. This qualification prepares the graduates to teach learners from Grade R to Grade 3 and is considered an ideal starting point for a teaching career.

The BEd degree focuses on developing a teacher’s expertise in the foundational subjects and nurturing essential teaching skills. The programme is typically studied full-time, although some institutions may offer part-time options as well.

Diploma in Grade R Teaching

Alternatively, aspiring educators can pursue a Diploma in Grade R Teaching, which is specifically designed for individuals who wish to teach Grade R learners. This diploma is an NQF Level 7 qualification, one level lower than the BEd degree, but still very relevant and valuable for Foundation Phase teaching.

Minimum Requirements and Admission

To enrol in a BEd degree or Diploma in Grade R Teaching, applicants must meet certain minimum requirements:

  • A National Senior Certificate (NSC) with a minimum Achievement Point Score (APS) determined by the institution.
  • Matriculation endorsement, which indicates eligibility for admission to Bachelor’s degree programmes.
  • Proficiency in English and, where applicable, in the language of instruction at the chosen institution.

For those looking into a BEd degree, specific entry requirements set by the institutions may include:

  • Supporting subjects relevant to the Foundation Phase curriculum with specified minimum APS scores.
  • Additional assessments or interviews to gauge the applicant’s aptitude for teaching.

Prospective students are advised to consult individual institutions for detailed admission criteria and application processes before embarking on their teaching journey.

Language Proficiency and Teaching

Home Language

In South Africa, the home language plays a pivotal role in the Foundation Phase of teaching. It serves as the medium of instruction for the initial years of schooling, aiming to provide a strong linguistic and cultural foundation for students. Currently, there are 11 official languages in South Africa, including English, Afrikaans, and indigenous languages such as isiXhosa, isiZulu, and Setswana, among others.

Studies have shown that using a child’s strongest language(s) for teaching and learning lays the groundwork for effective multilingual education. This empowers students to develop cognitive academic language proficiency while maintaining a connection to their linguistic heritage. However, South Africa’s history of segregation and the dominance of English and Afrikaans in education has led to challenges in implementing mother-tongue instruction, particularly during the post-apartheid period.

Foundation Phase teachers take on the responsibility of facilitating African languages in South African schools. Teachers must be equipped with proper language tuition skills and adequate subject content knowledge to promote multilingualism effectively. Despite these expectations, some Foundation Phase teachers may find it difficult to teach languages other than Afrikaans and English, such as isiXhosa or Setswana for non-native speakers.

First Additional Language

Alongside home language education, the introduction of a First Additional Language (FAL) aims to enhance South African students’ multilingual competencies. This usually includes teaching English as a second language, as it is considered crucial for students’ future academic and professional opportunities.

Teachers must ensure that the transition from the home language to the FAL is smooth and well-managed. To achieve this, they must employ appropriate teaching strategies and resources to support students with varying linguistic backgrounds and abilities.

In conclusion, the endeavour to boost language proficiency in South Africa’s Foundation Phase teaching can help students develop cognitive academic language skills and promote a diverse, multilingual society. By focusing on home languages and offering First Additional Language instruction, teachers can work towards ensuring that students in South Africa are well-equipped for success in their education and beyond.

Teaching Practice and Classroom Environment

Early Childhood Development

In South Africa, Foundation Phase Teaching focuses on the early childhood development of learners in public primary schools. Supporting children’s cognitive, social, and emotional growth is essential at this stage. Teachers are called upon to create invitational learning environments, which support the multicultural and multilingual nature of South African classrooms1. These environments help determine classroom behaviour and promote a positive atmosphere for learning.

Cultivating a strong foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, and exploration is crucial for the development of young learners2. Foundation Phase teachers need to strike a balance between delivering meaningful lessons while addressing the diverse needs and backgrounds of their students.

Learning Management System

Implementing a learning management system (LMS) can provide benefits to the Foundation Phase teaching process in South Africa. An LMS can support a more personalized learning experience by offering individual pathways, tracking student progress, and providing resources for teachers to tailor their teaching approaches. Integration of LMS tools with classroom practices can foster inclusivity and address the unique needs of each learner.

Additionally, the LMS can serve as a platform for communication between teachers, parents, and students, ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to the learning process. This can lead to a stronger sense of accountability while providing teachers with valuable feedback on their instructional methods.

In conclusion, Foundation Phase Teaching in South Africa is a critical aspect of early childhood development. A focus on creating inclusive and invitational learning environments can support the growth of the nation’s children as they navigate through the diverse multicultural context. Utilizing learning management systems can further enhance this experience by enabling personalized learning pathways and facilitating communication between all parties involved in the education process.

Professional Development for Foundation Phase Teachers

Department of Education Initiatives

The Department of Education in South Africa has focused on improving the quality of foundation phase teaching. Their initiatives aim to enhance the professional development of foundation phase teachers. One such programme is the introduction of training workshops, which equip educators with essential skills and knowledge required to improve the quality of early childhood education. These workshops focus on interactive and engaging teaching methods, incorporating the use of learning materials and relevant technology.

Further Studies

Foundation phase teachers can pursue further studies to broaden their knowledge and enhance their teaching abilities. Several universities and faculties of education offer advanced degrees, such as Bachelor of Education (BEd), Master of Education (MEd), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Foundation Phase Education. By enrolling in these programmes, educators can improve their understanding of teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and assessment strategies. Additionally, they can conduct research that contributes to the improvement of educational practices in foundation phase classes.

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is crucial for foundation phase teachers to stay updated with the latest pedagogical approaches, teaching strategies, and educational policies. Engaging in professional learning communities allows educators to share their experiences, insights, and best practices. Some continuous learning opportunities include:

  • Workshops and seminars: Attending workshops and seminars enables educators to learn from experts in the field, gaining knowledge and inspiration that can be applied to their teaching practices.
  • Conferences: Conferences offer an excellent opportunity for foundation phase teachers to network, share research findings, and discuss innovative ideas within the educational community.
  • Peer observations: Observing and providing feedback to fellow teachers allows for the sharing of effective teaching strategies and professional growth.
  • Online courses and webinars: The accessibility of online courses and webinars makes it convenient for educators to gain new skills and knowledge at their own pace.

By participating in these continuous learning initiatives, foundation phase teachers can maintain a high standard of education and enhance the learning experiences of their students.

Teaching Mathematics

Mathematics in Foundation Phase

Mathematics in the Foundation Phase is a crucial period for learners in South African schools, as it sets the stage for future understanding and development in the subject. This stage encompasses Grades 1 to 3, with learners typically aged between six and nine years old. The focus during this phase is on building a strong foundation in mathematical concepts and skills, ensuring that students have the necessary support and tools to succeed in the subject as they progress through the education system.

The teaching approach during the Foundation Phase should be centred on fostering a positive attitude towards mathematics and enhancing learners’ understanding of mathematical concepts. Teachers in South Africa are encouraged to adopt a multi-dimensional approach to transform the teaching and learning of mathematics. This includes using practical and real-life examples, creating a learner-centred environment, and promoting critical thinking and problem-solving.

In South Africa, the Maths syllabus during the Foundation Phase covers essential topics that provide a strong basis for further learning. Some of these topics include number sense, operations, geometry, data handling, and spatial reasoning. Additionally, the syllabus emphasises the need for teachers to incorporate technical mathematics, which covers the skill areas often overlooked in traditional mathematical education. Technical mathematics teaches critical life skills and knowledge necessary for realistic applications in various fields.

To ensure effective teaching of mathematics in the Foundation Phase, educators should consider the following strategies:

  • Begin with simple concepts and gradually introduce more challenging ideas, allowing learners to progress at a comfortable pace.
  • Encourage active participation and engagement through the use of practical activities, games, and manipulatives.
  • Implement group work and collaborative learning experiences to allow students to explore mathematical ideas and concepts together.
  • Use a variety of teaching methods to cater to different learning styles, such as visuals, hands-on activities, and storytelling to make mathematical concepts more relatable and accessible.
  • Assess learners regularly and provide timely feedback to ensure continuous growth and improvement in mathematical skills.

In conclusion, the primary goal of teaching mathematics during the Foundation Phase in South Africa is to equip learners with the necessary skills and understanding to succeed in the subject as they advance through their education. By adopting appropriate teaching strategies and focusing on understanding rather than memorisation, educators can support learners in developing a strong foundation in mathematics.

Developing Reading Skills in Foundation Phase Learners

Strategies to Improve Reading Abilities

Teaching reading skills in the Foundation Phase is crucial for learners in South Africa. Without acquiring these basic reading skills, learners may struggle to engage with the curriculum in higher grades, falling further behind and being “silently excluded” from learning.

One of the methods employed in South Africa is the Early Grade Reading Programme (EGRP). Rolled out in collaboration with the North West Province Department of Education, UNICEF, and the Danish Hempel Foundation, this programme aims to support reading development in Grades 1 to 3. By providing targeted interventions, the EGRP has been described as a “life saver” for foundation phase learners.

Scaffolding reading and writing development plays a significant role in the Foundation Phase as well. The Reading to Learn Programme in South African schools employs this technique to support learners’ progression. Students are provided with incremental support that is gradually reduced as they gain confidence and competence in reading.

Foundation phase teachers use a variety of inclusive teaching and learning practices when engaging with learners in their classrooms. These strategies may include:

  • Differentiated instruction to cater to individual learning needs
  • Collaborative activities to promote peer learning and support
  • Engaging learning materials and activities to spark learners’ interest
  • Regular feedback and guidance to help learners monitor their progress

In order to effectively develop reading skills in Foundation Phase learners, it is necessary to employ a multi-faceted approach. Combining strategies like the EGRP, scaffolding techniques, and various inclusive teaching practices ensures a comprehensive and supportive learning environment that fosters reading and writing development.

Coding and Robotics at Foundation Phase

The Foundation Phase of teaching in South Africa has introduced Coding and Robotics for students in grades 1 to 3. In this phase, the subject comprises five key knowledge strands: Pattern Recognition, Algorithms and Coding, Robotics Skills, Internet and e-Communication, and Application Skills.

What is Scratch Jr?

Scratch Jr is a free, introductory programming language designed for young children aged 5 to 7 years old. It aims to engage children in creative learning and develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills. With Scratch Jr, children can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations using a block-based interface. The interface is designed with appealing visuals and intuitive drag-and-drop features to make coding accessible and fun for young learners.

Some key features of Scratch Jr include:

  • Customisable characters and backgrounds
  • Predefined blocks for easy programming
  • Ability to add sounds and speech
  • Intuitive control for motion, looks, and control flow

Using a Blue-bot

A Blue-bot is a small, programmable floor robot ideal for teaching coding and robotics at the Foundation Phase. It is both tangible and visually engaging, allowing young learners to explore basic programming concepts and develop their computational thinking skills.

To use a Blue-bot:

  1. Switch on the robot: Ensure the Blue-bot is charged and turned on.
  2. Program the robot: Use the arrow buttons on the Blue-bot or the accompanying app to input a sequence of instructions.
  3. Execute the program: Press the ‘Go’ button and watch the Blue-bot carry out the instructions.
  4. Alter the program: If the Blue-bot does not perform as expected, students can edit the sequence and try again.

In summary, the integration of Coding and Robotics into the South African Foundation Phase curriculum equips young learners with the necessary skills and knowledge for the digital age. Tools like Scratch Jr and Blue-bots make coding engaging and accessible, fostering a solid foundation for future learning in these essential subjects.