Introducing the #BackOnTrack Initiative: A Robust Response to the Education Crisis in Western Cape

Western Cape’s Education Minister, David Maynier, recently unveiled a comprehensive intervention to remedy the devastating impact of Covid-19 on learning – the #BackOnTrack programme.

Although the pandemic has ceased, it’s lingering effects on education are evident. The results of the systemic tests for Mathematics and Reading, released in 2022, highlighted a steep decline in learning outcomes during the pandemic. Indicators suggest that more than half of our Grade 3, 6, and 9 learners struggle to meet the basic pass mark in these subjects.

The forthcoming Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study 2021 is expected to confirm this bleak reality across South Africa. Significant, impactful action is needed to tackle what can only be described as an alarming learning crisis.

In response to this crisis, the Western Cape’s Department of Education is launching the #BackOnTrack programme with an investment of R1.2 billion over the next three years. The primary objective is to enhance learning outcomes, ensuring a brighter future for the children in the Western Cape.

The programme signifies a significant shift from conventional approaches in our schools. It offers an unparalleled scale of intervention, supporting 333 schools selected based on the systemic test results. This is in addition to the 1,100 schools already benefitting from additional support in the Foundation Phase since 2022.

The initiative targets approximately 126,000 learners, 8,980 teachers, and 28,000 parents for focused participation, augmenting the ongoing involvement of 310,000 learners and 10,000 teachers in the Foundation Phase.

The comprehensive programme covers all school phases and grades, including the Foundation, Intermediate, Senior, and Further Education and Training Phases. All participants in the learning process are supported concurrently, underscoring our collective responsibility to enhance learning outcomes.

A mix of in-person and online teaching, learning, and support methods are being employed. Specific interventions include providing out-of-class targeted support for Grade 4, 7, and 8 teachers every ten days and biweekly online sessions for Grade 12s with expert presenters across various subjects.

The programme introduces innovative strategies while reinforcing proven ones. It extends successful interventions like the Maths Curriculum Online programme for the Foundation Phase and allocates extra time for Mathematics and Reading within the school day.

Open to feedback and flexible in design, the #BackOnTrack initiative is expected to evolve over its three-year lifespan. Principals and teachers from participating schools are encouraged to contribute their insights to ensure the programme’s continual improvement.

The progress of the programme will be regularly monitored through the #BackOnTrack War Room. The first meeting is slated for Friday, 12 May 2023, where officials across the province will convene to share updates, feedback and brainstorm solutions to any challenges.

The enthusiasm surrounding the launch of the programme is palpable. Principals of 333 schools and over 2,554 teachers have attended initial briefings and training sessions, demonstrating their commitment to this endeavour.

The #BackOnTrack programme invites the entire Western Cape community to invest in our children’s futures. Together, we can overcome this educational crisis and secure a brighter future for our children.