The Foundation Phase in education is the most important learning years for the learners, since what happens during these years determines later academic success. The focus of this study is to obtain Grade 1 teachers' perspectives on the need for teaching assistants in the classroom. In South Africa, teaching assistants are normally reserved for preschools, institutes for learners with special needs, schools that practice inclusive education and some private schools. It is therefore needed to gain information from Grade 1 teachers on how they perceive and experience the presence or absence of a teaching assistant, and what effect it has on teaching and learning in their classrooms. It is also necessary to hear the statements of teaching assistants on how they experience this role in Grade 1 classrooms.
Early Childhood Education (which includes the Foundation Phase) forms the basis of all other education; however, the South African education system is faced with numerous challenges which in various ways impede the teaching and learning of young children. These barriers include overcrowded classrooms, learner diversity and indiscipline which call for additional support in the classroom. By using a qualitative approach, this study attempts to collect and analyse the data obtained from teachers and teaching assistants, and interpret this information to gain insight into and explore various perspectives on the need for teaching assistants in a Grade 1 classroom.
By making use of semi-structured interviews, data were collected from three groups of participants: teachers with teaching assistants, teachers without teaching assistants, and teaching assistants. These participants were selected from public, private and rural schools in order to allow for a broad spectrum of inputs. Findings indicate that all participants regard the presence of teaching assistants as non-negotiable in the Grade 1 classroom, as it allows the teacher to focus on teaching, whereas the administrative tasks may be channelled to the assistant.