Why we must find the good in our teach­ers

Find­ing where the fault lies in South Africa’s school sys­tem is about nam­ing the prob­lem and iden­ti­fy­ing the causes, without fear or favour, writes Graeme Bloch in his lat­est book, TheToxic Mix:What’swrong­with­SouthAfrica’ss­chools and­howtofixit. This is an

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

WE ALL know the dif­fer­ence a sin­gle good teacher can make. The class­room, and the magic that hap­pens at that coal­face of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween learner and teacher, is the start­ing point for all else that hap­pens in ed­u­ca­tion.

But there is ev­i­dence of low sub­ject con­tent knowl­edge on the part of many teach­ers. Es­pe­cially in the fields of maths and sci­ence, this is hardly sur­pris­ing.

Teach­ers do not seem to be very good at plan­ning, at phas­ing the work they have to teach, at de­cid­ing how to get through the im­por­tant and core as­pects of a year’s work. While there is some blame placed on text­books not al­ways be­ing avail­able, this is prob­a­bly ex­ag­ger­ated. Rather, teach­ers sim­ply do not know how to use a text­book and are even less adept at know­ing how to get stu­dents to en­gage with the books.

Ev­i­dence shows that in black schools es­pe­cially, much time is of­ten wasted. Out of a work­ing week of 41 hours, on av­er­age 15.18 hours are spent on teach­ing (the re­main­ing on ad­min­is­tra­tion, sports, form­fill­ing and time-wast­ing ac­tiv­i­ties), com­pared to 19.11 hours in for­mer white schools, with less time in ru­ral than ur­ban ar­eas as well.

The ba­sics of ped­a­gogy are of­ten ab­sent. Cer­tainly, at foun­da­tion lev­els, there is an ab­sence of ba­sic read­ing aloud, of con­tin­u­ous writ­ing prac­tice by learn­ers, and use of tech­niques that would en­sure that the foun­da­tions of lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy can be put in place.

This deficit bounces all the way up the sys­tem. It is not so much a prob­lem of for­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tions, be­cause on the whole teach­ers have man­aged to up­grade at a for­mal level over the 15 years of democ­racy. Rather, it is a lack of the core abil­i­ties to teach, even when the will is there.

Cer­tainly, teach­ing has to be the only pro­fes­sion that is not sub­ject to a for­mal sys­tem of ac­count­abil­ity and mon­i­tor­ing. The In­te­grated Qual­ity Man­age­ment Sys­tem (IQMS) has be­come an on­go­ing vic­tim of poor and ad­ver­sar­ial labour re­la­tions.

The IQMS was an agree­ment reached in the Labour Re­la­tions Coun­cil in 2003, but that is still in 2009 the sub­ject of dis­cus­sion and fi­nal­i­sa­tion. All sorts of struc­tured and for­mal pro­cesses, from per­sonal growth plans to staff de­vel­op­ment teams to school im­prove­ment plans, have been for­malised and their role de­fined. Most of­ten, though, such im­per­a­tives have added to bu­reau­cratic pro­ce­dures and pa­per­work.

The in­tro­duc­tion of a new cur­ricu­lum state­ment in 2003 to re­place the OBE-rooted Cur­ricu­lum 2005 led to a flurry of cour­ses and train­ing sched­ules.

Of­ten th­ese were no more than three days of ori­en­ta­tion cou­pled with a cas­cad­ing-down model to try and en­sure repli­ca­tion.

The new Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum State­ment (NCS) stream­lined and sim­pli­fied cur­ric­ula into learn­ing pro­grammes with a con­tin­ued em­pha­sis on as­sess­ment through­out the year. The sys­tem put in­creased pres­sure and load on teach­ers.

The NCS and OBE have not fun­da­men­tally changed teach­ers’ teach­ing prac­tices, de­spite much con­fu­sion about OBE and a sur­pris­ing de­gree of ac­cep­tance by many teach­ers.

OBE al­lowed the good and child­cen­tred teach­ing of the bet­ter schools to re­main or be en­hanced, while in the poorer schools it nei­ther as­sisted nor turned around the poor qual­ity of much teach­ing.

It did some­how boost teach­ers’ self-im­age through its fo­cus on the em­pow­ered teacher as ed­u­ca­tion leader and fa­cil­i­ta­tor.

It fi­nally reached the ma­tric years with the Grade 12 class of 2008, var­i­ously de­scribed as “guineapigs”or as “pi­o­neers”. They in any case seemed to per­form as well (or as badly) as in pre­vi­ous years, with a slight ma­tric pass rate de­cline to 63 per­cent.

Still, the ex­is­tence of OBE has rather acted as a red her­ring for much con­fu­sion and com­plaint and an ex­cuse for more elab­o­rate jar­gon and form-fill­ing.

This has not nec­es­sar­ily con­trib­uted to a bet­ter qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. We know how widely OBE is blamed for a real frus­tra­tion at dif­fi­cul­ties in chart­ing the course for­ward.

An­other red her­ring is the elim­i­na­tion of cor­po­ral pu­n­ish­ment. In our so­ci­ety, it is vi­o­lence and abuse that are core prob­lems.

Even if one could beat pupils, there would still be a need to have a range of re­sponses to ill dis­ci­pline and a full reper­toire of sup­port and pu­n­ish­ment. Vi­o­lence could never be a first re­sort.

So the prob­lem has to do with some­thing else, some­thing hap­pen­ing among pupils, as well as teach­ers’ lack of prepa­ra­tion for ways of deal­ing with this.

It needs to be made clear that this is not con­fined to the poorer schools be­cause var­i­ous ex­am­ples of bul­ly­ing or cor­po­ral pu­n­ish­ment in gov­ern­ment schools in the sub­urbs have also come to light.

Teach­ing is a dif­fi­cult and com- plex, mul­ti­fac­eted and mul­ti­lay­ered art and sci­ence. De­spite the short­falls many teach­ers do much good work.

I want to quote a heart­felt let­ter that was in the Cape Times on Fe­bru­ary 23, 2009. Vin­cent Hen­dricks from Elfind­ale in the Cape Flats points out that many teach­ers have been faith­ful to their teach­ing and their schools.

“I have been at my beloved Athlone High for 22 years and have en­joyed teach­ing English and ge­og­ra­phy to stu­dents for Grade 8 to Grade 12. I am sure I speak on be­half of thou­sands of good teach­ers who love their call­ing to teach, and ev­ery­thing that goes with the vo­ca­tion – the dili­gent prepa­ra­tion, dy­namic lessons, set­ting up tests and as­sign­ments, mark­ing of pa­pers and sports coach­ing, to men­tion but a few ar­eas…”

He goes on to say that teach­ers are ex­pected to be “po­lice­men, sex­ol­o­gists, crim­i­nol­o­gists, psy­chol­o­gists, drug coun­sel­lors, doc­tors, nurses, sports coaches, tour guides, peace­mak­ers, pas­tors, fundrais­ers for the state” and, of course, to do their pri­mary job of teach­ing – “or is that to as­sess or be a fil­ing clerk?” he asks. No won­der he is an­gry; he earns a gross salary of R13 888 per month. He asks about the high stu­dent/teacher ra­tio, talks about the teacher “re­trench­ments” and their im­pact, and com­plains about stu­dent dis­ci­pline.

Rea­sons for some of the learn­ers’ er­rant be­hav­iour are dy­namic and com­plex. Th­ese in­clude abuse in cer­tain homes and in the com­mu­nity, and be­hav­iour at home that is vi­o­lent, crude and sex­ual.

There is a gen­eral law­less­ness in our so­ci­ety. Cer­tain politi­cians, pop stars and sports stars are poor role mod­els for our chil­dren. Some learn­ers come to school with lots of at­ti­tude. Can the teach­ers change the be­hav­iour of all the chil­dren? Ed­u­ca­tion and good man­ners be­gin in the home.

He ends by plead­ing with the pub- lic not to gen­er­alise about teach­ers. “There are many good teach­ers left in the pro­fes­sion and we are do­ing a ster­ling job. It will be nice to hear some­thing pos­i­tive about teach­ers.”

He is right; you can­not keep beat­ing down on a pro­fes­sion and ex­pect it to pro­duce of its best, to feel in­spired to take on crit­i­cal tasks and ask ques­tions of it­self, its goals and its prac­tices.

Yet if we do not get it right – in the class­rooms, with teach­ers, in the schools and dis­tricts where sup­port should be para­mount, and in the so­ci­ety where so many of the prob­lems are lo­cated – we are sim­ply re­in­forc­ing the in­equal­i­ties of our so­ci­ety, and smash­ing the hopes and dreams of the new post-demo­cratic gen­er­a­tion that rightly ex­pects to be given ac­cess to the pos­si­bil­i­ties and real as­pi­ra­tions from the world to­day.

Graeme Bloch is an ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist at the De­vel­op­ment Bank of South­ern Africa. Toxic Mix will be on book­shelves from next week.


OPEN SEA­SON: The con­di­tion of Uit­sig Secondary School mir­rors the so­ci­etal prob­lems that be­devil ed­u­ca­tion.

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