By Lehlohonolo Mofokeng
There are ample traditions of educational change, that is, how we can make every school function. One can think of the school effectiveness, social movements and markets, among others. The proponents of each one of these traditions argue convincingly that there isn’t a better way in which every learner in a school can realise their academic prowess than the one they advocate.
My take on educational change is effective teaching and learning do not happen by a stroke of luck — learners do well at school because we teachers consciously want to see that happen. My experience as both a learner who was taught in township schools for 14 years in the mountainous neighbourhood of QwaQwa village in the eastern Free State, and as someone who has worked in a township school, is we teachers tend to limit the scope of our knowledge to what the prescribed textbooks stipulate. This is a raw mixture that sets us up for failure.
It is fitting to start my argument with the following words by one of the people who influenced my thinking about educational change, Jonathan Jansen, when he says, “If only our schools got this core message right. That the role of the teacher is not to prepare students for mindless tests, but to create that sense of awe about the natural world around them, that hunger to solve problems, and that capacity to dream about doing great things.” Here, Jansen reminds us that schools should be spaces where duplication is eliminated, and we should start to think of teaching and learning as synonymous to life. Here is my question: how many of our teachers in schools faced by multiple deprivations bring the subject content to life? Plus, it is not the educational resources that you have, but what you do with what you have that counts.
Bridging the gap between theory and practice
Schooling is boring for most of our learners because we restrict learning to what we see in our textbooks — we are so detached from our day-to-day living that learners start to think of schools as military bases. My dream as an aspiring world-class township school commerce teacher is to stimulate my learners’ thinking by doing away with abstract ideas and bringing them to life. How about when you introduce a topic of, say, “contemporary socio-economic issues” in your Business Studies class, you invite a successful local entrepreneur to address your learners on practical implications that the broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) legislation has had for their business?
Couldn’t learning be so fun that Life Sciences learners would hate to leave the school premises because their teacher brought a local botanist to demonstrate to learners how plants breed, for instance? This is where the issue of teacher creativity comes in. I personally feel I would have become even better as a township school learner had I been challenged from the early days of my schooling to think beyond the scope of my textbooks — a culture that scarcely dominates.
Time to rethink the scope of our assessment activities
While what I am proposing in this article can be time-consuming, the outcomes thereof far outweigh the process. We need to change our approach of how we think of our assessment activities. For commercial subject teachers, this is what I suggest you to do:
– Your project for marks can require your learners to start a small business in your school and grade their work on the profit that each business has generated and/or the uniqueness of their business idea.
– In addressing the challenge of start-up capital, learners can be mandated to host fundraising events in the school.
– In Accounting classes, we can bring to our classrooms financial statements of a public company and analyse the relevant information with our learners, especially when we deal with financial statements.
– We can go as far as asking learners who have personal accounts and get a monthly allowance, provided they are willing to reveal their financial situation to us, to bring their personal bank statements to class for discussion when we deal with bank reconciliations.
– We can even establish a commercial subjects’ laboratory in which almost every concept that is prescribed in the curriculum is depicted in diagrams and pictures. Laboratories should not only serve learners in the natural science stream if we want to stimulate the strong culture of innovation among our learners in all township schools.
These are some of the suggestions that I hope can bring life to many of our schools. The conviction that I have is that learning should not be isolated from our reality.
Lehlohonolo is an aspiring world-class township school commerce teacher. He currently reads for a Master of Education at Wits University as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar.