Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Selected extracts from Programme 3

Below is a series of extracts and summaries of comments made on the 3rd programme on Valley FM. It's not edited thoroughly, so apologies for abbreviations and occasional typos.

Extracts from Valley FM Programme 3 8 May, 2007

Presenter/Host: Catherine Wiese

Studio Guests:
Clifton Frolick, director of the local Education Management and Development Centre
Dr Brian Wilson, head of curriculum at the EMDS
Piet Hermanus from teachers' union, Sadtu

Forum participants:
Zodwa Yekhu
Ann Marais
Wilfred van Niekerk

Callers: 9

Teachers described quality education in terms of the outcomes such as enabling the children to think for themselves, a quality environment that expands the child's view and vision of the world, that ensures that children enjoy learning.

The station staff members also went out into the town and spoke to some school pupils, asking them how they defined quality education. The children defined quality education rather differently, for example in terms of the way teachers treat them -- eg the absence of corporal punishment, or abuse by teachers.

The education managers in the studio talked about a sense of a 'total package', a partnership between the learners, teachers, school and parents. Agreed with the teachers in a sense, in terms of creating independent, responsible citizens, giving them the self confidence and skills to reason and solve problems

Another of the managers said the usual way of talking about quality education is in terms of 'standards', and mentioned that a lot of the discussion about education in South Africa focuses on disagreements over whether standards have dropped in recent years, for example. Dr Wilson put a different angle on things:
"Many people confuse quality education with standards... I always want to know whose standards, which standards? What's important for me in terms of our curriculum, it's the first time in our country that we have a national curriculum. It's the first time in our country where our curruciulum is written in terms of the context in which the children have to learn. So when the children learn, they learn about things that take place in their own environment, things that they need to know about."

Moderator: Sources. Mentioned a point made by one concerned parent that the information sources used by teacher differ from place to place, school to school. Manager said the new direction was to move away from the previous situation of having one textbook that is seen as the gospel, in favour of encouraging teachers to develop skills, which included getting pupils and teachers to consult a range of sources and to compare them.

The union representative initially spent some time talking about the union, its history and size of membership, as a way of promoting the union. Defended teachers and the union, and talked about the history of education in South Africa -- that the country is moving away from a very divided education system. "since the first democratic government was put in place, we are all moving to quality education."

"The curriculum reform aims to put democratic values in place, so that the child can be a democratic citizen of the country."

What prevents the teachers from implementing quality education?

Teachers raised concern of language - that many children don't start off learning in their home languages, and have to learn in English -- and that this inhibits them from understanding and expressing themselves.

Talked about lack of a culture of using the library among parents -- so children are not being encouraged to read, or use the library. Often, because parents are illiterate.

Need for special attention to children who are falling behind, and being promoted through the grades without having basic skills such as language skills, reading and writing. Lack of adequate learning support for pupils.

Raising of problems:

"We have a system where we have different phases: foundation phase, intermediate phase, senior phase. According to the policy of the education law, a child cannot repeat a phase twice, so what happens is a child just passes on to the next grade. And the whole special needs and support system at the moment is not functional and it's failing our learners."

"We sit with huge classrooms and nobody is trained in how to manage such huge classes."

Consideration of 'what is the real problem'?

Children have other learning barriers than just reading. Sometimes reading is just the open part of the problem. In most cases the problem lies within a different knd of learning barrier, maybe the learners motor skills are not developed and so on, and that has a ripple effect later. Even on a nutritional level, the food that the children eat at the moment..."

"Parents are often not prepared to go the extra mile always. Parents say they work long hours, they come home late..."

Offering of solutions, and a sense that solutions must be found in public action:

Teacher: "There mus be reading programme at our schools, we need to look at maybe a specific month or day where we have an awareness. As a parent we can be aware, but what are we doing as a school community about that?"

"Most of us have to go the extra mile, to be more skilled in how to facilitate your classrooms."

Yes people are suffering, but "it's so important that we as teachers, or people in civil service, or preachers, use that other knowledge we have to uplift our communities. The so-called social capital we all have, and for which we don't need money. It's the contacts we have, it's the knowledge we have, and that we create structures to share this with communities that are less privileged and so give them the knowledge they need to improve their lives."

We have to see our schools as community hubs.... if we as communities make our schools our own, we're going to achieve so much more.

It is time that communities take ownership of our schools. In South American countries there are places where the schools don't have fences, and the community comes in and uses the school and I think we need to move in that direction.

Talk of perceptions and perspectives:

Caller: We talk about perceptions. What are perceptions? My perception of you tonight is that we are talking about a serious issue, and you are playing with words. that' my perception tonight. That people are disadvantaged, it's not a perception, one can see it."

Questioned: "The teachers have made it clear that there are many problems in the education system. I would like to know what 'inclusive education' involves, and why it's not working."

Raised other perspectives, such as that the problems lie in social context as a whole, and specifically with the problem of ongoing wide disparities in income and socio-economic standards: "Teachers do have reason to complain -- the problem is society has not changed -- people's lives have not improved. Talked about the environment children come from - people living in shacks, without electricity, proper sanitation, etc. "Don't put the problem at the door of the school. The problem is in the homes. "Why don't the education authorities stand up a demand that it begins with a better life for all. That we start there. That children grow up in homes where the parents can help them with reading programmes and so on." "Let educators stand up and say to the government -- you promised the people a better life for all, so give them a better life for all."

Teachers: Raised many practical problems they face on the ground, in understanding and implementing the new curriculum and new approach. Raised issues of dealing with change and a shift of paradigms: a teacher of the old school -- making children keep quiet and lecturing from the front, struggles with the new approach where an 'educatonal noise' is encouraged as children work in groups to solve problems themselves.

Managers: Talked about the need for teachers to constantly receive training, to stay on top of new developments, knowledge and trends.
Mentioned initiatives in place to deal with several of the problems raised -- projects and programmes that are being implemented for eg to ensure pupils can learn in their mother languages in the foundaton phase of education.

The managers often came back to the teacher as the focus of the solution: "If we want to talk about quality education then it's basically that the teacher must be prepared... they must be at schools punctually, they must be in their classrooms, and they must teach their learners according to the new context of facilitating learning...and there must be proper discipline and order. When we have those basic things that teachers must do, then we are on the way to bringing about quality education."

Hermanus: "Quality education can only take place when we've all undergone a paradigm shift." Went on to mention the problem of illiterate parents: "there is no reason for parents to complain, who feel they are not able to read and write. There are facilities and programmes for adult education and they should register at those facilities as soon as possible."

"We have to see our schools as community hubs.... if we as communities make our schools our own, we're going to achieve so much more."

"It is time that communities take ownership of our schools. In South American countries there are places where the schools don't have fences, and the community comes in and uses the school and I think we need to move in that direction."

A teacher caller asked the education managers to come and stand in front of the class once more and experience the problems and challenges that teachers experience in the classroom every day.

A teacher caller said that many of the methods and plans outlined in the new curriculum do not work, as many of the parents and children do not cooperate, for eg in ensuring necessary equipment is brought to class, and so on.

Frolick: A programme like this makes sense is that us from the education department can ask the parents to support our schools and teachers. We are very aware of some of the problems that teachers experience and that can make education very frustrating.

"I am sure that each parent, deep down, wants their child do do well."

Issue of teachers not doing their jobs properly. Not in the clasroom when they are supposed to be, and so on.

Teachers feel the children don't respect them, and on the other hand children said the teachers don't treat them with respect.

Teacher: We are also to be blamed. Teachers are also to be blamed. Because the way we behave after school, we don't behave as teachers. For example, teachers are having affairs with school children. Which was not done a long time ago. The teachers are in shebeens sitting around tables with the kids. We are really no role models.

Some of the teachers expressed a hankering after the 'old days'. In the old days we were not the teachers' friends, we knew where we stood."

But Anne Marais cautioned them not to be too nostalgic:

"In the old days there were also verskriklikke onderwysers. If I think about today, today we are more open, we talk about these things, our expectations differ in many ways, but in the old days, when I was a pupil, there were also teachers I didn't respect because of things they did. Teachers were always drinking. It depends how you percieve it, in those days tehre were very bad teachers, they used to abuse us. If they came to school in a bad mood, you know if they guy has this suit on, he's going to hit you. We knoew of a lot of teachers who were alcoholics. The old system put teachers on a pedestal. Maybe it's just that these days its a new era, we are more open and talk about it, and that's a good thing... I don't totally agree that it's different than it was. It just that we talk more about it."

Frolick: "I've listened to the forum and I have great empathy with what they say. The conduct of learners in general can be described 'sagtens' as challenging. But I think the onus is still on us as teachers, in the way in which we communicate with our learners. We need to develop alternative communication strategies and ways to reach our learners."

Caller: referred to rural schools which have large classes, and can't afford to appoint assistants, and so on. Talked about confusion teachers face, because of so many changes in approach, and different, sometimes contradictory messages from education management.

"I want to encourage my colleagues in the field. People, get actively involved. Stop just talking about the R30 that you pay. Get active, come to the meetings and hear what's going on."

Catherine: The purpose of tonight's and the previous 2 programmes is to get the community talking together, to look at problems, but also to search for solutions together, and to come with suggestions, so that the dept heads, heads of curriculum, the director of EMDC, and also our unions, can hear these are the problems but these are also the suggestions that have been made. Tonight, after the teachers have told us this is what gives them sleepless nights or headaches, I'd like to ask you talk with our community a little about what we can do to get involved together, (our community, our children, our parents, and people in management positions), to at the end of the day ensure that we can have quality education.

Zodwa: "I'm frustrated, really, because the kids don't take education the way I want them to."

Ann: We've got the most wonderful policies on paper, and a lot of the times I think, "it's supposed to be like this", but it's not working. Let's do regular evaluations, and then also most important, listen to us as teachers. Policies re beign made up there. Come back to us more often and listen to what we are saying, and all those wonderful policies that are on paper, it will become a reality soon."

Frolick: "I am impressed with the collective knowledge that exists in that forum. Between those three teachers, they illustrated that there is wisdom, that there are solutions for many of the things that we see as problem areas in education."

"I get the impression, and I want to put it right tonight, that we don't say thank you enough to our teachers, and I want to use this opportunity to say, on behalf of the parents, from the education department, we value their sacrifice and their efforts, and to invite them, our doors are open, to write, or to call and to let us know what they think of the state of education and what we can do to improve it."

Dr Brian Wilson: "Too few teachers give their opinions. There has been an invitation to teachers and parents to let us know, what needs to change in the curriculum. But it doesn't help to stand on the sidelines and complain. Let's get dive in an air our views."

Hermanus: "What keeps me up at night, and luckily tonight it didn't happen: tonight we had a conflict-free conversation with the department, and that's because we all came to the table with a positive contribution and it is about the promotion of public education."

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