The EENET Interview
South Africa’s education system has undergone some major changes since Nelson Mandela was elected President in April 1994. Prior to 1994 children of different races were educated separately under a system called apartheid. In this interview, Dr Sigamoney Naicker, talks about the changes which have taken place in attitudes towards teaching and learning (pedagogy). The adoption of Outcomes Based Education leads to greater learner participation in education.
How would you describe the education of children when South Africa was an apartheid state?
The problem was that education departments and teacher training institutes in South Africa supported the idea that teachers should be controllers in the classroom. Most teacher training institutes persisted in teaching a narrow range of pedagogies. This leads to passive learning. Learners come to think of knowledge as being fixed, and therefore limited. The teacher is considered to be the only giver of knowledge, and to know what is good for the learner. Learners must acquire this knowledge from their teachers. Classes are driven by ‘teacher-talk’ and depend on textbooks for the contents of the course. There is little room for learner-initiated questions, independent thought or interaction between learners. The goal of the learner is to reproduce the teacher’s explanation.
Your country has proposed Outcomes Based Education (OBE) as an alternative. Can you expand on this new pedagogy?
At present, South Africa requires a new pedagogy to develop citizens who are independent, critical and reflective thinkers. This pedagogy will help learners gain the knowledge, skills and values that will allow them to contribute to the success of their family, community and nation as a whole. We need to ensure that all learners have the same opportunities to learn, and still address individuality and individual needs in the best interest of the learner. It is through learning theories such as OBE that I believe this can be achieved.
In essence OBE is a shift away from the idea that knowledge is given to the passive learner, to the idea that active learners invent knowledge. Such a theory emphasises that educators and learners become jointly responsible for the teaching and learning encounters and both are involved in the construction and re-construction of knowledge.
Teachers are challenged to think about learning in a new way, and engage in concepts of teaching that will assist the transformation of classroom practices. For the learner, knowledge is not transmitted to them from the teacher, but rather it is re-constructed by the learner through a culture of learning at school.
Has this type of teaching and learning been taken up in South African schools?
In the later years of apartheid, some moved away from traditional methods. For example, in many schools, mathematics teaching is now informed by OBE. There have also been strong initiatives in language teaching and early primary education, thus developing alternatives to apartheid education.
Although the same old patterns remain with us today, I hope these new ideas will at least spark some lively classroom debate and get teachers to think about how they may improve their classroom practices.
Dr Sigamoney Naicker is the Director of Inclusive Education in the National Department of Education in South Africa.
He is the author of ‘Curriculum 2005: An Introduction to Inclusive Education’ and co-edited ‘Inclusion in Action in South Africa’.
These publications can be obtained from:
On the Dot Distributions
Private Bag 487
Sigamoney can be contacted at: Naicker.S@doe.gov.za