An educational impression of South Africa by Aldo de Pape
Africa has been the topic of multiple blog-posts throughout this #TeacherTuesday series. A first introduction to the educational growth of this continent was done in Malawi, a country that copes with a chronic shortage in skilled teachers. The second time around we took you to Kenya and more specifically to schools in Kibera: Africa’s biggest urban slum.
For this edition we are traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa, a place with schools that urgently need to address life skills in their students daily curriculum for them to get fair opportunities in the job market.
“I come out of my shoes as a teacher, I become a parent. So I am touching all the spheres – not only curriculum, even their social life as well.” are the words of this week’s teacher Shape Msiza in this BBC interview. Shape’s passion and energy as an English teacher are compelling and indeed seem to cross the boundaries of the usual teacher-student relationship.
“Girls, guard yourselves from being pregnant. Taxi drivers might tell you: ‘I love you’, you should tell them ‘Wait for me, if you love me, I am still busy doing my studies’ ”
“Boys, guard yourselves from being drug dealers!”
Unconventional as Shape’s empowering teaching approach might be, it does prove to have its effects.
A report launched by UNESCO in 2012 tells us that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone over 56 million people aged 15 to 24 years did not complete primary school and are therefore required to explore alternative pathways to get the necessary skills for a proper job. One in three people of Africa’s youth population therefore run a serious risk of being trapped in jobs that keep them below the poverty line.
There are many reasons as to why pupils are not finishing school but the majority of them are of an economic nature. Even though many African schools charge no tuition for the schooling of their children, there are still items like uniforms and school-books to be bought. On top of that there is a high opportunity cost for their families as sending your child away to school means not having him/her at home to work for the family income.
To counter this highly unwanted phenomenon, a more practical model for education needs to be found. A concrete suggestion for such a model is given in the article ‘Redefining Education in the Developing World’ by Mark J. Epstein and Kristi Yuthas.
Epstein and Yuthas suggest something called ‘School of Life’ an educational model that concentrates more on the socio-economic wellbeing of the student rather than on the theoretical learning outcomes. Concretely, pupils would have mandatory courses like Entrepreneurship and Health integrated in their curriculum that they would need to absorb through group work and independent project management.
Intentionally or unintentionally, one can already find many overlaps between Shape’s way of teaching and the ‘School of Life’ model as Epstein and Yuthas suggest it.
Shape shares her perspective:“We teach them business skills, we have business projects. They learn how to write a business plan. We buy some products/stock and they sell them to other learners and teachers and take money. They need to learn how much money to take from people and how much to then save. People from banks come to assist them to open bank accounts so that they can save money.”
And Shape also makes sure that her pupils have a good overview on what their future can bring: “I’m also involved in job/career experience. We invite companies that are the same as the careers our learners have chosen to come to our school and talk to them. They come to school and after we identify the children who can go to them and do some work to be familiar with the outside world. They go to work for a day as managers or whatever. When they come back they are able to tell us of the challenges, then the companies come again to give them more knowledge. “
Our teacher acknowledges that the pupils in her school are in a more fortunate situation due to the financial situation. The school is sponsored by Oracle that offers school staff and children a close connection with the corporate world through one-day internships and training in technology.
Even though the South African educational process due to its low quality and the high number of pupils that need to be taught, has been experienced by many teachers as too complex, bureaucratic and over-straining Shape does see some improvement for the coming years:
“We have all these challenges, but the Ministry of Education is coming to assist now, so I think the education will get better in the next five years than it is now especially in primary schools and learn English. It will put more pressure on primary teachers to improve the teachers. If they have a good foundation they will do better.”
Shape’s key to being a successful teacher is simple yet effective: “Assure the learners they are important and they can make it. Then they start to feel very well. I want them to do better and I say ‘I know you can, I know you can.’ They start to believe in themselves.”
What are your thoughts about the ‘School of Life’ and teaching practical skills in a school curriculum? Do let us know and send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the ninth of a series of ten educational impressions launched and executed in collaboration with UNESCO. Find out more about the #TeacherTuesday campaign on the UNESCO website directly.