Removing the barriers

2011-07-08 00:00

THE results of the annual national assessments are a reality and call for urgent action. Over six million pupils have given every conscience-driven individual a rude awakening.

Without a solid foundation in numeracy and literacy, our pupils will not be ready to meet the challenges of the real and broader world. Moreover, we will never get the engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, accountants and other high-level skills we need in our country.

The disappointing performance by pupils in our schools is not just because of the teachers, principals and other simplistic excuses.

Teachers cannot do the homework for pupils, learn their maths bonds to improve their maths or ensure that pupils read their prescribed English readers and other books to improve their vocabulary, spelling and general knowledge.

Teachers cannot check and control the learning environment at pupils' homes. Teachers cannot see whether pupils' homework is being done by themselves or just being copied from their friends.

Teachers can only make difficult tasks easier, plan, teach, guide, present, motivate, assess and monitor, but, in the end, it's up to the pupils and their parents. Parents must be actively involved in every aspect of their children's upbringing and education. They must ensure that their children's educational, social, physical and physiological needs are being met.

We cannot expect teachers to be magicians or perform miracles on pupils. Today the role of teachers has changed and extended tremendously.

Agreed, schools must create an environment of learning and teaching, and teachers must teach, but ultimately effective teaching and learning are the result of many factors and role players, including the government and legislation.

Our pupils will continue to produce low results as long as we focus on the wrong issues or shift the blame. Criticising and being hard solely on teachers will not remedy the situation.

How can the Department of Education analyse the situation without investigating all the factors that impact on learning and teaching? Behind these statistics there are human beings. The Department of Education needs to analyse and examine broadly the poor performance of pupils in our country if it wants to bridge the gap between South Africa and the rest of the world in the maths, science and language learning areas.

When mental-health clinicians are asked to figure out what is wrong with a patient, they assess the patient broadly, using something called the biopsychosocial model as a guide. According to the biopsychosocial model there is a relationship between the different factors. The biological, psychological and social factors are seen as interconnected and all these aspects are of equal importance.

If the results of pupils are poor then our focus must start with them. We need to examine issues that are affecting them. We need to look more deeply into the enablers, barriers and resistors in the education cycle of our pupils.

When pupils' enablers are strong then learning and teaching take place effectively. Conversely, when barriers and resistors are stronger then we will get the results we have just read about in the newspapers.

Pupil attitudes, high pupil numbers per class, school funding and tight budgets, language barriers, access to resources like libraries, domestic abuse, drugs, poverty, crime and unemployment, just to name a few, need to be investigated and addressed urgently if we want to improve our pupil performance.

Furthermore, the constant changes in education policies must stop as these have a detrimental affect on the education system. First we had outcome-based education, then the Revised National Curriculum Statement, then it changed to the National Curriculum Statement, and only the policy writers and politicians know what else. Continuity in the curriculum is an important aspect of learning and teaching. The research and thinking must match the density and gravity of the problem.

To remedy the situation we need to change the mind-set and thinking of every link in the education chain, including politicians.

• Acknowledgement to UKZN Education Department. ACE: Values and Human Rights in education resource material — The Educator's Pastoral Role, Language and Diversity, Social issues in Education, Foundations in Values and Human Rights and Race, Class and Gender.

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