Teachers have a crucial role to play in building social cohesion

1994 was a deeply important year for South Africa. It ushered in a democratic society committed to the eradication of racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination. It brought political change that promised the building of a “rainbow nation” committed to the ideas of equity and redress. There have been many accomplishments and significant changes in the past 22 years.

But recent events have raised questions about how far the country has really come in building a united non-racial society that embodies unity in diversity. Some have been negative and divisive – racially offensive, derogatory comments by individuals. Others, like the country’s student protest movements, have opened up spaces for debate and got people thinking about issues of curriculum change and decolonisation.

Race talk and identification remains a concern within everyday social life. Different groups of people distrust each other deeply and continue to closely associate according to previous racial categorisations. The country’s apartheid past still casts a long shadow on its future.

To shake off this shadow, South Africans need a deeper understanding of what social cohesion means and how it can be attained. Research my colleagues and I recently completed also shows how important it is that teachers are provided with support to infuse their work with the principles of social cohesion.

Education and social cohesion

The country’s Department of Arts and Culture [defines](http://www.dac.gov.za/sites/default/files/WHAT%20IS%20SOCIAL%20COHESION%20AND%20NATION%20(3).pdf) social cohesion as the degree of social integration and inclusion in communities and society at large. It also refers to how much mutual solidarity finds expression among individuals and communities. In the South African context, social cohesion is about social integration, equality and social justice. It requires the promotion of positive relationships, trust, solidarity, inclusion, collectivism and common purpose.

Concerns about social cohesion have manifested in various ways. The government has hosted summits on the subject. It’s drafted a social cohesion strategy and even appointed “advocates” to champion social cohesion.

There’s also been work in the education sector. The department of basic education has launched a review of textbooks to identify instances of discrimination and bias.

It’s important that such work happens in the education sphere. Equitable, quality education plays a crucial role in building a nation. South Africa’s education system is anything but equitable. Research shows that in 2013, 87% of white learners and 73% of Indian learners were attending the country’s most well resourced public schools. Only 6% of black African learners were enrolled in these schools.

The drive to understand how an equitable education system and social cohesion go hand and hand is what prompted our research. It was conducted by the Centre for International Teacher Education at South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in collaboration with the University of Sussex in the UK. It’s part of a larger multi-countrystudy and explored how teachers are given the space to become agents of peace and social cohesion.

We argue that social cohesion should be understood in relation to achieving durable social justice, eliminating all forms of inequities and disadvantage. We discovered that teachers need far more professional development, policy direction and support to ensure that social cohesion is realised in classroom teaching and learning.

A mass of policies

Many policies since 1994 have been designed to empower teachers and improve their skills. But the area of social cohesion and teachers’ critical role in its promotion hasn’t received enough attention. As with so many other areas of education, impressive policy goals have not been translated into reality. Their realisation has been undermined by, among other things, poor intergovernmental coordination and collaboration, and lack of implementation clarity and support.

Coordination is especially complicated in the education sphere. Contrary to what’s outlined in the Constitution, national and provincial education departments often take up different responsibilities in quite different ways. Various provinces and individual schools often interpret policy goals quite differently. This has been seen, for instance, in how different provinces implemented their curriculum overhaul in 2009.

Such different interpretations have important implications for the changes that the policy in question aims to bring about.

Curriculum changes

Another issue that’s important for building social cohesion is the curriculum itself and the textbooks used. Curriculum reform has been an important area of change since 1994. The right curriculum can help to lay the foundations for a democratic, open and united society.

Our research found significant omissions in the existing national curriculum when it comes to issues of equity and social cohesion. One important example is in Life Orientation. Social cohesion – discussions about living together with people from different cultures, for instance – forms part of this subject. But the curriculum is so overcrowded there’s no real space for such discussions to happen in a meaningful, ongoing fashion.

There’s also a real danger that with so many demands in the national education agenda issues like social cohesion are often devalued or not readily promoted. Schools tend to focus on “priority” subjects like Science and Mathematics. They often ask why they should “waste time” with issues like social cohesion

Actually, issues of social cohesion need to be integrated effectively across the curriculum. This can happen by, for instance, ensuring that African texts and authors are positively represented in textbooks. It could also take the form of removing discriminatory bias – such as an example from a textbook that appeared to blame rape survivors for their ordeal.

The importance of high quality teacher education

High quality initial and continuing teacher professional development matters, too. Different universities with different cultural histories often rub up against students’ diverse racial, class and gendered identities. They also strongly shape how student teachers think about the contexts they are set to enter. There isn’t a consistent approach across South Africa’s universities to how trainee teachers learn about social cohesion.

Those who educate teachers need to both support and challenge student teachers. They need to both provide content knowledge and stimulate them to seek knowledge, while exposing students to diverse ways of teaching and to different social contexts. Those that educate teachers must pay better attention to how student teachers are empowered with a variety of teaching approaches and tools that will allow them to engage productively with learners and promote social cohesion.

Agents of social cohesion

Overall, the research revealed that promoting social cohesion through education requires context specific, proactive strategies that address South Africa’s historic and structural drivers of inequality.

More specifically, it requires the political will to support teachers so they can acquire the knowledge, skills and disposition to become agents of peace and social cohesion. Teachers and schools can only do so much, though. As long as the schooling system’s outcomes continue to be bifurcated and unequal and societal inequality widens, social cohesion may remain elusive. Peace will be tenuous and conflict will continue to loom.

By Prof  : South African Research Chair in Teacher Education; Director of Centre for International Teacher Education (CITE) at CPUT

*Article first appeared in The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/teachers-have-a-crucial-role-to-play-in-building-social-cohesion-60823

Practice makes perfect

An innovative approach to teaching is helping first-year education students to confidently make their debut at schools as student teachers.

Several years ago the General Education and Training Department at the Wellington Campus conceputalised  a three week long  Practice Teaching Seminar, solely aimed at preparing first-years for practice teaching.

Practice teaching, a key component in CPUT education courses, extends throughout the four-year education programme and provides students with the opportunity to hone their skills in a school environment.

Lecturer Adrienne van As says the seminar was conceptualized after they found many first-years had preconceived ideas of what was required of a teacher.

“They have the preconceived idea that a teacher’s role is just to stand in front of a class and talk, but it is much more than that,” she says.

From sharing tips on how to behave in a school setting to dressing appropriately, lecturers cover just about everything student teachers would need in order to make a success of their time spent at schools.

“We see the benefit of this training. When they go out to schools they are prepared,” says van As.

Students are also required to plan a lesson from scratch, along with appropriate material, and present it to their fellow students and lecturers. Other activities include building sculptures out of recycled material that represent the various roles teachers play in a school and community.

This year’s seminar was well received by first-year students, who hailed it as a “confidence booster.”

Student Mikyla McLoed says preparing a lesson showed her exactly what is expected of her during practice teaching.

“The seminar showed me how to communicate with learners and how to work with them,” says Mikyla.

Student Enzio Engelbrecth says the seminar reaffirmed to him the important role a teacher plays in a community, as well as the importance of life-long learning.

“The activities we participated in showed me that teachers must always be eager to teach and to learn. The passion for teaching must always be there,” he says.


CPUT hosts education fundi national conference

CPUT’s Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development recently hosted a four-day annual conference of the Education Association of South Africa in Hermanus.

Under the theme “Dealing with educational inequalities in the age of measurement in South Africa – chas­ing numbers versus supporting students to succeed” over 100 delegates networked with the leaders in their fields of research whilst keeping abreast of advances in their fields.

Over the last three days keynote speakers, Professors Crain Soudien (CEO at the Human Sciences Research Council), Elizabeth Henning (University of Johannesburg) and Zubeida Desai (University of the Western Cape), took turns to share their experiences and wisdom.

Their respective addresses were energizing and inspiring prowess as they provided useful information and influenced opinions.

Dozens of papers were presented addressing some of the following sub-themes: performativity or capabilities versus graduate outputs, multilingual education, teacher education, pedagogic interventions and teacher autonomy, and ICT and values in education.

Delivering the opening address, CPUT’s DVC: Teaching and Learning, Prof Anthony Staak, said the conference came at an opportune time when the entire education system was confronting challenges.

“The first set of challenges I shall mention relates to what is often referred to as inefficiencies in the system, with cohort studies revealing high failure rates and unacceptably low throughput rates across the sector,” said Staak.

“In response to these inefficiencies in the Higher Education sector the Department of Higher Education and Training has made available a Teaching Development Grant to all universities in the hope that this grant, the TDG would be used to support interventions that address the challenge of high failure rates and poor throughput rates,” he added.

A few scholars of note were also awarded medals during the conference’s gala dinner in recognition of their outstanding contribution to higher education.

They are CPUT’s Prof Rajendra Chetty (Medal of Honour), University of Pretoria’s Dr MJ Malindi (Emerging researcher), University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Dr FP Khanare (Post-graduate) and University of Pretoria’s M Leask (Masters).

The conference was sponsored by Van Schaik Publishers, Pearson and Oxford University Press.

Pictures by Kelly Arendse of Kelly Arendse Photography

Prof Chetty clinches medal of honour

The Education Association of South Africa (EASA) bestowed its medal of honour on Prof Rajendra Chetty, from the Faculty of Education, in recognition of his outstanding service to education over a sustained period of time.

The medal was awarded recently during the 2016 EASA conference at Arabella Hotel, Hermanus.

Prof Chetty was recognized for his excellent achievements in the field of education which include contributing to both the theory and practice of education as well as for service of outstanding quality and commitment to education across a broad spectrum.

He was specifically honoured for the promotion of the prestige of South African Education as a social science and as practice on an international level as evidenced by international publications, collaborations and partnerships, and invitations to share expertise on an international scale.

The EASA is a national body of academics, researchers, and practitioners who prioritise educational research and publish The South African Journal of Education.

Prof Chetty, an NRF C1 rated researcher, says he was pleasantly surprised and humbled by this recognition and wishes to acknowledge the support of colleagues in the faculty.

He adds that the faculty is being recognised for its role in teacher education and its engagement with issues around race, class and poverty that are pertinent to the current inequality discourse in the country.

He is heartened that a radical approach is emerging in the academy to counter the conservative hegemony and urges his colleagues to ensure that their scholarship and research contributes toward a fair and just education system.

“We all have a responsibility to the transformation of Higher Education into a more inclusive and representative space by challenging the normative assumptions, which serve to assimilate our students (future teachers) into dominant cultural narratives,” he says.




Sharing education research in the region

Since the late 1990s graduate students from the four Western Cape universities have come together to share their research at the annual Education Students’ Regional Research Conference.

This year, CPUT hosted the two-day conference at its Mowbray Campus, which is home to the Faculty of Education.

Delegates were treated to a warm welcome by the faculty’s Dean, Prof Thobeka Mda, who announced the conference’s theme to be, “Research and practice for innovation and transformation”.

Mda said the theme offered an opportunity for presentation of meaningful and transformative papers.

“You have a chance to achieve transformation with your research if it is driven by passion and innovative ideas,” she added.

Delivering keynote addresses were Professors Dick Ng’ambi, founder and Director of UCT’s Educational Technology Inquiry Lab, and Aslam Fataar, Vice Dean of Research at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Education.

Ng’ambi encouraged the delegates to identify the exact issues they want their research work to change and pursue them relentlessly.

He encouraged them to interrogate situations so that a lot of information about them can be gained.

He said the four factors that are always at play in any situation are complexity, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity and should be unpacked in order to gain maximum understanding of that situation.

Dr A Wyngaard, from the Western Cape Education Department, addressed the conference on the importance and ethical implications of applying for research permission.

Scores of papers dealing with educational technology, schooling contexts, teacher development and pedagogical issues were presented during breakaway sessions.

Intense after-school tutoring holds many lessons – for learners and teachers

Pre-service teachers must spend a few months working in schools to practice their craft and learn from qualified educators. This is an important part of their training, but it doesn’t allow pre-service teachers to work for an extended period with the same group of learners.

The absence of such a sustained, intense interaction deprives pre-service teachers of an important opportunity to understand their learners’ challenges – and their own shortcomings – before entering a classroom full time.

A project in a peri-urban area about 75 kilometres from Cape Town is exploring what happens when trainee teachers are able to spend a full year tutoring the same one or two children. The early results are extremely encouraging for both the pre-service teachers and their 52 learners. It is also reaching a much wider pool as learners share their experiences with their peers.

Immersing pre-service teachers to learn lessons

The project, initiated by the Wellington campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is part of the curriculum for pre-service teachers training at the campus. Wellington is a picturesque small town. As with many places in South Africa, it is home to both great wealth and terrible poverty.

This project focuses on after-school tutoring in Maths and English for 52 primary school learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The learners are all in grades 5 to 7, aged between 10 to 12, and are chosen based on their academic performance. They are the best students in their grades. The tutoring happens for an hour each week after school.

The project started in January 2015. The pre-service teachers were prepared for it during their English and Maths lectures. Two visiting scholars from the US who are working on community engagement projects like this one as part of their Fulbright scholarships came and shared their experiences.

Research shows that this kind of after-school engagement has many benefits. It offers pre-service teachers who haven’t yet started working permanently in a classroom setting a real insight into the challenges that learners face when studying Maths and English.

It can also greatly develop the creativity and critical thinking skills of both the pre-service teachers and their young learners.

Loving English and making Maths count

The English leg of the project aims to improve teachers’ and learners’ proficiency in the language. Afrikaans is the most commonly spoken language in the Wellington area. All but one of the 30 pre-service teachers in the English component and all 52 learners from the four schools participating in the project speak English as a second language.

The lessons allow pre-service teachers to practice and develop their own communication and teaching skills. They enhance the learners’ love for English, develop their reading skills and give them a space in which to grapple with grammar problems.

This course provides a great opportunity for academic growth within a service-learning context.

A non-profit organisation, Help2Read, sponsored containers full of new books, games, stickers, stationery and activities for each of the participating schools. These resources helped pre-service teachers to make their sessions with the learners more fun.

For the maths component, learners are asked to bring school work they’ve been struggling with in class. At the start of each tutoring session, the pre-service teachers try to get a sense of whether learners are participating in their school maths classes.

For instance, learners will be asked what maths they were taught, how it was taught and whether they struggled with how concepts were explained. They are also asked to identify highlights from their classes. Engaging learners in this way gives them a voice and, hopefully, teaches them that their experiences are valued.

They are also offered agency: in one session, two pre-service teachers reversed the power dynamic by giving learners the chance to structure questions and to question them rather than the other way around.

Pre-service teachers get to learn, too

Pre-service teachers at each of the four schools form a professional learning community. They meet each week after tutoring to share their experiences and talk about what they have learned. They are encouraged to critically examine what their learners are battling with and to ask tough questions about their own teaching methods.

Many pre-service teachers have reported that they struggled to address their learners’ challenges and questions during tutorial sessions. They needed to go away and think about their own understanding of the mathematical ideas being discussed and how best to develop this.

Teachers at the participating schools have seen a difference in their learners. During a progress meeting in July, one reported:

My learners in the project … their self-confidence has increased … the way they analyse each other’s work … identifying errors and supporting other learners in class … (it) was not like this before

A ripple effect

The project is having a positive impact beyond just the 52 learners who are taking part. Some learners have started tutoring their peers, using the skills they’ve developed during sessions with the pre-service teachers.

Learners who aren’t yet involved with the project have told their peers they want to work harder so they have a chance of taking part.

There has also been great interaction between pre-service teachers, who support and encourage each other through the project. Though these are still early days, it is shaping up as a wonderful professional collaboration opportunity for all involved and is set to become a permanent fixture in the curriculum.


Rolene Liebenberg: Mathematics Education Lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Hanlie Dippenaar : Senior lecturer at the Department of English, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Published first on The Conversation at http://bit.ly/1LmmFAg

Novel ideas, good practices and success stories

One of CPUT’s leading researchers is set to unpack rural education in South Africa.

An education and social sciences researcher, Dr Clive Kronenberg plans to gain insights into the Western Cape’s top performing rural and multigrade schools that are situated on the West Coast.

Globally rural education is the most neglected area of education and results show that the majority of these schools have low attainment rates.

However, Kronenberg hopes to uncover what is behind the success of several of the Western Cape’s best performing rural and multigrade schools. The findings will be vital in establishing a future model that can improve attainment rates at these schools.

As part of his research, Kronenberg recently spent several weeks gaining insights into rural education in Cuba, a country that has one of world’s most successful educational systems.

Cuba boasts adult literacy rates ranking a notable 99.8%, a learner teacher ratio of 12 to 1, and high attainment levels in urban and rural areas.

Kronenberg had the opportunity to interact with teachers, learners, teacher assistants as well as education officials and academics from local universities.

“My visit has facilitated an understanding of how multigrade education within a rural setting can be approached in a more meaningful and practical way,” he says.

Kronenberg says his research, titled “Novel Ideas, Good Practices and Success Stories” will explore schools’ operations, teaching methods, culture and parental involvement.

“We want to know what do they attribute their success too,” he says.

*Kronenberg is currently Africa’s foremost scholar on matters related to the Cuba education and has visited the country several times to explore its education system.

Image of the Cuban landscape by Dr Clive Kronenberg



Education crisis examined

Teacher trade unions, education NGOs, academics and former government official squared up at a recent lively public seminar to discuss the country’s education crisis.

Hosted by the Centre for International Teacher Education at the Mowbray Campus, the centre’s director, Prof Yusuf Sayed, said research shows that half of learners who enter the schooling system drop out before they reach matric and that even fewer make it to university.

Sayed added that learners in Grade three lack literacy skills as well as inequality among rich and poor schools were compounding the crisis.

South African Democratic Teachers Union Provincial Secretary Jonavin Rustin took the audience through the purpose of education, promises which were made by the transitional government in the build-up to 1994, the current problems as well as interventions that have since been implemented.

Rustin argued that teachers are not adequately trained and therefore there is a need to focus on teaching practice; mentoring, coaching and induction of student and novice teachers.

He says the poor conditions of service and lack of infrastructure at schools were contributing to the low morale of teachers.

Because learners are being over-tested by the department, this was stealing contact time away from teachers who have to administer the various assessments, says Rustin.

Help2Read partners with Faculty of Education

Primary school learners in the Wellington region will soon benefit from a reading tutoring programme.

The programme is a partnership between the Help2Read foundation and the Faculty of Education on the Wellington Campus and will see 30 English second-year students tutor 52 learners at four schools.

Help2Read is a non-profit organisation which helps children to become confident readers as well as self-assured individuals.

Lecturer Hannlie Dippenaar says the students have been trained as volunteers on the Help2Read programme and will provide one-on-one tutoring to learners in grades four, five and six.

“Help2Read has sponsored each school with four huge containers filled with magical resources for children. These include brand new books, games, stickers, stationery and fun stuff to do,” says Dippenaar.

“The students are able to use these resources in their sessions and make learning fun.”

The project has also received additional funding from the Cape Higher Education Consortium, which will be used to fund excursions, which includes taking the learners to see a play in a theatre.

Dippenaar says the students involved will also benefit from the programme by being exposed to the school environment.

For more information on Help2Read see:



Celebrating academic excellence

The hard work and dedication of Education students has not gone unnoticed.

To end off the first half of the year, the Further Education and Training Department on the Wellington Campus acknowledged and celebrated the academic achievement of first, second, third and fourth year students.

Lecturer Dr Vincent Bosman says people often complain about mediocrity in education however an event like this recognises the positive changes in education and the reality that the sector is writing a new history.

The department commended close to 30 of their top students and awards were given in all subject areas.

Guest speaker, Herman Bailey, says teachers in the FET sector will play a key role in preparing young people who will play a key part in the South African economy.

The former Mayor of Wellington, Bailey says currently there is a large number of youth who are unemployed because they lack education and training.

“Remember, you are leaders. Your learners will look up to you. Show them the way.”

Bailey, who trained as a teacher at the then Peninsula Technikon also offered the students some advice for their future careers.

He says to be effective in the education sector, teacher must practice integrity, discipline, faith, a good work ethic and must persevere and keep their eye on the goal.