As I reflect on the living conditions in the townships, many black South Africans live in challenging situations. In Emafini Primary School, all students are detrimentally poor. Many lived in containers with no indoor plumbing or electricity. When they get home, survival is their focus not homework. Furthermore, this school had little to no instructional resources such as a few desktop computers with slow internet connection, chalkboards in classrooms, and a small library with donated books. Conditions were bad. Many of the students walked several miles to school. Even though, the school building was not inviting or clean, it was obvious that the staff members at Emafini Primary School are caring and inviting adults for students. Most students had a zeal for learning and were smart. I taught several math lessons and students were eager to participate and would quickly understand concepts. I believe education is a lever to life’s opportunities for improvement. However, socio-economics and teachers’ content knowledge are major factors that have a negative impact on the teaching and learning process.
A dual education system with great inequalities put black South Africans at a big disadvantage. Educational reform efforts by the Department of National Education (DNE) in the early 1990s were unsuccessful because it did not address policy implementation issues and the National Eductional Policy Investigation (NEPI) lacked understanding of the complexities in the policy development process (Cross, Mungadi & Rouhani, 2002). However, key features of the Curriculum 2005 removed racial content, embraced equality, democracy and equity, supported the integration of education and training and focused on outcomes. Even though, this was a major step for the country, the curriculum process has shortcomings that were evident in my visit such as lack of alignment between curriculum development, teacher development and the supply of supporting materials (Cross, Mungadi & Rouhani, 2002). Several teachers at Emafini Primary School did not have a conceptual understanding of topics in their content. As a result, those teachers focused on procedural knowledge and simplistic questions. As I worked with my partnering teacher, we collaborated on several mathematical concepts and I explained how different concepts were interconnected. I helped him gain a conceptual understanding of several concepts especially fractions. Also, when I reviewed the grade 5 student booklet that was developed by the DNE, it focused on rote memorization of mathematical procedures and solving problems. There were very few problem solving tasks in the booklet. Also I was told that there were not enough booklets for all students. The misalignment between materials, teacher knowledge and the intent of the curriculum will continue to be a stumbling block for poor black South Africans. These issues must be resolved in order for their world to be transformed through educational opportunities for college or a career.
Cross, M., Mungadi, R. & Rouhani, S. (2002). From policy to practice: curriculum reform in South African education. Comparative Education, 38(2), 171-187.