Schooling in SA is a giant waste of time

Image: JutH@Photo

Now that I am spending much more of my time inside schools and classrooms, I am amazed at how much time is lost in the scheduled periods set aside for instruction.

This is not about one school. I have found this in most of the schools I work with.

Teachers come late or not at all. Pupils are routinely late. There is the slow march to classrooms between periods.

The toilet, I discovered, is an excellent alibi for wasting time.

Schools waste time starting the new school day. And on and on and on.

We waste a significant amount of instructional time because of the inbuilt tardiness of so many of our schools.

So let me state this boldly: you would not need after-school or holiday classes if you used the regular, scheduled time for teaching and learning more effectively.

It is actually quite senseless, these grade 12 “camps” attended by the very pupils (and teachers) who if they had just shown up for their regular classes would have done well enough.

But schooling in SA today is a giant waste of time.

Let me illustrate. We have just come out of two long weekends.

Precious time is lost because in this country you take an extra day off on either side and make it a long-er weekend.

The weather in my current province forced the government here to close schools in three areas.

Guess what, that message conveniently got interpreted by some schools outside the designated areas to mean “all schools” would be closed.

Natural disasters like this can happen anywhere, of course, and lie beyond the control of education planners.

My point is a different one — how we have learnt to exploit the slightest calamity or opportunity to waste more time.

This week there is the glorious Muslim celebration of Eid.

Well guess what, thousands of Christian children will be miraculously converted to Muslim for the celebrations and stay home from school.

The only thing more stunning than this mass conversion is the reconversion to Christianity in time for Christmas.

We waste instructional time and think this is routinised absence from school and classroom is a joke.

We have just come out of the athletics season, and I attended one of the days that fell on a weekend.

Glorious. But try to imagine how many children were drawn from classrooms to train and participate in these games and ask whether they are getting a fair deal with respect to their education.

Schools even allow children to leave home earlier than scheduled towards the end of a quarter so that they can have more time to mark.

This is nonsense. You are there to teach and find other time for marking.

Why? Because when one accumulates all the time lost there is very little left for solid instruction in the different subjects.

One study after another has shown how much regular time is lost for teaching in SA, including a comparative study with Botswana.

What exactly makes teaching time such a valued resource in this country?

Because more than 80% of public resources for education goes to teacher salaries, this is the single most important instrument available to improve results: how teachers use their time in the classroom.

Because of all this loss of time, we have disfigured education into exam preparation.

The broader meanings of education are lost.

I made the point in a social media posting that any teacher, regardless of subject, who did not teach the meaning of the total eclipse of the sun missed a powerful teaching moment.

Yes, it might not be in the CAPS curriculum as such, but that is the point: education is more than the narrow scripts a learner has to master for an exam.

It is about life itself as it unfolds around us. Ask any high school pupil tomorrow about the meaning of the path of totality with respect to the eclipse, and you are likely to hear gibberish.

What happened to education?

I am privileged to work with a group of supersmart teachers to teach a snippet of slave history in the Cape using rich, multimedia materials.

I discovered that there are children who do not know that the Cape had slaves and that this particular aspect we are covering is optional in the curriculum. I lie you not.

Nonetheless, we are pressing ahead to recruit grade 10s from a sample of schools to engage this important component of our history without the pressure of exam requirements.

To enjoy learning, whether it be the physics of a lunar eclipse out there, or the agency of resisting slaves, down here. Education, in other words.



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