Rural Education in Context

Last week, the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), in association with the English Academy of Southern Africa, hosted a seminar on rural education. The seminar’s speakers came from wide-ranging backgrounds in the field of education to address critical issues impacting rural education, namely, under-resourcing. Problems with literacy and science were discussed with both challenges and potential solutions presented. 

Professor Laurence Wright, Director of ISEA, briefly outlined the seminar programme, mentioning that ISEA was in the process of writing a book about education in the Eastern Cape. He stated that one of the seminar’s aims was to get wider audience discussion on the research areas explored in the upcoming publication.

Discussing Eastern Cape schools and resourcing, Dr Monica Hendricks highlighted the “profoundly unequal” status of the province’s education system. According to Dr Hendricks, 82% of schools remain under-resourced. In addition, a high proportion of schools operate out of very basic mud structures. Other indicators of provincial disparity, according to Dr Hendricks, are the high percentages of schools with no access to water, sanitation and other basic amenities. She emphasised that the significance of schools goes beyond teaching learners how to read and write, stating that schools are “identity-producing and defining”.

Taking a positive look at parents and educators as agents of change in under-resourced school systems, Dr Hendricks shared examples from Mount Frere and other areas in the Eastern Cape. She concluded by discussing the value of “making reading sexy”, and of creating a stronger sense of belonging to a learning community.

Prof Wright argued for greater recognition of the unique nature of rural education contexts. According to Prof Wright, “the task that rural teachers face is, in fact, more difficult than the task faced by their urban counterparts”. He also argued that the complex nature of ‘rurality’ was contrary to what he called “fallacies” about rural teachers and learners. Prof Wright’s discussion concluded with the notion that books are the fundamental educational technology. He touted the tremendous value of allowing learners – regardless of their distance from urban centres – to engage with larger social scales and contexts through reading.

Following on from Professor Wright, Dr Margie Probyn expressed her joy at being back in Grahamstown after leaving to teach at the University of the Western Cape. She shared findings of a study she undertook in Butterworth, Lady Frere and East London about teaching and learning activity. Dr Probyn also discussed South Africa’s poor performance in the TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies) and the opportunities to inform science education.

Presenting aspects of his doctoral research on visual literacy, ISEA research officer, Mr Madeyadile Mbelani, spoke about the challenges of teaching this subject in rural schools. Amongst his recommendations, he suggested the use of television sets during key recreational times at schools.

The seminar discussions came to a close after Ms Ntombekhaya Fulani, Ms Sarah Murray and Dr Hendricks presented on language textbooks, literacy in schools and lessons from classroom observations, respectively. Ms Fulani is a research officer at the ISEA while Ms Murray is a senior lecturer in the Rhodes Education Department.

Sponsored by the English Academy of Southern Africa to mark its Golden Jubilee, the seminar was part of a series of events to be held in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Venda and Durban. The Academy’s International Golden Jubilee Conference is to be held in Cape Town from the 7th to 9th September 2011.

By Zukiswa Kota

Picture: Dr Margie Probyn presenting at the Rural Education Seminar at Rhodes.


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