"Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
Nelson Mandela

One of the emerging themes in my Masters research has been the idea of the “opportunity-to-learn” in a classroom setting. This relates to how time is used in the classroom and how learning happens in the reading lessons I’ve been observing. It is also about how to assess the extent of learning in any given lesson: how do teachers know when learners have sufficiently learned something?

The question of the expectations teachers may have of learners is also pertinent: if a teacher has an hour to teach something every single day for a week, how will they be satisfied that learning has taken place? I’ve watched and replayed lessons where teachers spend hours teaching children about reading and writing but the children fail to meet the competencies that are expected of grade 1 learners in this country(and generally everywhere in the world). The irony here is that, the opportunity-to-learn has been created because a teacher comes to school, teaches within a given time and may even provide homework, but learners still battle with learning. If learners do not achieve anything in a given time, does that mean that the teacher has failed? Does that nullify the opportunity that has been created for learning to take place? Obviously, I’m writing this within a context where the teaching of reading and writing has become a very complex process in poor classrooms in this country. Teaching in South Africa has become very complex (and this would require a blog post for further explorations).

While ploughing through the data and trying to make sense of the hours of observations I have done in the past two years, I have also spent some time reflecting on my education in relation to the word opportunity. I went to a school that was pedantic about time (and thanks to my Grade 1 teacher I still keep a diary and wear a watch religiously). I have always been conscious of the opportunity of being at school and took for granted the importance of being in a productive school where there were results for all the time we spent in class. The experiences of being in a school like mine (which would also require another blog post of its own), I have realised that the opportunity-to-learn that was created in class for 12 years without fail has been a project that has ensured that my education allows me further opportunities in the world.

The simple “opportunity-to-learn” created in my education has allowed me choices...Because I can read, write and think, I have many options of who I can be in this single lifetime...I could change my career path when I’m 30 and do something completely unrelated to my current interests because I know I can and I have the capabilities to do so. I have opportunities beyond my own imagination. And that’s mindboggling given that the opportunity-to-learn in the classroom is something some learners can only imagine. When I think of opportunity, I think of change and how education is a tool for creating a space where learning is meaningful after the many years of learning...that education can and should be a tool for personal development, but sadly in many classrooms, this is not the case. What a travesty!


Sioux said…
You do like to tackle complex issues, don't you? I think many schools fail to provide the opportunity to learn, as you point out, but also that there is so much that happens beyond the classroom. Joe Muller speaks of the 'hidden subsidy' some students have (and it's just as true at school level I think) whereby some scholars have access to all sorts of experiences and practices that make school learning that much more accessible. Have you read Heath's "Way with Words"? It's old but I think you'd enjoy it. thanks for your blog - always gets me to ponder a bit!
Anonymous said…
I think one the biggest problems we are facing is to reconcile what is taught in the classroom to the actual realities facing in our communities. It becomes very difficult for a person to understand something when they can't relate it to anything in their real lives. This is why learning ends up becoming a job instead of being an enjoyable experience...I think this is one of the things we should look at. Plus the issue of deterioration of the culture of reading or value of knowledge in our society.

Anyway, this is a wonderful piece Ms Mazola, as always.

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