We are nearing the end of Term 2, which means its the month long exam season in SA’s government/public schools. 3 weeks of testing and one week of marking (grading). We are in the last week of school before holiday, so its marking week and it is maddddddd boring for the learners and for us as there is absolutely no order and it makes it difficult for us to hold any of our classes/activities. This exam schedule totally upends our entire schedule. While our learners are writing (testing), we have absolutely nothing to do. We wanted to use this free time to work on organizing and cleaning the library, but we have been waiting for 3 months for the Department of Education to respond to our request. We cannot clean out the useless, decades old curriculum books without the DOE’s permission.
So, this leaves ample time to read, reflect, plan travel, etc. This term, we were assigned to invigilate (proctor) some exams. When they first asked us to help, I was like what in the world is invigilating??? Turns out it is another word for proctoring. The exams run for 2-3 hours. Mad boring. Again, ample time for reading and reflecting.
In my reflections, I’ve been thinking a lot about the education system. The things I admire about it and the things that aggravate me to no end. Its important to note, that many of the problems with SA’s education system are also problems we see in the states. Sometimes its at a different scale or represented differently through culture, but America is far from perfect and shares some of the same problems that I’ve found here in a rural village school in South Africa. Also, it is important to note that my ideas/reflections of the SA school system is limited. I’ve only worked at one school, in one town, in one province. I’ve spoken with my fellow Fulbrighters and Peace Corps friends and know they have had similar experiences at their schools. However, I don’t think these ideas should be taken as blanket statements of schools across the whole country.
- Learners respect their teachers. Being a teacher is respected by the learners. They (for the most part) listen to their teachers and do not act out in ways to disrupt the classroom.
- Respect for teachers’ time and work. Teachers personal time is protected greatly. They have designated time to mark during the school day. They have staff meetings during the school day. Teachers are not expected to work unnecessarily long days or on weekends (except for grade 12 teachers who do have to work Saturday school). As a teacher in the US who was expected to work longer hours and weekends without extra pay, I find this refreshing (Recently read this blog piece about Why teachers are walking out for protests in the US and it speaks a lot about teachers are tired of being taken advantage of. I deeply understand that pain). It shows that SA respects their teachers and their craft.
- Commitment to the community. Many of my colleagues have worked at Boetse for decades. Many live in the community and are from the community as well. This gives them an innate ability to relate to and understand the learners.
- School trips and Competitions. Teachers have arranged for trips to enhance the curriculum. The district level government pays for competitions for the learners to attend, which includes transport and meals (at least for debate).
- Sports. So. many. sports. are offered at school.
- Provides jobs. Many local community members work in cleaning, cooking, and security at the school.
- Learners are happy. Our learners love our school. They love their teachers, they love (most of) their classes. They love their peers. Their happiness is seen and felt while walking around the school.
- Teacher pay. I’m not sure exactly what teachers are paid here, but I know its not great. A few have talked about having side jobs or worrying about money.
- Teacher absenteeism. Teachers bunk (skip) class too often. Some straight up don’t show up to school. Or they are hanging out in the staff room and are verrrryyyy late to their classes. I’m talking 30 minutes late to an hour long class. Some of our learners have discussed that they find this annoying and concerning.
- Exams. Exams are the complete focus of every term and take 1/3 of the term to complete. I never feel like the learners have enough classroom time to actually get ready for these exams that happen at the end of each of the 4 terms.
- Wasted classroom time and students left alone. Memorials, staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences…all of these things happen during the school day. Learners are supposed to “self-study” during this time. Grade 8 and 9 learners appear to have absolutely no idea how to do this and end up running around and playing soccer. Grade 10-12 have a little more study skills, but they even end up playing around when left unattended for a few periods.
- Blame is on learner. Teacher accountability seems to be low. If class results are not good, teachers will say its because that class is lazy or slow or doesn’t work hard enough.
- Under-resourced. There is a chalk board and desks in every classroom. Students have textbooks. That’s it. Some classrooms don’t have electricity. And many are in need of maintenance.
- Overcrowded. 40-60 in every class. For one teacher!! That’s insanity.
- Corporal punishment. It is still “lightly” used at our school. Since it was outlawed, teachers have not been taught appropriate ways to give students consequences. Not to make excuses, but that is the punishments they received at school. It is all they know.
- Extracurriculars. Sports and choir my school has down. Those are in full swing and have lots of staff support. There is a lack of non-sports related programming. Our debaters often complain that they do not feel supported by their teachers.
- Hierarchy. There is a hierarchy of who does what and who you are supposed to ask permission for certain things. It is not clear. And I think it gets in the way of progress happening at the school.
All that being said, I love working at Boetse and being a teacher in South Africa. Each and every day, I’m grateful for this experience and all of the challenges that it presents me.