"OCCUPATION OF OUR MINDS" : A DOMINANT FEATURE IN MATHEMATICS EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
University of Zululand, South Africa
As South Africa moves forward with new curricular initiatives which are aimed at the elimination of many disparitie, questions about what needs to be done in order to adress the inequities to mathematics arising from the education system under the apartheid regime are also being asked. Such disparities certainly extend to mathematics. I believe questions about what is/has been taught in various subjects should be an important consideration. Reconstruction of the educational system must be in accordance with national policy that education should be non-sexist, non-racist and committed to equal access.
In this article, I make the point that the way South African society was organised during apartheid contributed a lot towards disadvantage in mathematics for Blacks. Redress in mathematics will require some serious commitment to ending ‘occupation of our minds’. I begin by providing a brief description of the notion: ‘Occupation of our minds’ as it is explained by Munir Fasheh (1996). I then make some attempts to understand ‘occupation’ by also providing examples of some places elsewhere in the world which have made some means toward ending
`occupation.´ I end by raising the question whether current reforms in mathematics teaching are adequately addressing the problem of occupation in South Africa. I also offer some suggestions as to how ‘occupation of our minds’ can be eliminated.
1. WHAT DO WE MEAN: "Occupation of our minds?"
I first came across the phrase : "Occupation of our minds" from an article by Fasheh (1996) entitled The main challenge : ending the occupation of our mind, the main means: building learning environments and recontextualising knowledge. He also indirectly refers to the same concern of ‘occupation’ when he raises the question : Is mathematics in the classroom neutral or dead? Fasheh (1997:24). I am using this idea of ‘occupation’ in this paper for two reasons : Firstly, I find it both an interesting and fascinating notion and secondly, I have found it to be relevant in providing me with answers to some of the question I’m currently grapling with in my research of The history of mathematics education in South Africa : 1948-1994.
An attempt to understand the context in which Fashesh uses the notion: "Occupation of our minds" would seem to require two thing, viz:
i. The knowledge of who Munir Fasheh is and also
ii. An understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the effect it is having on their education.
I cannot, however, claim for a moment to be an expert in answering the question of who Munir is or to be able to provide a detailed explanation about an Israeli-Palestine conflict. Perhaps, the best I can do is to say what Munir has written about himself in the past.
In introducing himself, for instance, Munir Fasheh writes:
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine. Except for a few years when I had to go out and study, I have lived all my life in Palestine. When I was born, the British were occupying Palestine and thus the British system of Education was used. After 1948, the Jordanian syllabus with Israeli intervention became the curriculum in schools. Since 1993 a so called " Palestine syllabus"is being developed (Fasheh, 1997:24) .
Below is another glimpse of Munir:
When the 1967 Israeli-Arab war broke out, I was 26 years old, already with a masters degree and four years experience of teaching math at various levels ... I was formally involved for six years (1972 - 1978) in math instruction at several levels and in different ways in the schools of the West Bank.(Fasheh, 1997:57) .
Fasheh’s writings seem to suggests that he has spent some considerable time working for Birzert University and a small learning institution, Tamer Institute in Palestine. The region had been under British rule since 1948, Jordanian rule from 1967, and Israel occupation from 1972. In writing about ending the occupation..., Fasheh acknowledges the role Palestinians have always played in waging a war against the occupation of their land and resources. He is, however, critical of the Palestine curriculum which he claims has been meaningless and not built on aspects and issues of the Palestinians reality...(Fasheh, 1997:27). He is even more critical of the insensitive and unresponsive nature of the math curriculum and he then concludes that : the maths we teach and study, at least in the schools and universities in Palestine is basically like a corpse that doesn’t feel anything of its surroundings (ibid : 24). He believes that although the "occupation" of their land is an extremely serious issue,
The biggest danger Palestinians currently face is the confiscation of our last possessions as people: our history, our voice, our experience, our vision, our hopes, our unity, our sense of belonging, our rights, our ability to learn and create and our means of survival (Fasheh, 1996:14) .
He raises questions, therefore, about the silence of mathematics during the time when changes that have accompanied the various realities in Palestine were so drastic. He therefore sees the struggle for ending the "occupation of our minds" as important
because:The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed (ibid. p.14).
What most characterises the "occupation" according Fasheh, are:
First, the belief that Western cultures are superior to all others, and that the path followed by Western nations was the only path to be followed by others; hence the belief that knowledge and solutions can only come from the West via experts, plans, etc.(ibid p. 14).
Second, preventing our voices, histories and ways of living, thinking and interacting with one another and with nature from surviving and flourishing.
Fasheh’s use of "occupation..." emanates from the fact that Palestinians have been living under Israeli occupation of their land and resources for a long time. He is concerned, though, that the struggle waged by the Palestinians has focussed largely on the occupation of their land and not enough was done in resisting "occupation" of their minds. He mentioned, for instance, that:
Palestinians like most other peoples in the Third World have been critical of almost everything related to the Western domination except science, math technology and research. We have considered them an ideal to be in critically imitated and followed (ibid p. 15).
In this paper, I am attempting to look at what "occupation" means in mathematics in general and also how "occupation" is reflected in the history of mathematics education in South Africa. My particular attraction to the notion of "occupation" lies in the fact that our minds have been controlled in South Africa by limiting the options and alternatives in how mathematics was taught and learned in the past. I am aware of this fact because of my past experience as both a student and teacher of mathematics in South African schools. We have been blinded so that we are unable to see the alternatives in both our teaching and learning of mathematics. The nature of mathematics teaching has been such that students are not encouraged to realize that there are different points of view and to respect the right of every individual to choose his/her own point of view.
A question can be asked with regards to mathematics education, namely: of what relevancy is the Fasheh’s notion of the ‘occupation of our minds’ to the way mathematics was taught and learned in South Africa? Perhaps a second question can be: How widely can the same notion of the "occupation of our minds" be applied to other situations elsewhere in the world?
The third question is : if the battle for ending the "occupation" is won, who is the beneficiary? The last (but not least) question is: can we have a system free from occupation of some sort? If yes, what would the problems be? I will make attempt to deal with all these questions I have raised.
2. SOME ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND "OCCUPATION"
A number of questions has been raised above. I need to point out that there doesn’t seem to be direct answers to all these questions. They were raised in order to make an attempt to come closer to the understanding of the notion of "occupation". I begin with the first question:
My own study of the history of mathematics education in South Africa during the apartheid years has convinced me that the curriculum was largely a technique curriculum. I see the important function of a techniques curriculum as having to do with providing the teacher with the ‘tool box’ full of techniques which are drilled in the minds of students and which they have to master in order to be successful in their learning. Part of my data for this study was gathered through interviews with individuals who I believe were prominent and successful in mathematics teaching during the apartheid years. Opinions (from the interviews) were often expressed that the mathematics curriculum for Black children, for instance, should be preparing them in techniques that they will need in order to take over the key positions within their community and also techniques which will take the traditional cultural background of the Bantu child into account [see for example, Wilkinson’s study (1981) and Groenewald study (1976)]. Teachers in turn became the victims of a system which assigned to them the task of implementing a ready made curriculum and of testing students on techniques. This problem is highlighted in Julies’ (1991/1992 : 4-5) detailed account of the production of the South African school mathematics curriculum:
Mathematics teachers thus receive a syllabus describing goals and aims, some comment on methodological aspects, the content to be covered per year and the evaluation procedure to be followed. The intended curriculum reaches teacher after it has been designed elsewhere. Who designed the curriculum, the process that is being followed and the underlying motivations for the curriculum are unknown to those who must implement it.
The control factor seems to be very strong in the above quote by Julie. I am arguing here that there was no space available in allowing people to "see the alternatives" and in turn, their minds were highly controlled and thereby "occupied". This top down production of a technique curriculum (illustrated by the quote above) was in contrast with the current progressive thinking which later developed amongst the community of mathematics educators. For example, Bishops in Mathematical Enculturation (1988) is critical of a technique curriculum for it:
... cannot help understanding, cannot develop meaning, cannot enable the learners to develop a critical stance either inside or outside mathematics... a technique curriculum cannot therefore educate... For the successful child it is at best training, for the unsuccessful child it is a disaster" (Bishop, 1988 8-9).
In South Africa, like in Palestine (also true in many places especially the Third World Countries), we have fallen victims of a widely accepted conception of mathematics as a science that is always true and cannot make mistakes. We have considered mathematics to be neutral subject that should be followed blindly and uncritically.This view of mathematics - as a perfect system, as pure, as an infallible tool if well used - contributes to political control (Borba M.C. and O. Skovsmose, 1997:17). This view was in accordance with apartheid conception of education. Viljoen in Beard and Morrow (1981:109) for instance, says that :
Education is a science. It revolves around definition, substantion, logical reasoning, experimentation etc ....
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that whilst subjects such as history were often criticized for being biased in South Africa, mathematics remained untouched for many years. Although profound changes were made to subjects such as history, geography and languages to rid them of their primarily British character, during the early 80's mathematics was kept intact. It was only in the mid-80's that this ascertion was challenged when new curriculum initiatives were proposed and the role of mathematics within Peoples Education for Peoples Power was investigated (Breen, 1986, for instance). Taylor et al (1986) mentioned, for instance that:
Mathematics not in itself but in the way it is constituted, taught and applied... contributes specifically to cultural, class and gender discrimination and to the authoritarian technocracy which dominates all aspects of life in South Africa.
The above quote indicates that the way South African society was organised during apartheid contributed a lot towards disadvantage in mathematics for Blacks . The research by Broekman et.al. (1994), for instance, which aimed to investigate to what extent gender differences in access and progression are underpinned by regional, departmental, economic and social differences (p 4) was able to show how the patriarchal and race relations underpinning the apartheid system favoured white boys, providing them with a strategy for obtaining a qualification in mathematics.
Also typical of the technique curriculum is its restrictive approach which denies people the opportunity to see alternatives which I regard as the opposite of "occupation". Wilkinson (1981) in her study of the problems experienced by pupils in mathematics of standard 5 level mentions as one of her recommendations, that :
...the Department of Education should provide each classroom with a day-to-day teachers guide (preferably linked to a textbook) (p. 123).
She goes on further to suggest that :
... this text book should be accompanied by a day-to-day teachers’ guide which provides every possible guidance regarding the teaching method, setting and marking of tests and examination papers, revision and enrichment work, etc... (ibid. 1981: 125).
The lack (or even absence) of flexibility allowed to teachers is clear from Wilkinson’s suggestion above. Any creative work with the learners is denied, thereby denying the opportunity for both the teachers and students to "see alternatives" in their work. Perhaps, some people can find some justification in Wilkinson’s suggestion if it is taken into consideration that South Africa has always lacked teachers who are qualified in mathematics and science (see for example, a Report for the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, 1997). My uneasiness, however, with the above suggestion stems from my belief that the situation cannot be improved by further disempowering teachers by having a system that encourages passiveness, rote learning, obedience to authority and discourages intellectual risk taking, curiosity or independence of thought.
The fact of the matter is that the above suggestion was strictly adhered to by the Department of Education (I am, however, not suggesting that this came about as a direct result of Wilkinson’s suggestion). I am convinced, though, that this tendency (as reflected in Wilkinson’s suggestion) in turn severely limited the options and alternatives in peoples’ minds. Let us consider the issue of textbooks : That teachers and learners should rely heavily on a mathematics textbook is problematic when one examines the nature of mathematics textbooks we have had in South Africa during the apartheid rule. Most of them resemble the description given by Volmink (1994 : 61) :
Most school textbooks are written in a style which emphasises drill and practice or routine exercises. At the end of these exercises, some space is given for problems for which a standard recipe for obtaining the answer cannot be used. These problems are generally decontextualised. At best, they are applications of a previously learnt principle or concept. So application problems in school textbooks are used mainly to provide exercises in or to illustrate one or other mathematical technique...
Now, I have made an attempt to partly answer the question I raised earlier which is largely about the relevance of Fasheh’s notion of "occupation" to the way mathematics was learned and taught in South Africa. I now turn to the second question namely: How widely can the notion of "occupation" be applicable to other situtions elsewhere in the world?
3. "MATHEMATICS BOTH WAYS" : AN EXAMPLE OF A MEANS TO END "OCCUPATION OF OUR MINDS".
I believe that there are othe examples of countries which have made attempts to end "occupation". Stanton’s (1994) Australian example of ‘Mathematics Both Ways : A Mathematics Curriculum for Aboriginal Teacher Education Students" is one such example.
The notion of a "both ways" education is described by Stanton (1994:15) as an education that recognises the validity of the knowledge bases from the Western and Aboriginal traditions. This contrasts with the curriculum of white schools in which the focus is on "one way" "Western traditions". In an attempt to decolonise their schools, the Remote Area Teacher Education (i.e. Rate) "both ways" pedagogy place emphasis on problem posing/problem-solving approaches to learning, curriculum negotiation and integrated curriculum planning supported by appropriate assessment strategies including criterion referencing descriptive reporting and non-completive assessment. It is community - based and community focused and aims to have a role in developing its students’ skills in the defence, maintenance and further development of Aboriginal culture.
In mathematics, "both ways" education does not see mathematics as the mastery of classroom techniques which have no real-world relevance, and are ‘owned’ by the dominant culture. The most obvious way in which this mathematics curriculum looks different from the ‘standard’ techniques oriented curriculum overview is that it does not consist of a list of techniques, sequenced in terms of an arbitrary hierarchical structure. Instead the techniques may be found subsumed under the notion of six component symbolic "activities" that Bishop (1988) proposes are found across all cultures (ibid. p.19). These symbolic activities are 1) counting, 2) locating, 3) measuring, 4) designing, 5) planning and 6) explaining. Stage one of the ‘both ways’ course followed at Batchelor College Teacher Education, for instance, has as its central theme the social contexts of mathematics learning. The focus is on "What is this thing called mathematics?" and "How is mathematics used in my community" (Santon, 1994:19). Other curriculum activities centre around:
... ways which demystify and make mathematics accessible to the Aboriginal teacher and child alike, ways which allow the Aboriginal community to co-opt mathematics, its symbolic technology and machines ... (ibid. p. 19).
I cannot describe everything about the mathematics curriculum at the Batchelor College Teacher Education but it can be said (from my description above) that an attempt to go some way towards ending "occupation" is realised in this example. Through the "both ways" approach opportunities are created for students to "see the alternatives". The mathematics curriculum students use is not imposed from above but is negotiated between lecturer and student. Most importantly they are able to deal with Western mathematics which is described by Bishop as one of the most powerful weapons in the imposition of Western culture (Bishop quoted in Stanton 1994 :5). They, for example, engage in activities which provide focus on issues for community research that have implication in the development of Aboriginal mathematics pedagogy (ibid :20).
I need to point out here that my choice of examples I have used in this paper (i.e. South Africa, Palestine and Aboriginal Australians) could be problematic in that the reader may believe that only the marginalised, the oppressed and the powerless are "occupied". The problem could be that during "occupation", the "occupier" and the "occupied" may not be aware of it and also the often privileged position of the "occupier" may further contribute towards this negligence. In South Africa, for example, many White people did not believe there was anything wrong with the education of their children. This was largely due to their privileged position and the fact that their education was well resourced compared with the education of Black children. This was, however, a big mistake. Wedekind, Lubisi, et. al. (1996), citing Sprocas, mention that:
The White education system has been severely criticized for its authoritarian, teacher centred teaching and management approach and the overly academic and uncontested view of knowledge that is presented to the pupils. This was often coupled with overt programmes of indoctrination which attempted to justify apartheid and prepare the ‘white’ youth for their role in defending and maintaining the system (Pretoria :TED : 432).
There seems to be strong element which characterize "occupation" in the above quote such as "authoritarianism", "indoctrination" "teacher-centred teaching", "uncontested view of knowledge" etc. There is clearly no "seeing of alternatives" under such circumstances. So "occupation of the mind" is a condition which attacks both the advantaged and disadvantaged.
The majority of those teachers in the White Education system had also come out of an education system which was based on Fundamental Pedagogics (FP), an authoritarian philosophy associated with Christian National Education and apartheid (Enslin, 1990).
Perhaps the most serious charge that can be laid at the door of FP which dominated apartheid education, is that it discouraged the very qualities regarded as essential for sustainable development and success as new millennium approaches : risk taking, a sense of adventure, curiosity, a critical and unquestioning attitude, self motivation and reflection, inventiveness and independence of mind; in a phrase : creativity and innovation (Arnott and Kubeka 1997:6).
Instead, South Africa had a system of education that encouraged passiveness, rote learning, obedience to authority and discouraged intellectual risk taking, curiosity or independence of thought. This was in accordance with a view held by the proponents of FP, which viewed education as a science based on definitions, logical reasoning, experimentation etc.
The proponents of FP also see the role of the teacher as authoritarian. Gunter (1974 : 144) notes, for instance, that in FP:
... the educator is invested with authority and as such he has the right to prescribe to the educand what he must do, and how or what he must not do, while the educand has to respond to his being addressed by the educator by accepting what he says.
The point I am making here is that Fundamental Pedagogics was a powerful weapon used by apartheid ideologues to "occupy" not only the minds of Blacks but also Whites. So, during "occupation" both the "occupier" and the "occupied" could be victims of "occupation" in a number of ways.
6. ENDING OCCUPATION : WHO BENEFITS?
The question I raised earlier in this paper, namely: who benefits if an attempt is made to end "occupation?" would seem to raise other questions : For example, can the mind be "un-occupied?" At what stage (of ending "occupation") can such a claim be made? I cannot claim to have answers for these questions. I, however, believe that an attempt to free people from "occupation" is both a worthwhile and a just course and is also to the benefit of everybody. The answer to the question :who benefits is therefore (naively) : everybody! If we are concerned about the education of our children we need to think seriously about acquiring the means to end "occupation". This should begin with the realisation that a threat posed by "occupation" always exists for both the victim and the perpetrator. An important consideration should be to allow people to "see the alternatives" and to re-contextualize knowledge. This is an important message for South Africa.
There is no doubt about the extent of damage caused by many years of apartheid in our education in South Africa. The interviews I conducted during different stages of my research taught me one thing, and that is : the dominant feature of mathematics teaching in South Africa (1948 - 1994), has been the "occupation of our minds" (see also the paper I presented at Amesa Conference July 1997). This was demonstrated by a number of comments mentioned by my interviewees. Some of the comments are the following:
- ... mathematics was just purely academic, I do not remember during my days if teachers ever did anything ... We were brought up in a highly academic atmosphere. In fact, it was heavily British oriented...
The person who commented above is a Black South African teacher. He is a teacher who has been extremeley successful in establishing a name for himself in the field of mathematics both inside and outside South Africa since 1946 (when he began his teaching career) to date. He is dubbed a mathematics wizard and is still involved in the teaching of mathematics both inside classroom even thoug he is formally retired now.
- ... as a matter of fact, right up to the degree level mathematics to me was nothing else but something to be memorized ... It was a matter of rote learning to a point that before exams in matric, one would memorize specific sums with a hope that they would come up in the examination paper!
The person who also made the above comment is currently a senior mathematics subject advisor for KwaZulu-Natal Province. For many years he was the only mathematics subject advisor for the entire Natal Province under the former KwaZulu Department of Education. Throughout his teaching career he has been concerned with the teaching of mathematics.
The comment below was made by the same person as in the first comment.
- ... when I was learning my maths, ... our mathematics teacher used to make us recite the theorems. We did not even understand them. It was quite common for the teacher to say: Will you enunciate theorem 49? He would not actually lead you to the theorem. We knew the theorems according to numbers. If you had caught me in standard nine or eight and made me to prove the theorem and you put it up side down, I would not be able to prove the theorem and you put it up side down, I would not be able to prove it. I knew the theorems as letters were, that is, A, B, C and if you put X, Y, Z. I would not be able to prove the theorem. It was just like that and we passed with high marks!
The above quotes are examples which demonstrate some strong presence of "occupation" in how maths has been taught and learned in South African schools.
Can we have a system free from "occupation?" Perhaps it is possible to have a school system which is free from "occupation of the mind". It would be a system which respected the voices of all pupils, all groups in society, all sides of every power relation, etc. Now, how is this done in a centralised system such as we currently have in South Africa? If it is achieved, do we not risk introducing a perspective, where each group is taught from within its culture. This maintains status quo, at best, at worst contributes to the widening of the power gap. Thus education must allow for a multitude of voices including critique of these voices and of this perspective which promotes a certain culture, a certain set of values, where all experiences and all knowledge are always open to critique.
9. A CLOSER EXAMINATION OF THE NOTION : "OCCUPATION" IN BOTH THE SOUTH AFRICAN AND INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT
Fasheh’s idea of the "occupation" can also be linked to the work and writings of Paulo Freire in the late 1950's and 1960's in Brazil. Freire was concerned with the development of radical pedagogy which was able to contribute to progressive social change. He was convinced and believed that in order to achieve freedom, people must actively wage a war and struggle against those stereotypes made of them by their oppressors.
He also criticized traditional narrative forms of education as oppressive and likened them to a system of ‘banking’. He says that education which follows this mode :
...becomes an act of depositing in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communication the teacher issues communiques and ‘makes deposits’ which the students patiently receive, memorise and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concepts of education in which the scope of action allowed the students extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing deposits. (Freire, 1985 : 53).
The banking concept of education encourages the form of teaching which is one-way dependence of the student upon the teacher. The memorising and regurgitation of facts are important characteristics of banking education. Freire argues that such a process is anti-dialogical and therefore anti-educational on the grounds that ‘dependency’ presents a contradiction and an obstacle to ‘authentic free thinking and real consciousness." (Freire, 1985, p.85).
Freire’s critique of banking education can therefore be seen as an attack on all forms of "occupation".
In a situation where students are ‘depositories’ and the teacher is the ‘depositor’ there is a lack of diversity and standardized thinking is encouraged. There is definitely no ‘seeing of alternatives’. ‘Occupation’ is therefore, reinforced. Fasheh, points out that the key idea to ending occupation involves, inter alia:
"The need to stress in schools the means that help children learn much more than stressing a ready content put forward by experts who have lost their integrity and their senses (Fasheh, 1996 : 21).
I have already pointed out in this paper that the system of education in South Africa encouraged passiveness, memorization and rote learning and discouraged curiosity and critical thinking. This was made evident by the persons I interviewed when I conducted a study of the history of mathematics in South Africa during the years 1996 and 1997. These interviews (see some statements given earlier in this paper) demonstrated to me the extent to which learners were denied the opportunity to do creative work. For Freire this could be described as mere manipulation, rather than education.
10. ARE CURRENT REFORMS IN MATHEMATICS TEACHING ADEQUATELY ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM OF OCCUPATION IN SOUTH AFRICA?
I believe that one of the important challenges facing all those who are involved in mathematics education (and education generally) in South Africa today, is to begin to explore ways and means of ending the "occupation of our minds" brought about by years of apartheid education. The following extract from the White Paper on Education appropriately sums up what our attitude should be towards the reconstruction of South African Education:
"It is time to declare that a new era has dawned... The efforts of all South Africans will be needed to reconstruct and develop the national education and training system so that it is able to meet the personal and social needs and economic challenges that confront us as we build our democratic nation. The Ministry of Education invites the goodwill and active participation of parents, teachers and other educators, in bringing about the transformation we all seek" (Chapter 3 : 20).
This is indeed a strong plea by our National Minister of Education. The challenges facing curriculum developers in South Africa are particularly daunting, given the heritage of passivity, prejudice, ignorance and resistance. Fasheh has an important message for those who are committed to ending the "occupation" :
... ending the occupation of our minds is a personal task, its continuation depends solely on our acceptance of it. So is its termination. Since ending it is crucial for ending other forms of occupation, and for building our future it is a main challenge... ( Fasheh , 1996 : 25-26).
In an effort to redress the educational imbalances and inequalities of the past in South Africa, the Department of Education has introduced (since the beginning of this year 1998) a new outcomes-based curriculum (OBE) also known as Curriculum 2005. This is seen as a major paradigm shift in education, a shift from learning and teaching which focused primarily on content to learning and teaching focused on outcomes. The development and maintenance of a national, outcomes-based education is aimed at :
- creating opportunities for all South African to become life learners;
- removing artificial boundaries between education and training by integrating theoretical and practical learning and teaching etc. (Malan, 1997 :3).
As South Africa moves forward with new curricular initiatives which are aimed at the elimination of many of the disparities of the past, I believe the education directed at ways and means of ending our occupation should be an important consideration. I also believe OBE is an exciting challenge, one which presents itself as a good platform from which to tackle the problem of "occupation". I see OBE as a revolutionary good move which attempts to address some of the concerns I have raised in this paper. One positive example is that the OBE curriculum makes it obligatory for mathematics teachers to teach the history of mathematics (which could go some way in addressing the problem of the ‘occupation’). Out of the ten specific outcomes for the learning area: Mathematical Literacy, Mathematics and Mathematical Science specific outcome 3 states that children should be able to demonstrate understanding of historical development of mathematics in various social and cultural contexts.
I am citing specific Outcome 3 in particular, because I believe if we are serious (as mathematics educators) about improving the quality of our teaching and making mathematics a living subject, we must include its history. One explanation of the fact that so many people - particularly children and young people in schools and college - find mathematics dull, boring, uninteresting, even hateful, could be that they were taught - or are now being taught - mathematics without its history, that is mathematics as if it were dead (Heide 1996). In a country such as South Africa, where our history has been distorted for years, I believe the incorporation of the history of mathematics could be an important step in an attempt aimed at addressing the problem of occupation. In South Africa we are advantaged by having at our disposal a number of examples that are a result of our rich history. Ending ‘occupation’ in the case of mathematics can also include contextualizing its teaching. This is encouraged in OBE. Other Specific Outcomes (SO) such SO4 and SO5 would also favour an approach that would help the learners be creative and analytic. SO4 and S06 respectively state:
Critically analyse how mathematical relationship are used in social, political and economic relations (SO4).
Use data from various contexts to make informed judgements (SO6).
My only fear though is that the kind of progressiveness and some of the good intentions demonstrated in the above cited "Specific Outcomes" may not be actualised by most teachers at the classroom level. I see this resulting from the unfortunate lack of debate prior to the implementation of OBE and the fact that it came as a surprise to many people (including teachers) who were/are directly involved in the education system. What we are witnessing instead is that the current reform process is being led and left to "experts" who are perceived to be in a position to "teach" teachers about OBE. There is a danger that if OBE is left only to university academics and other experts, for instance - it may not be suited to teachers’ needs. Despite my criticism of the way OBE is being introduced in South Africa, I do believe, however, that OBE does incorporate some elements which can be used as some attempts to end "occupation".
In conclusion, I believe that Fasheh’s notion of "occupation of our minds" is not only relevant to our past history and present but I also think that it has an important message for our attempts to transform mathematics education in South Africa for the future (and for the better). I also believe any meaningful curricular reform requires that we start by:
... shaking off the dirt that has been accumulated in our minds, mainly through formal education (including science) television, and other killers of cultural diversity and of human societies... (Fasheh, 1996 : 19-20).
In South Africa we need to think carefully about how we are going to be "shaking off the dirt that has been accumulated in our minds" and which has been left by long years of Fundamental Pedagogics which dominated apartheid education. We can do this in more than one way : We can for instance, do this by incorporating some ideas of "planting the seeds" mentioned by Fasheh (1996:23) and also incorporating some elements of the "Rate Both Ways : curriculum for Aboriginal Teacher Education Students" model (see Stanton; referred to earlier in this paper). The kind of ‘seeds’ Fasheh mentions are, for instance, the following:
- Recognizing and supporting teachers who use innovative ways of teaching mathematics
- Recognizing and supporting students who are involved in some interesting problems
- Integrating the teaching of art and mathematics
- Integrating the teaching of language and mathematics
- Producing materials that could improve the learning process in the traditional classroom
- Integrating the teaching of mathematics with art, language and nature
- A ‘contest’ encouraging teachers (as individual or groups) to write very inspiring and relevant questions that relate mathematics to local conditions etc.
We should however consider what is suited and relevant for our needs. Most importantly, we should guard against importing. For our curriculum reforms to have meaning it should be based on aspects and issues of the South Africa reality. One disturbing reality, for instance, is that although most mathematics teachers have professional qualifications, less than half have accredited training in the subject they are teaching and fewer than 50% of mathematics teachers have at least one of specialised training in mathematics (Arnott and Kubeka, 1977:1). We need also to take seriously the following points raised in the Report (1997 : 6-7) for the Department of Education and Training, and the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology .
Lip service to decontextualising science education (and mathematics education) is no longer enough. It must take local needs into account. It must be relevant, while at the same time sensitising learners and teachers to the practical benefits that can accrue to the community, which benefits cannot simply be regarded in terms of immediate material rewards ...
Although a well trained workforce, thoroughly grounded in mathematics and science is essential for a competitive edge in the age of the globalized economy and the information technology revolution, it is not enough. Workers need to be able to think independently and creatively and have the courage to act on their understanding of the challenges that confront them. They need to be enterprising and innovative if they cycle of intellectual and material poverty is broken ... .
Interactive mediated learning and teaching styles need to be developed in colleges of education, technikons and universities which take into account the multi-cultural and multi-lingual composition of the population, so that these institutions can fulfil their function as role models for the wider teaching community. Such approaches are particularly important for the teaching of mathematics and physical science where curiosity and intellectual risk taking are essential ... pupil centred, mediated and interactive strategies are vital to the demystification of mathematics and physical science which have developed an aura of unintelligibility and remoteness from the daily lives of ordinary people.
The above quoted statements from the Report and which are aimed at developing students who are able to "see the alternatives" demonstrate the extent to which the quest for ending occupation should also be a concern for South Africa.
Last (but not least) : We should be careful that out endeavours to end occupation (through the introduction of Outcomes-Based Education, for instance) are carefully considered. The greatest mistake we can commit is to replace apartheid type of "occupation" by other forms such as having a curriculum that is top-down and expert driven. Importing a curriculum with disregard of existing realities to our situation would not only result in a waste to our limited resources but would also be disastrous for the new South Africa.
I take full responsibilty for the ideas expressed here. However I want to than Monikam Moodley, Mathume Bopape, Anandhavelli Naidoo, John Volmink, Nomsa Sibisi and Ole Skovsmose for comments and suggestions on various drafts of this paper. Thanks also to my colleague, Ms CI Macleod for her valuable comments and also to Sphiwe Ntuli for her assistance in typing my paper.
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