Saturday, 4 February 2012

Colonised little minds

An observation from Reading Club today which saddens me...

Our students painted some lovely cushion covers for our reading room for something to sit on and be comfy with when reading. Some of the choices of images included:

* a Union Jack (!)
* Goku (from Dragon-Ball Z)
* Hello Kitty

This isn't really problematic in and of itself: television is obviously a major cultural contributor to teenagers, and even more so for those who lack other stimulus in their lives e.g. books! That's why we're there! BUT, when I read them a poem which was cleverly made up of the titles of some of the most famous books written by African authors--which even ignorami like I had heard of at school (my sheltered middle-class Model C white christian school)--... the students had not heard of one. Not one! Not 'I write like what I like' by Steven Biko (they didn't know who he was!!!!!). Not 'When Rain Clouds Gather' by Bessie Head. Not 'The Famished Road' by Ben Okri. Not even 'The Wrath of the Ancestors' by A.C. Jordan, possibly the most famous Xhosa novel published ever. Nope, they hadn't even heard of his son, Pallo, a current and very vocal ANC minister who is regularly on the radio, in the newspapers and quoted by journalists nationwide.

How sad then, is it that they know how to paint a Union Jack accurately?

Knowing the Union Jack, Goku, Hello Kitty, Disney or any other stereotypical anglophone western cultural icons is not--in and of itself--like I said, a problem. We are all bombarded with them daily.  And I'm not expecting them to want to paint something South African necessarily. But they don't know what it is that they are not choosing, and that's the sign of a colonised mind, a mind unaware that there are other options.

How very sad.

A brief recap up to here

Welcome all--it's been a while since I last blogged and much has changed. But it's time to start again: I hope you will follow and find what I have to write interesting and informative. Or irritating. But at least thought-provoking? Here's hoping...

I qualified as a mathematics teacher after a year of training-on-the-job in Oxfordshire in the UK in 2009. Other reasons took me to the UK, but the training there is excellent and circumstances which I shall not describe here led me into teaching, which seemed a very sensible skill set to build for when I knew I'd return to South Africa.

I've been back 18 months now, 18 months which have brought learning Xhosa and enrolling in a Masters in Education at the University of Cape Town to create the space I thought I needed to explore the theory behind what _I_ perceived to be the problems in SA public school maths classrooms. Classroom time (having not been a full time teacher yet here--that caveat needs to be put right out there) has included tutoring mathematics for matrics sitting their Senior Certificate at the South African Educaiton Project, a stint as the Chief Examiner for the Western Cape Grade 6 Mathematics summative assessment and other non-maths related work including the Vulindlela Reading Clubs, where I am still very active, and work through SHAWCO at UCT.

This year marks the beginning of my research, and simultaneously my starting a maths support aspect to the literacy work done by the good people of PRAESA, the Vulindlela Reading Clubs and the Nal'ibali movement as a whole (Look them up on Facebook!). Next week we will begin an hour of maths tutoring as part of these community outreach clubs at the request of the older children who come.. I will document our progress here.

So this blog is about the challenge of teaching students mathematics in South Africa--particularly those who don't have access to the mathematical resources that middle class children do: qualified teachers, well designed textbooks, tuition about a difficult subject in a language they understand and have mastery of ('cos I know I wouldn't want to learn about algebra in a language I barely understand!), the development of that language--namely isiXhosa--to explain and capture mathematics (following on the work of Somi Deyi, Pam Maseko and others)... but to name a few. There'll also be anecdotes, social commentary, lots about language development and no doubt a few rantings. Comment, disagree, discuss and debate--but most of all, please give a damn. 'Cos this shit is important.

-S (aka Nox)