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When We Met … Xolelwa and Nick – Education in South Africa and Zimbabwe

Xolelwa, from South Africa, and Nick, from Zimbabwe, visited DHSB recently on exchange as part of our International Links programme. Billy Kingdon and Joe Weeks met them in the Learning Commons to talk about their thoughts on our differing education systems.

First on our agenda was lesson delivery. Lessons in South Africa, Xolelwa told us, are 35 minutes long and very different to those in England: “The teacher is a source of knowledge,” we were told. “The teachers here direct the children to learn, but teachers in South Africa write notes for their children to copy from the board.”

Billy and Joe meet Xolelwa and Nick

Billy and Joe meet Xolelwa and Nick

Smartboards are only just being introduced to South African classrooms, and Xolelwa tells us that many teachers lack the knowledge necessary to use them. She worries that mobile technology in the classroom will hinder learning and cause students to gradually forget how to write by hand. She rarely bothers taking her class to the PC lab, which is often in use and rarely worth the trouble of walking there for one lesson.

Nick had a different perspective. He thinks laptops, mobile phones and tablets will make learners more independent and prepared for the world of work. Indeed, he often teaches in a style more familiar to English students, in which he gives his class a task or piece of research and allows them to explore.

But what about the atmosphere inside an African classroom? According to Xolelwa, it’s all about respect. “They must stand and greet the teacher,” she says, with a terrific roll of the R that only a tongue well-acquainted with the language that requires it can negotiate. Indeed, everything about Xolelwa’s manner seemed to grab the room, which suggested to me that the South African teacher was well accustomed to total respect and obedience from her pupils – a far cry from the informal manner of most English teachers.

Nick agreed with Xolelwa – both in and out of the classroom, respect is key, and with class sizes beginning at 40, it is necessary for good teaching. He conceded, however, that African teaching’s biggest weakness lies in the size of the classes. Any learner requiring individual attention is easily overlooked and cannot receive the attention they require. Many students lag behind, and we were left to wonder how the governments of both countries would try to change this in the future.

To conclude, we asked each teacher to comment on what they had seen here in England and what they might take back to their own schools. Xolelwa was particularly impressed with the economics classes. She liked how the goal, and each concept to be learned, was made clear to the students at the very beginning and summarised at the end. Nick, a building studies teacher, enjoyed his time in the DT rooms, but also mentioned his admiration for the clear explanation of exam technique and how time was managed in lessons. “Every minute was accounted for,” he said.

Xolelwa teaches mathematics in South Africa. Nick teaches building studies in Zimbabwe. We’d like to thank both of them for their time, and we hope that they enjoy the rest of their stay.

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