Each year Axium Education facilitates a rural teaching practical for a handful of PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) students from the University of Cape Town. We recently received some insightful feedback from our most recent group of student teachers. Give this one a read, there are more to come.
You can see a change in scenery and can feel a sense of calm as you drive towards Zithulele. I was unaware of the experience that was awaiting me at my destination. We have all heard about the struggles and hardships that people in rural South Africa face but, in fact, we have no idea. I was so unprepared for the things I would see, hear and learn and to put it simply, I was unprepared for my life to change completely.
I was brought up in a privileged household with endless opportunities at every turn. I am not saying that I didn’t work hard but it was definitely existent. I was given a good education and the chance to study at UCT. At the time I was ignorant of the opportunity that had fallen into my lap and the appreciation I should have felt and shown at the time. I only really understood my opportunities when I walked into the rural school where I would be teaching for 6 weeks. These students appeared to have nothing. No financial support, no resources, no opportunities, no hope. It was a complete shock to my system and I could not help but feel guilty for everything that I had. We all like to think that we are good people and that we help wherever we can, but in reality most of us turn a blind eye to the serious problems and injustices of our country.
I stood in front of large classes, up to 120 learners, as a white, English speaking teacher here to inspire them to pursue a career in science. I soon came to realise that the tables had turned; I was here to learn and become inspired by them. I ended up providing them with something completely different, I was there to show them love and compassion and to create a safe environment where learners were encouraged.
My greatest struggle on my rural teaching practical was the presence of corporal punishment in schools. It did not see it being used as an effective tool but rather it appeared to me as a game and form of abuse. Students would get beaten for arriving late, being absent, answering questions incorrectly during class, laughing or making noise, and many other reasons. How is this okay? It is illegal and unethical! How are these students treated so poorly and students in privileged urban schools treated like kings and queens? Aren’t these students disadvantaged enough? How has nothing been done to change this? These are all questions I still don’t have the answer to. I felt helpless and it was at this stage of my practical that I realised the importance of understanding the context before passing judgement.
Moving on to the incredible journey that unfolded during my stay of 6 weeks, in a culture and place that was completely different than I was used to; I learned more about teaching and creating lessons that are engaging and that encouraged learning than I ever thought possible. When you are in front of a class of students who will do anything for an education and appreciate any form of teaching you provide, you become inspired to be a better teacher and provide them with an opportunity to view the world in a different way. You want them to question, dream and become successful and you will do anything you can to encourage them. Students in these contexts are disadvantaged in most areas of their lives. The South African education system is failing these students and teachers and they deserve so much more.
I started to get to know the students and some of the struggles they face each day. I learned about 2 hour commutes to school, crossing rivers to get to school, abuse at home, the abuse of women, rape, loss of family members, family responsibilities and other commitments that we have no idea about. These are some of the things that these students face on a daily basis. Schools should be safe environments where students can escape these struggles and be in an environment where they are encouraged to learn and grow as humans. Instead they are being put down, told that they are under-performers and discouraged to the point of giving up.
It took a while but after a few weeks of trying to engage, the students started to respond to my lessons. I became an actress overnight. I would have to put on shows to explain certain concepts and I would feed off the energy of the students that this created. Students became interested and I had to become creative to ensure this engagement was maintained. Allowing them to make posters and stick them on the walls of their classes, doing a daily 5-minute yoga session before lessons, introducing games and encouraging them to simply try tackle questions during class, all changed the dynamics of my lessons. Students were given the opportunity to learn by having fun and through positive experiences rather than by sitting and listening. This is something I am grateful for the Axium team for teaching me.
We were privileged to receive the support and guidance that we received from the team at Axium and our professional growth was one of extreme change and development. We were encouraged, guided and inspired by all the Axium staff members and we will always treasure this experience. How can anyone leave an experience like that without wanting to make a change? These students need inspiring, caring, innovative teachers and I would encourage anyone given this opportunity to grab it with both hands. You will cry (A LOT) and trust me you will smile, these students will inspire you to be better and to do better. They will give you hope for your future, their future and our country’s future. I always told the students; “Those hands that are beaten with the plastic pole, are the hands that will change the world.”
Stay informed. Stay inspired.