– Xolani Sithenjwa, Future Nation Schools’ Lead Teacher: Sciences

Xolani is a passionate teacher who holds a Bed and a BSc Honours in Education. He is currently completing a Masters in Science Education at Wits University with a research topic looking at the development of a science teacher’s Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

It is clear that there are major problems with regard to education in South Africa, especially in lower grades. The latest world rankings suggest that South Africa is sitting at number 58 out of 59 countries that participated in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS). The results are based on the 2015 Grade 4 and Grade 8 tests. I am not sure if this fact will put you at ease: South Africa was last in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2011!

This shows that there is a need for change in our education system. The country at large has been changing the curriculum documents, the latest being the CAPS document. A few private schools have adopted different international curricula, some have adopted CAPS and use different examination boards, and the newer schools have decided to adopt different pedagogies. The newest of these private schools is Future Nation Schools (FNS) which has enhanced CAPS and adopted a pedagogy called the Project Based Learning (PBL).

It is important to consider that when one adopts a new way of teaching and learning, it might take time for results to be seen; and while implementation takes place, it might not happen as smoothly as one would anticipate. This is common in education, one would have seen the implementation of CAPS in schools did not happen smoothly in the first years and only now are teachers finding it easy to work with.

This brings me to a thought around the implementation of the Project Based Learning by Future Nation Schools.

Research shows that there are a few issues with regard to the implementation of PBL and if teachers, stakeholders and parents are aware of these, it might help when it comes to implementation. It would certainly help to know these issues before implementation so that solutions might be planned in advance. Studies show that teachers have problems with (i) recognising and accepting that roles and responsibilities change between the student and the teacher, (ii) getting comfortable with the new physical orientation of the classroom, (iii) tolerance for ambiguity and flexibility in managing the new learning environment, (iv) confidence in integrating appropriate tools and resources, including technology, (v) integration of new pedagogies with realities beyond the classroom, including the ability to balance the unique needs of individual students and keeping students, colleagues and administrators interested in projects, and lastly (vi) creating a culture of collaboration and interdependence in the school environment.

Specific to our context, the issues that we will need to overcome would be to align the CAPS curriculum in a concrete way to the Project Based Learning methodology. I predict another challenge will be to assess students and reporting what in a comprehensive way for parents and students to understand the student’s development. A way to aid with content integration is to directly emphasise the content and learning goals. One way of facilitating content integration is to include more organised ways of helping students make the links between their enquiry activities and the content.

Some of the solutions that I suggest are (i) to support teacher’s initial and ongoing efforts constantly, (ii) to encourage teachers to communicate with each other and with the students constantly, (iii) to keep students interested by designing projects that are not too broad or easy to manage, (iv) teachers should provide opportunities for students to have a voice and choice in the projects, (v) once it is clear what and how students are thinking, it is important to elicit and address student misconceptions or biases. Teachers will need to be involved in modelling the completion of tasks and any activities that are given to students. Constant reflection is critical to understanding experiences and to developing skills. Teachers and students must engage constant reflective conversations with one another to deepen the understanding of their experiences.

In education there can never be a single solution to any problems, and as a result, open engagement amongst scholars is important, and proactive thinking about issues and solutions will improve our practice and what we are trying to achieve as educators. I certainly hope that this blog will start a debate that will encourage educators to think proactively about what is happening as they teach and join each other in the quest for solutions. The Project Based Learning approach is noted as a good way to allow students to think freely and engage actively with their learning. It also allows students to gain the content proactively instead sitting and absorbing from the teacher.

Successful implementation of Project Based Learning methods requires teachers to assume a guiding role and to attend to many different aspects of the learning environment.

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