South Africa in the context of curriculum transition in an emerging democracy within a global world. (A study of mentoring history educators in the WCED:EMDC Metropole East, 2005 – 2007)

17 February 2012

South Africa is currently undergoing a transformation of the education system as the last vestiges of the apartheid curriculum are being phased out and a new curriculum introduced. This paper presents findings from a 2005 to 2007 study of the processes of the implementation of the new History curriculum by History education at various Further Education and Training (FET) public schools in very diverse contexts. It follows an action research approach. This paper is primarily concerned with outlining possible solutions to the diverse needs and practical challenges faced by History educators with regard to implementing the new History curriculum. This discussion is based on an analysis of interviews, written reports and observation data drawn from multi-site studies in an urban nodal context. The contexts of the schools that I work with as a History Curriculum Adviser are very diverse. The first phase of orientation to the new curriculum suggested that a 'one size fits all' approach to educator support would not be appropriate. The contexts that needed to be taken into consideration were big classes, the unequal distribution of resources ranging from well-resourced to under-resourced schools, inexperienced Heads of Departments, the deployment of General Education and Training (GET) educators (Grades 1 – 9) to the Further Education and Training (FET) band (Grades 10 – 12) and the language of teaching and learning. Intervention in the form of a mentoring programme developed as a response to the period of consolidation after the initial orientation of FET educators to the demands of the new History curriculum. School visits in the education districts of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) take place in a multi-functional team context, placing time-constraints on the possibilities of in-depth subject support to educators within a school context. Individual needs identified during these visits necessitated a rethinking of educator support for more effective curriculum implementation. In setting up a system of mentoring I aimed not only at setting up a differentiated and more effective support system, but also at nurturing a reciprocal, professional relationship with History educators. One of the major aspects of the mentoring programme is language support. Many educators are teaching and learners learning in a second or third language. Language therefore becomes a major barrier to teaching and learning. This is particularly acute in a subject such as History which is language-based, making a significant contribution to failure rates in the Grade 12 exit examination. An ultimate goal in my mentorship programme is to improve the language proficiency and conceptual understanding of educators that will ultimately, it is hoped, result in raised levels of learner achievement.