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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


The Core Business of Initial Formal Education: A Reflexive Analysis of the Function of School and University

Ntombizolile C. G. Vakalisa.

When the first democratically elected government of South Africa took the reigns of governance in 1994, revamping of the education system was one of the prime tasks it set itself. First there would be a single national Department of Education and a broad national curriculum which each province would adapt according to its local needs. The previous apartheid education system which divided learners according to race and ethnicity was to be abolished. The main distinguishing features of the new education system was that there would be no more division between academic education and vocational skills development. Hence the description of schooling levels as the General and the Further Education and Training bands leading to the attainment of the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) and Further Education ad Training Certificate (FETC) respectively. This, it was argued, was an improvement on the previous curriculum which failed to prepare learners for the work-place when they left school.

This paper tries to put into perspective the breadth and depth of the work schools do to help learners develop the necessary skills to engage in life-long learning which they have to keep doing to survive the uncertainties of the work-place. It argues that the work-place changes rapidly and there is no way schools can prepare learners for a workplace of tomorrow. their core business is to incalacte the love of learning and develop the essential learning skills that will help learners to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the work-place.

One of the legacies of apartheid is that the country has a large shortage of well qualified teachers. For example Kahn (Sunday Times, January 23, 2000) notes that South Africa has a shortage of between 4 000 and 12 000 teachers in Maths and Science. These teachers need to be taken through extensive staff development programmes to give them the skills they require to perfom their teaching tasks well. They do not have the skills of the probable future work-place of their students, apart from the fact that those skills may have been outdated by the time learners arrive at the work-place. The paper argues that school leavers, and indeed university graduates, who have a sound academic foundation possess learning skills that will help them learn on the job and advance by continuing to learn.

Living in the information technology age has shown us that the one thing workers need to remain employed is the ability to adapt to change through learning. Learning to learn, as proposed by the Delors' Report to UNESCO (1996) is one big reponsibility of teachers, and they must do it well without trying to train learners in job-related skills which may be obsolete by the time learners enter the job-markert.

The South African situation is made worse by the fact that the majority of learners and teachers learn or teach through a language that is foreign to them. This makes development of literacy skills even more challenging. Many learners spend time trying to understand concepts mostly because they experience difficulty in the English language in which the concepts are explained.


Ntombizolile C. G. Vakalisa  (South Africa)
Deputy Dean
Faculty of Education
University of South Africa

Gender: Female
Age: 59
Born, bred and educated in South Africa. Initial qualification - school teacher and started teaching 1972. Taught for 8 years and joined university teaching in 1980. Completed PhD studies in 1995 at Ohio State Univerty in USA. Has taught Biology, General Science and Mathematics at school level. Taught Theory of Teaching, Curriculum Studies and Professinal Development for Teachers at university. Presently serving as Deputy Dean of Faculty of Education.

  • Formal education
  • Schooling
  • Life-long learning
  • Curriculum innovation
  • Change
  • Work-place
  • Challenges of teaching
  • Learning skills
  • Language of instruction

(30 min Conference Paper, English)