The Responses of Mathematics Teachers to Educational Change: A Namibian Perspective

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

After a protracted armed struggle for liberation from the colonial apartheid government of South Africa, Namibia became an independent nation in 1990. Although the apartheid forces were defeated, the legacies of the illegal and repressive regime, including an educational system shaped by divisive and dehumanizing imperialist policies, remained. As they abolished the discriminatory and inequitable Bantu educational system and developed a new praxis, the Namibian government mandated reforms based upon the goals of access, equity, quality, and democracy (MEC, 1993). The transformed educational system is modeled along democratic, empowering, and reconstructive lines. As such, it rejects the authoritarian, teacher-centered Bantu system, emphasizes student-centered learning, uses English rather than Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, and takes into account students' prior experiences and their intellectual, emotional, social, physical, aesthetic, moral and spiritual development. The redesigned school curriculum is structured upon a constructivist view of knowledge, learning competencies in content areas, and developing a reflective attitude and creative, analytical and critical thinking (NIED, 1998).

This study described research into mathematics teachers responses to educational change conducted alongside a provides a mentoring component to this experience by providing instructional ideas, contributing classroom activity samples, and offering suggestions to the instructional ideas developed and implemented by the preservice teachers. Guided by naturalistic inquiry, which seeks to understand phenomena in context-specific settings (Lincoln and Guba, 1985), this study employed a qualitative methodology to examine novice and veteran mathematics teachers' responses to this fundamental transformation of the Namibian educational system. The present study reveals that the participants' mathematics teaching self-concept and their beliefs about teaching mathematics were powerful mediators in terms of their responses to educational change. Mentored by, and in collaboration with the researcher, the participants were encouraged to articulate and examine their notions of teaching and learning mathematics. Entwined within these articulations about teaching and learning were powerful reflections on sociocultural and socio-political issues. As described in this study, changes to the participants' mathematics teaching self-concepts and beliefs influenced instructional practices and classroom discourse. Recognizing that educational change is situated within larger sociocultural and socio-political spheres and resounds beyond the classroom, this study speaks to the challenge of empowering teachers to respond to educational change.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Change is a condition of the post-modern era (Harvey, 1989). Change is not always smooth, nor does it proceed in anticipated directions (Cohen, 1994). Therefore, the contexts in which contemporary teachers work are complex and characterized by contradiction and paradox (Hargreaves, 1994). Indeed, teachers perceive their work to be constantly affected by imposed, structural, and curricular change (Clandinin and Connelly, 1995). Educational change is the "process of coming to grips with the multiple realities of people who are the main participants in implementing change" (Clark et al., 1984). Because change is fundamentally unpredictable and dynamically complex, the optimal response to change is to find ways to help members manage inherently complex, unstable situations (Fullan, 1993). For example, within a complex and dynamic environment, members who increase their ability to learn collaboratively can elevate their performance and enhance their accomplishments (Senge, 1990). Education is perceived as a means of social and cultural reconstruction (Bowe et al., 1992). Therefore, educational change has consequences for social justice, equity, and democracy (Ball, 1994). …