Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

Bridging the Gap-Narratives as a Literacy Vehicle for Indigenous San Students in Botswana

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

Bridging the Gap-Narratives as a Literacy Vehicle for Indigenous San Students in Botswana

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to find out San students' understandings of their learning experiences in the Letsatsi Community iunior Secondary School [pseudonym], a Remote Area Dwellers (RAD) boarding school in Botswana, and how these experiences impacted students' identities based on their memories of primary and current attendance in junior secondary school, in addition, the researcher wanted to find out what San students valued and found meaningful in their home and school environments, and how these related to the possibilities for literacy learning through stories.

The six participants in Grades 8 and 9 shared their stories with the researcher which revealed their understandings of literacy, both in and out of school. The narrative methodology was adopted for a number of reasons. Firstly, San peoples are known to be excellent storytellers and they also enjoy telling and sharing stories. The San also teach their children though stories (Pridmore, 1995). Through the shared stories, the researcher wanted the students to be free to tell their stories of their formal school experiences and those things that had value to them. Secondly, the researcher wanted to create a close working relationship with the participants so that they would open up and share their stories. Thirdly, through the narrative, the researcher also shared her story with the participants. Lastly, through the narrative, the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu/Botho was adopted in the research process as a method and a theory to guide the study. As a result, the researcher treated the participants with respect and as equals in the research process. Two important findings from this study are: (1) although San students faced many problems in their formal education journey, they found solidarity in each other and in their rich culture by telling stories; and (2) the students expressed a wish for their ways of knowing to be included informal classrooms in Botswana schools, for the benefit of all. An important recommendation from this study is that stories should be included as a teaching pedagogy in San students' formal education, not only in Botswana but throughout Southern Africa.

Introduction - The San Peoples of Botswana

Botswana has the highest number of San people in Southern Africa and approximately 100,000 San (Sylvain, 2002) have found themselves residing in the very dry areas of the Kalahari Desert without education or amenities. Nyati-Ramahobo (2004) states that due to their nomadic nature, they are present in seven out of the eight administrative districts in Botswana. Basarwa/San of Botswana (also called Bushmen or Basarwa) are Southern Africa's first Indigenous hunter-gatherers (le Roux, 1999). In scholarly circles, San is the preferred word. According to Coulson and Campbell (2001, p. 31), traditional San lore is a combination of the natural and the supernatural "with both realms existing within each other at the same time, but with the supernatural realm being seen by only those who know how to step into it . . .." The San do not separate the spiritual from their daily activities; the two are integrated.

In Botswana, the San peoples occupy the lowest levels in economic, social, educational, and political terms (Hays, 2002; Mazonde, 2002; Saugestad, 1998). For example, in the poorest areas where the San are found, only 22.4% of school-aged children go to school (Nyati-Saleshando, 2011; UNICEF, 2008).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to find out how the San students understand and experience literacies both in and outside of school, to better understand what literacy means to them. Is reading and writing important to these students? The study also sought to examine if San ways of knowing are represented in the classroom. San students in Botswana generally underperform in school and some end up dropping out of school.

Research Questions

1. What are San students' understandings of their learning experiences in school and how do these impact the students' identities? …

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