Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Difficult Conversations: Lessons Learnt from a Diversity Programme for Pre-Service Teachers

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Difficult Conversations: Lessons Learnt from a Diversity Programme for Pre-Service Teachers

Article excerpt


Framed within the context of a progressive constitution (1996), social justice is regarded as a worthy national goal to bring about a South African society in which individuals are able to develop their full capacity and to interact democratically with others. The centrality of social justice in theorising about education and schooling is underscored by the Department of Education's commitment to

[n]ew education and training policies to address the legacies of under-development and inequitable development and provide learning opportunities for all [that] will be based principally on the constitutional guarantees of equal educational rights for all persons and non-discrimination (Department of Education, 1995: Chapter 3, Section 16).

South African teachers are subsequently called upon to focus on classroom pedagogies and practices that seek to deal with and combat different forms of oppression such as racism, sexism and heterosexism (Bell, 2007; Francis & Hemson, 2007). However, a recent report on South African education indicates that the system not only "generally produces outcomes that reinforce current patterns of poverty and privilege", but there also seems to be little evidence of education challenging and transforming the apartheid social- era structure (Van der Berg, Burger C, Burger R, De Vos, Du Rand, Gustafsson, Moses, Shepherd, Spaull, Taylor, Van Broekhuizen & Von Fintel 2011:3). Whilst it can be assumed that various forms of oppression still play out in South African classrooms, the role of teacher education institutions in capacitating pre- service teachers to work in areas of social justice is foregrounded.

As national policy requires all teachers to be socially just teachers, teacher education institutions must assist pre-service teachers to conceptualise and understand the dynamics of oppression, and to think and articulate how they will counteract oppression (Kumashiro, 2002). The onus on teacher education to perceive schooling as a social project aimed at bringing about a more just society foregrounds the aim of this article, in which we, as two teacher educators, reflect on the lessons we have learnt from a diversity programme introduced to final year B.Ed. Foundation Phase pre-service teachers. It is our contention that a reflection on our missteps and triumphs of our teaching for social justice will strengthen our ongoing attempt to create a space for pre-service teachers to develop an awareness of oppression, to question their own motives and assumptions, and to trouble the many approaches to challenge oppression in and beyond their future classrooms. In addition to the lessons we have learnt from our experience with the programme, we also indicate what should be considered when we think about teacher education.

The programme

Background and rationale

As with other institutions of higher education in South Africa, the University of the Free State was also compelled to reconsider its undergraduate programmes within the context of the newly enacted national policy on The minimum requirements for teacher education qualifications (Department of Higher Education and Training, 2011). Opting for an in-depth reconsideration of its programmes, the UFS Faculty of Education worked with the assumption that pre-service teachers must ultimately engage in schooling as both an academic and a social project (Nieto & Bode, 2008:10; Kumashiro, 2002:13). The re-curriculation process was the opportune time to consider a module based on the premise that for pre-service teachers to enter the individual maturity process of professional identity construction, they first need to understand and challenge their own multiple identities (Bell & Griffin, 2007). It is assumed that, by starting to challenge their own multiple identities, pre-service teachers will gradually become professionally qualified teachers who are prepared to move outside their contingent practices and assumptions to recognise and counteract oppressive practices, especially their own (Kumashiro, 2002:1). …

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