Children's Learning in the Diverse Sociocultural Context of South Africa

By Chikovore, Jeremiah; Makusha, Tawanda et al. | Childhood Education, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Children's Learning in the Diverse Sociocultural Context of South Africa


Chikovore, Jeremiah, Makusha, Tawanda, Muzvidziwa, Irene, Richter, Linda, Childhood Education


Children develop in several interlocking systems--in the context of their family, and within the interaction of such Asettings as home, school, and church (Russell, 2011). In South Africa, childrens diverse backgrounds within Gfamilies, neighborhoods, and sociocultural environments provide them with varied experiences and opportunities to learn. Whether the children are growing up in urban or rural communities, belong to a specific race and ethnic group, or are poor or rich, all are exposed to cultures, lifestyles, amenities, and living conditions rhar differ in marked ways (Makoe, 2006). For example, the racial and ethnic heterogeneity of South Africa translates into a complex mix of languages: English, Afrikaans, nine indigenous languages, and five Indian languages (Reagan, 2001). Children from diverse backgrounds come to school with different experiences, and the schools struggle to meet their assorted educational needs. The poor performance of learners in South Africa reflects the continued use of an instructional model that emphasizes school-based learning with abstract outcomes, and that evaluates pupils on the basis of constructs and concepts that ignore what children know and learn outside the school environment. In the context of South Africa, much attention centers on improving achievement rates within a framework whereby knowledge is treated largely as objective (Shisana, 2011). Such perceptions of educatlon and achievement ignore other forms and sources of knowfadge and seek to fit learners into existing frameworks of formal learning.

CHILDREN'S LEARNING CONTEXTS AND ACTIVITIES

Children rake part in various activities within a multitude of networks and settings--from interactions with peers and families to life experiences in rural and urban areas. In this article, the authors outline different home and community-based activities that create useful learning tools, and therefore can help bridge the gap between home and school learning environments. (See Table I for a summary of some of the activities and their settings.)

Folktales

Folktales are constructed and told in captivating ways, and thus have great entertainment potential. Diverse types of folktales exist in South Africa (see, for example, Honey, 19 I0). A common version relates a story about characters--human or animal-through the simple structure of a beginning, a climax, and a conclusion. The narrative is frequently interspersed with songs, requiring the audience to join in the chorus; some choruses require a form of group activity, such as dancing, celebratory clapping, mock fighting, and even scaring each other. Often, the ending takes the form of a moral puzzle for the audience to solve, in part to facilitate the exercise of moral judgment and develop moral reasoning (Virz, 1990). Children are motivated by the suspense engendered by the stories, even when they are already familiar with the storyline. They are also engaged by the flair and innovation of the raconteur and by participating as part of a group. Thus, children learn to pay attention and follow instructions, and are accorded space as active participants in a learning process (Abdi, 2007; Kadodo & Kadodo, 2011). Moreover, many folktales, although essentially similar in plot, have been adapted in specific languages and therefore provide children with an opportunity to expand their first language. This is critical in the case of South Africa, where English is the medium of instruction commonly used in school (de Sousa & Broom, 2011; Heugh, 2010). Through the folktale activities, children learn to rely upon their short- and long-term memory, exercise abstract thinking, and gain collective problem-solving skills (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) as well as develop moral reasoning and listening skills.

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While listening to such folktales, children participate actively, rather than passively listening and trying to absorb material for later regurgitation. …

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