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Foreword Why Pedagogical Reforms Fail in Sub-Saharan Africa Few would argue that among education scholars on the African continent, Richard Tabulawa has emerged as one of the finest critics of the received wisdom on educational reform. I first encountered his work by coincidence when I discovered that we both had a well-grounded suspicion of what was then and remains a travelling wisdom of the international donor community – that the progressive ideal in education of learner-centered pedagogy did not take account of the social, cultural and political meanings of education and authority within African classrooms. This was as true of Botswana, where Professor Tabulawa does his research, as it is true in my native South Africa where I have been grappling with the political tsunami of ‘outcomes-based education’ which has flooded post-apartheid classrooms since the middle 1990s. The author takes us inside what he calls the socio-cultural world of African classrooms to help us understand why prevailing practices persist despite the progressive ideal represented in one funded reform package after another. His conceptual analyses capture the best of both the sociology of education and the anthropology of education in contexts of poverty, and not a little about the politics of education as well. There are reasons teachers dominate classroom life and rely disproportionately on didactic methods of teaching. To change that, you need to understand the conditions under which most African teachers continue to teach, and what sustains those practices. A poorly qualified teacher teaching a class of 60 energetic children inside a classroom built for 40 children and with the scarcest of science materials, for example, available for learning, has no choice but to fall back on what has xii Teaching and Learning in Context: Why Pedagogical Reforms Fail in Sub-Saharan Africa worked for generations of teachers before her – a very present in-front-of-theclass didactic posture. Anything short of such a posture risks chaos. Your first instinct, even as an experienced teacher, is to assure control. None of these conditions are factored into the otherwise noble ideal of open-ended, inquirydriven , progressive education. Then there is this subtle thing called authority. How does a teacher in rural Southern Africa with established patterns of adult authority and childhood obedience begin to give away or share that authority on demand from an alien curriculum? I know, this might not be the way the curriculum phrases the notion of learner-centred pedagogy, but in the mind of the teacher used to centrally-directed instruction (I use the word deliberately) this is how he or she understands the proposal for change. I have been fortunate to teach on both sides of the Atlantic, in Africa and the USA, and it is certainly true that what would pass as normative in one cultural setting (learner-centredness in a middleclass Palo Alto, California, school) would be considered outrageous in another cultural setting (a village school in a tribal authority area of rural Botswana). It is important to make the point that African societies are not static, and that norms for teaching and learning are certainly changing across national borders – much faster these days as a result of new social media and even the now humble mobile phone. Still, announcing the progressive ideal and making it work through considered implementation strategies requires great effort and, of course, considerable resources for teacher development. The progressive ideal often fails because of oversell. Whether intended or not, we leave the message with teachers that ‘everything you know is bad’ and that ‘everything you are about to receive is good’. This kind of message spells the death of any reform, but especially one challenging cultural and political norms for teaching, learning and leading in classrooms. Smart implementation would affirm what works, and gradually introduce those elements in progressive pedagogy that coincide with traditional pedagogy. Teachers should, under smart implementation, not feel that their authority is being eroded but rather that it is being strengthened albeit through a different form of teaching. This takes time, and requires patience. One thing I find useful in talking teachers (and policymakers) through the progressive ideal is the value of the didactic lecture. Teaching the history of the atom is probably best done through an excellent expository lecture that builds the drama of discovery into the oration of teaching; I have seen this done while I was in the audience, and still remember the goose-bumps xiii felt as the professor-teacher outlined the plot. Teaching multiplication...


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