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1 Making a Case for a Socio-cultural Approach Introduction Since the 1990s, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced unprecedented attempts at reforming teacher and student classroom practices, with a learner-centred pedagogy regarded as an ‘effective antidote to the prevalence of teacher-centred didactic classroom practices’ (O’Sullivan 2004:585). So intense has the interest in the pedagogy been that almost all African countries are currently in the throes of instructional reform, from South Africa in the south to Egypt in the north, from Ethiopia in the east to Gambia in the west. In fact, learner-centred pedagogy has been described as one of the ‘most pervasive educational ideas in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere’ (Chisholm and Leyerndecker 2008:197). Its pervasiveness notwithstanding, the pedagogy has done poorly in terms of being institutionalized. Classroom research has tended to attribute this failure by teachers to adopt instructional innovations to technical problems such as poor teacher training programmes leading to poor teacher quality, lack of resources, and selective external examinations (see Barrett 2007; Altinyelken 2010). As a response to these problems, massive investments have been made in interventions such as in-service programmes, workshops and seminars, all aimed at changing the teachers’ classroom practices in the desired direction of leaner-centredness. Still, very little visible change in the classroom interactive processes has occurred. This has led some researchers to question the emphasis that classroom researchers put on technical problems as the root cause of innovation failure. For example, King (1989:44), with reference to Africa in general, has observed that: What little evidence there is from classroom studies would suggest that the character of the classroom life is perhaps less determined by these material shortages than by the emergence of a teaching and learning that is not supportive of pupil participation and inquiry. Teaching and Learning in Context: Why Pedagogical Reforms Fail in Sub-Saharan Africa 2 That technical problems have impeded instructional reform in Africa is beyond any doubt. But why has pedagogical change not occurred in spite of so much having been committed to such reform? To address this question, I argue in this chapter that by being preoccupied with technical problems of innovation delivery, classroom research in subSaharan Africa has tended to downplay the importance of the socio-cultural context as a potential barrier to the adoption of instructional innovations. Researchers have tended to adopt what Elliot (1994) terms the ‘technicist stance’ to problems of pedagogical change and have ignored the wider institutional and social processes which influence the locus of change. In the present chapter I advance a critique of the approach with a view to exposing its limitations. I argue that the dominant technicist approach is in itself problematic to the extent that it can be indicted for stalling the desired pedagogical shift from a teacher-centred pedagogy to a learner-centred one. Too often, however, the approach is not subjected to questioning. It is often assumed that it is not critical to the fate of pedagogical reform. The technicist framework has a history and has influenced teaching and research on teaching in very fundamental ways. Its limitations emanate from its philosophical basis – Positivism – with its view of professional practice, teaching included, as a value-free activity. My critique of the framework in the early pages of the chapter sets the stage for a proposal later in the chapter for embracing a socio-cultural approach, one that recognizes the political, economic, cultural, anthropological and social grounding of pedagogy. In short, the chapter makes a case for a consideration of context, for without an understanding of the latter, we will never be able to explain why efforts to shift to a learner-centred pedagogy have not yielded the desired results. Defining Pedagogy Alexander’s (2008) definition of pedagogy is more comprehensive than most. He defines pedagogy as: …the observable act of teaching together with its attendant discourse of educational theories, values, evidence and justifications. It is what one needs to know, and the skills one needs to command, in order to make and justify the many different kinds of decisions of which teaching is constituted” (Alexander 2008:29). There are two critical elements in this definition: pedagogy as ‘the observable act of teaching’ and ‘pedagogy as ideas’ that inform the ‘act’ of teaching, i.e. the ‘educational theories, values, evidence and justifications’ that inform teaching. 3 Thesetwoelementsarecomplementary.Notwithstandingthiscomplementarity, the first element (the ‘observable act of teaching’) is often the one equated with pedagogy, in which case the...


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