Nov. 18, 1996
Black education critical
SFU STUDENT COULD CHANGE SOUTH AFRICAN EDUCATION
It's a long way from the townships of Natal to Burnaby Mountain, but the
graduate work of one South African student at Simon Fraser University could
change forever the course of education in her home country.
"Under apartheid ideology, blacks were taught functional English that
would make them useful servants. They weren't taught in a way that was empowering,"
Thoko (Barbara) Muthwa-Kuehn explains. Apartheid has gone, but the education
system has yet to change, she says.
Muthwa-Kuehn uses the word 'empowering' a lot. And she's quick to explain
exactly what it means. A teacher, she sees her colleagues as critical to
helping young black people create a bright future for themselves in the
new South Africa. "Teachers are the engineers of change in this transformation
period," she says. She advocates a radical departure from traditional
teacher-training, especially for teachers of English-as-a-second-language,
and adoption of what she describes as an empowering approach.
Muthwa-Kuehn's story begins in 1987 when she arrived at a black secondary
school in rural South Africa as the new principal. She couldn't believe
her eyes. The walls of the simple building were bare, there were few desks
and the only teaching resources were a chalkboard and chalk. The school
itself had been built by students' parents who, under apartheid, had to
pay if they wanted their children to have an education.
"I had to help these students pass the same exams as children from
more enriched schools," Muthwa-Kuehn recalls. The matriculation exams,
taken in a student's final year, determine irrevocably the course of his
or her future. They are in English, yet Muthwa-Kuehn's students had grown
up like herself, speaking Zulu, Xhosa or another indigenous language. Not
only were they writing exams in a second language, it was one they had been
taught inadequately, she says.
The experience changed the course of her life forever. "It bothered
me," she says frankly. She had grown up in a township herself, an older,
more established one. Armed with a teaching certificate, she had upgraded
her academic skills by taking part-time evening classes from a black university.
For the first time, she realized how inadequate teacher-training was. Even
By this time she was already active in the national teachers' union, and
she decided something had to be done about teacher-training to address the
inadequacies of the past. That something began with getting a master's degree
in education from Simon Fraser. Her thesis topic? Preparing teachers of
English-as-a-second-language for South Africa's historically black secondary
schools. She has already embarked on her PhD at SFU.
Muthwa-Kuehn argues that ESL teachers need to become fluent, comfortable
and critical in what will remain the language of business and commerce.
And they must take on the responsibility for developing appropriate curriculums
and relevant resource materials. By teaching teachers how to use language
as a tool for societal change, she says, they pass onto their students a
way to use language that allows them to take charge of their destiny, skills
which will equip them for life.
CONTACT: Thoko Muthwa-Kuehn, education, (604) 252-9518
Media/pr, (604) 291-4323
Media/pr's web site, http://www.sfu.ca/mediapr/
© Simon Fraser University, Media and Public Relations