Views of childhood and knowledge of children

Elizabeth Henning
2014 South African Journal of Childhood Education  
<p>In a country where there is a consistent loud outcry about school achievement of youth<br />in the final school examination in Grade 12, attention has recently shifted to children in<br />the primary school. The very founding of this journal was motivated by a deep concern<br />about research in childhood education and children's lives. Questions were being asked<br />about what happens in the first years of schooling, about the suitability of the national<br />curriculum for such a diverse
more » ... for such a diverse population, about specialised research in the field of<br />learning in the early years, and about teaching with care and with insight, knowing<br />who the children of this nation are.<br />The journal took an early stand when, at its launch in 2010, the editor noted that the<br />notion of a national foundation phase curriculum assumes the existence of a 'national'<br />Grade 1 learner. In South Africa there are children who come to school, well prepared<br />for the demands of school – and there are others who come with only their survival<br />records in homes of extreme poverty, of absent parents and of families broken by the<br />effects of the history of the nation and the effects of disease. Much as we would like<br />to see a standard of performance expected from the 'national' young learner, we need<br />to see the layers of diversity too. Can such a stratified population, socially fractured<br />in many ways, truly enact a differentiated curriculum for children who have so much<br />and for children who have so little at the same time and at the same pace? Can our<br />foundation phase classes be truly inclusive?<br />It remains a vexing question. Much research is needed to even try to give a robust<br />response. In recent years, in the research of the Centre for Education Practice Research<br />at my home institution, we have encountered more than 3000 children between five<br />and seven years old in an extensive interview test of mathematical cognition. In the<br />process we found children who had never encountered a print drawing and children<br />who did not know that a page can be turned. However, the very same children had<br />a perfectly normal idea of approximate number and size. We regard this as evidence<br />that they have the core knowledge of number that has to be developed by systematic<br />instruction and caring apprenticeship in classrooms. But for that they would need<br />teachers who know them as well as they know the latest curriculum and its suggested<br />tools of teaching.<br />This is but one example of how important teacher education is and how important<br />it is that we should investigate both learners and teachers, but also teacher education<br />and teacher educators. Teachers and their educators at universities have their own<br />view of children, of learning and of childhood. Much as we may all agree that the<br />core activity of schools is for the young to learn the three Rs and the subject areas of<br />the curriculum, there are researchers who are opposed to a developmental view of<br />learning. The journal's stance is that, in the Vygotskian tradition (Kozulin, 1990), the<br />young learn and are initiated – and thus develop – in the work of school (and society).<br />SAJCE– December 2014<br />ii<br />In the SAJCE we welcome different views on child learning and celebrate South<br />Africa's researchers who argue that "pedagogical 'know-how' and views of child and<br />childhood constitute the subject knowledge that is foundational in the foundation<br />phase curriculum" – as Murris and Verbeek do in this issue. Add to that knowledge<br />of how children the world over have core knowledge systems, as argued by cognitive<br />developmental psychologists and neuroscientists, and we have a composite picture<br />of what the object of teacher education is – to know 1) the learner and 2) the subject<br />content, but also 3) the self as teacher.<br />This 'didactical triangle', was already proposed as view of teaching in the 17th century<br />in Comenius's major work, Didactica Magna (Comenius, 1632/1967). In the 20th century,<br />for some reason, the English- speaking world used the term 'didactic' to denote<br />teacher-centred learning, while Comenius proposed what can arguably nowadays be<br />termed pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Jari Lavonen, the chair of the teacher<br />education department at the University of Helsinki, recently noted that PCK is the<br />transformation of subject content knowledge by infusing it with knowledge of the<br />learner and of the self as teacher. In Finland they refer to PCK simply as Didactics, while<br />taking full cognisance of Shulman's model (Shulman 1986).<br />But, views on teaching become more complicated when teachers are faced<br />with children who enter Grade 1, but who are not ready to embrace the way of life<br />at school. Bruwer and her co-authors report in this issue on teachers' views on the<br />predicament they face when children need to cross the liminality boundary – when<br />they are still 'betwixt and between' life as an informal learner and life in school, where<br />they have to be inducted into life as a formal learner in a national curriculum. In the<br />same vein, Condy and Blease argue that a "one-size-fits-all curriculum cannot address<br />the issues that rural multigrade teachers and learners face". Seldom do educational<br />researchers contemplate this very real issue. I was in the same class in Grade 1 as my<br />brother, who was then in Grade 8, in a little farm school. I recall vividly how we young<br />ones spent much time making clay oxen while they were doing indecipherable maths<br />on the writing board.<br />When more than one language is used, or required to be used, in a single classroom<br />communication set-up, a teacher is faced with yet another dimension. Ankiah-Gangadeen<br />and Samuel write about a narrative inquiry that was conducted in Mauritius, noting<br />that the "narrative inquiry methodology offered rich possibilities to foray into these<br />[teachers'] experiences, including the manifestations of negotiating their classroom<br />pedagogy in relation to their own personal historical biographies of language teaching<br />and learning".<br />Added to the multilayered types of knowledge around which a teacher needs to<br />negotiate her way in a foundation phase classroom, are knowledge and understanding<br />of children's transition from one grade to the next. Nieuwenhuizen and co-authors<br />found that the move from Grade 2 to Grade 3 is notably more difficult for children than<br />earlier grade transitions. I wish to add that it is also a grade transition that requires<br />much more of the learning child in volume and in pace of learning; the transition<br />Editorial<br />requires a 'mature' young learner who has worked through the curriculum of the<br />earlier grades effectively.<br />Kanjee and Moloi not only present information about ANA results, but show how<br />teachers utilise these in their teaching. To that, the editorial team adds: what is the<br />national testing ritual really doing for teachers? Are there many unforeseen and even<br />unintended effects? Many teachers may say that it alerts them to gaps in their own<br />knowledge and pedagogy and, especially, we would think, the way in which they<br />assess children's learning effectively. While Kanjee and Moloi invoke local national<br />tests, Fritz and her co-authors from Germany, Switzerland and South Africa show<br />how a mathematics competence and diagnostic test for school beginners found<br />its way from Europe to South Africa. They point to the challenges of translating an<br />interview-based test and of validating it in a local context in four languages. With the<br />promise that the test will be normed in this country, the foundation phase education<br />as well as the educational psychology community may stand to benefit from such a<br />test, which is theoretically grounded in children's conceptual development.<br />The matter of teaching with formative assessment as pedagogical tool comes to<br />mind whenever one discusses assessment. In an article by Long and Dunne, one reads<br />about their investigation into teaching of mathematics with a very specific angle – how<br />to "map and manage the omissions implicit in the current unfolding of the Curriculum<br />and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) for mathematics". In a very dense and fast<br />paced curriculum it is not possible to fill all the gaps. Who knows what the effect may<br />be for future learning of children who move through a curriculum quite rapidly?<br />Staying in the early grade classroom, Sibanda explores the readability of two<br />textbooks for natural science learning for Grade 4 learners. She touches on one of<br />the sensitive nerves of South African school education, namely the English language.<br />In her analysis of two textbooks, using a range of methods of text analysis, she<br />comes to the conclusion that the books are simply too difficult to read. She argues<br />that the authors have not taken into account that both vocabulary and syntax have<br />to be taught systematically in order for Grade 4 children to be able to read texts in a<br />language they do not know well, for one, and in a discourse of science writing that is<br />new for them as well.<br />Ragpot narrates the story of how an instructional film, #Taximaths: how children<br />make their world mathematical, was conceptualised, scripted and produced with<br />senior undergraduate students at UJ. This artefact serves not only as higher education<br />material in teacher education, but is also used as material for teacher development.1<br />This issue of the journal is rounded off by an important contribution about the<br />ethics of research on children. Pillay explains how experts in ethics have advised him<br />in the work they do in the National Research Foundation South African Research<br />Chair he holds in 'Education and Care in Childhood' at the University of Johannesburg.<br />The reader is reminded that care of vulnerable children and the protection of their<br />rights should be high on the list of educational practice and its research.<br />iii<br />SAJCE– December 2014<br />The next issue of SAJCE is a special one. It is edited by Nadine Petersen and Sarah<br />Gravett and it celebrates a programme of research and development of the South<br />African Department of Higher Education and Training, with funding support from the<br />EU. The Strengthening Foundation Phase Teacher Education Programme started in<br />2011 and included most of the universities in the country. The issue promises to be a<br />milestone publication on teacher education for the primary school.<br />Editorial greetings<br />Elizabeth Henning</p>
doi:10.4102/sajce.v4i2.200 fatcat:plpw77lsrzdmpnhmshnfej6cvi