A brief history of the South African education

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In this pilot study a brief history of the South African education system is presented to provide a background to the research problem. The study will be conducted in the Limpopo Province. This is followed by the problem statement, the aims of the study and the research methods used in data gathering. An assessment of the selection of the research participants as well as the research instrument is included. This will be followed by a discussion of the instruments used for data gathering, the data collection procedure and how the data was analysed. An evaluation of the validity and reliability of the instrument follows with the conclusion thereafter.

In order to understand the nature of the education system in South Africa, it is vital to examine the development that has taken place in the field of education. South Africa has a long and involved educational history and consequently the discussion focuses on only the relevant factors. Due to colonialism and the growth of the mining industry in South Africa, a number of social groups emerged (van Zyl 2002). Social relations based on colour and class developed which directly affected education. White children were given free compulsory education, while education for Blacks was left in the hands of the missionaries who constantly experienced a shortage of funds. As a result education became unequal and segregated.

In 1953 the apartheid Government introduced legislation known as the Bantu Education Act (Bantu was the name given to black people because whites could not pronounce " Batho" which means people). The aim of this policy was varied and was meant to marginalise and subjugate Blacks. It aimed at: reducing the influence of the English language in Black schools; imposing the use of both Afrikaans and English on an equal basis as a medium of instruction in schools; extending mother tongue education; and purposely promoting the philosophy of Christian Nationalism (van Zyl 2002).

Christian Nationalism propagated notions of separate identity, separate development of each people and the divine responsibility of the Afrikaner people to spread the gospel to the native inhabitants of South Africa and to act as Black peoples' guardians. (Kamwangamalu 2004: 136). With the church's backing, the apartheid regime saw to it that every ethnic group was educated in their own mother tongue. Language became a metre stick for segregated education. The reversal of this policy came with the Soweto (South West Township) uprisings on the 16th June, 1976. One of the most important results of the uprising was that English was given more prestige to the detriment of both Afrikaans and the African languages.

Most Black people, Africans assumed that education in their own languages was inferior mainly because, although mother tongue education was encouraged for the first eight years of schooling, the models used to teach in mother tongue were inadequate. This resulted in learners failing to develop cognitive skills. This, coupled with the fact that the mother tongues of Black learners are indigenous to South Africa and thus have no international use, most Black people opted for education through the medium of English. This position was informed by both educational and economic realities of South Africa. Since June 1976, mother tongue education became stigmatised in South Africa. The stigma lingers on to this day (Kamwangamalu 2004: 136).

The demand for English medium education has to be understood against the background of the socio-economic power and international status of English on the one hand and the legacy of the policy of Bantu education of the apartheid regime on the other hand (Kamwangamalu 2004: 137). Heugh (2007) claims that the apartheid years led to the formation of separate goals: social and economic development for the dominant minority and social and economic underdevelopment for the marginalised majority; schools were viewed as instruments of ideological oppression. Until 1994, nineteen separate education departments existed.

Two major problems have arisen from the language policy adopted during the apartheid years. The change from mother tongue education to English caused many problems as many learners did not have sufficient proficiency in English to cope with the syllabus. According to (Macdonald 1990), Black learners were subjected to a cognitively impoverished curriculum making it difficult for them to cope with the curriculum in English.

At the dawn of democracy in 1994 South Africa liberated itself from the shackles of apartheid. The apartheid policy was abolished and this paved way to a new dispensation. A multilingual policy was adopted, thus giving recognition to eleven official languages, i.e., isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, siSwati, seSotho, sePedi, XiTsonga and tshiVenda Afrikaans, English, and Setswana. (Kamwangamalu 2003: 231).

South African Schools' Language policy

South Africa is a multilingual country and in primary schools, mother tongue instruction is highly encouraged in the first years of formal education. According to the Language in Education Policy Act 27 of 1996, all learners will have to choose at least one approved language as a Learning Area in Grades 1 and 2. From Grade 3 onwards, all learners will choose their language of learning and teaching and one additional approved language as a Learning Area (Matjila and Pretorius 2004: 1; Department of Education DoE: 2004: 1).

In the case of this pilot study, the teacher will be observed when teaching and assessing the reading of learners in English. In the Further Education and Training (FET), the learners are exposed to additional learning areas, seven of them offered in English as the first additional language. These learners need to be proficient in the language of instruction in order to successfully access the curriculum as such they have to know how to read.


It will be against this background that, the main research question will be formulated:

How will the reading of English as the first additional language be in secondary schools?

1. What models of teaching reading exist?

2. How are the teaching conditions in which educators and learners find themselves?

3. How is reading taught in Secondary Schools?

4. What can be done to improve the quality of reading in first additional language in secondary schools?


. To investigate the reading skills used.

. To investigate the teaching condition in which educators and learners find themselves.

. To investigate how the methods of reading in secondary schools can be improved.


The problem will be explored using a literature review as well as an empirical investigation. The literature will entail the identification, tracing and analysis of documents containing information relating to the stated problem. These documents be comprised of professional journals, books, and papers delivered at conferences. The aim of the review of literature is to provide a theoretical framework for the empirical investigation.

Empirical investigation

In the empirical investigation a qualitative approach will be used. The focus of the pilot study will be to determine the reading of first additional language or English as a second language in selected secondary schools.

Selection of school participants

Two schools will be selected in the Lebowakgomo Circuit. All the schools selected will be located in the Capricorn District. Three teachers may participate in the study. The criteria to be used to select the schools will be based on accessibility to the researcher and the availability of information rich participants.

Criteria for sample selection.

Schools will be selected using convenience and purposive sampling. The teachers will be selected according to the subjects they taught in this case English. These will be grade 12 second language teachers. They will be selected by either the Head of the Department or the principal at each school. Grade 12 teachers will be selected because in Grade 12 is major transition where learners will be about to get to tertiary institutions.

Data gathering

Data will be gathered empirically, that is, through observations and interviews. Interviews will be conducted using unstructured questions and will be recorded using a voice recorder, of course if participants are comfortable with that. The researcher then will transcribe the interviews to assist in coding and data analysis. The emerging themes will be analysed categorically based on the questions.

The observations in the qualitative study will deliberately be conducted in an unstructured and free-flowing manner. The researcher will shift from one topic to another as new and potentially significant objects and events present themselves (Leedy and Ormrod 2005:145); the field notes are diverse. The researcher will observe and record the phenomena salient to the foreshadowed problems and their broader conceptual frameworks. The contextual features of the interactions will also be taken into consideration in the study (McMillan and Schumacher 2005:348). The environmental conditions of teachers will be taken into consideration during data analysis.

Qualitative research will focus on describing, interpreting and understanding the meaning people attached to their world, how they feel and think about circumstances and situations ( Cutcliffe & McKenna, 1999). This study is qualitative as it will seek to explore and understand the experiences of teachers who are teaching learners to read in first additional language. Qualitative research often employs inductive reasoning and an interpretive understanding that looks at deconstructing meanings of a particular occurrence (Thorne, 2000). A qualitative study allows the researcher to acquire the descriptions or the narratives of experiences from educators.

The role of researcher

If the researcher and the participants take an active role in the research process, the researcher assumes that he/she will have the deeper understanding of the social phenomenon chosen to study (Silverman 2000). The researcher forms an integral part of the process by bringing in unique experiences and understandings to the process, as he or she observes and participates in the collection of data. The researcher does not stand outside or is not objective to the whole research process. Instead, the researcher plays an important role in understanding and reconstructing the personal accounts and narratives of the participants. As a result the researcher can be viewed as a core participant.

The researcher contributes by attempting to understand, explore and empathise with the participants and chooses to focus on the context and the integrity of the whole story or experience, and hence, does not rely on quantitative facts (Parker, 1994). Qualitative research does not seek to establish a fixed truth or fact. It is trying to make sense of the phenomenon and includes exploration, elaboration and systemisation of the phenomenon (Parker, 1994). Seeing the whole story and not focusing on what is considered fact but allows the researcher/co-participant to understand the particular phenomenon. The researcher is able to make use of exploration and elaboration within an interview that allows for the development of the story of an experience and rapport and trust.

In this study, the researcher will ensure that each participant understands the purpose of the research. In the interviews with the teachers, the researcher will strive to listen to the responses, allowing the participants/educators to speak of their experiences without judgement. Therefore, the participants will be able to speak without feeling as if they were being evaluated and without thinking that they needed to say the correct thing or what the researcher wants to hear.

Ontological position

As meaning of an experience, event or emotion is constructed between people in their everyday living, the researcher maintains that the ontological view in this study is constructivist. Qualitative research and using interviews, in particular, offer the opportunity to explore how everyday life is experienced and how meaning is understood. The researcher will then strive for a unique opportunity to probe, explore or negotiate the participants' experiences regarding the learners' reading skills and proficiency (Bryman, 2004).

The conceptual framework, research approach and strategies to collect data contribute to the researcher being able to answer the research question (Thorne, 2000).

Validity and reliability of the study

The validity of a measurement instrument is the extent to which the instrument measures what it is supposed to measure (Leedy and Ormrod 2005: 28) Validity refers to the accuracy references which are based upon the outcome measures. When qualitative researchers refer to validity, they imply that the research is plausible, credible, trustworthy and defensive. The researcher is aware of the bias (Rodolo 2008: 21).

Reliability is a necessary but insufficient condition for validity (Leedy and Ormrod 2005: 29). Reliability refers to the consistency of the outcome measures. A reliable measure has to yield the same outcome if tested more than once. In qualitative studies the researcher is concerned with the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the data. (Rodolo 2008: 21).

Validity of the interview instrument will be tested by giving it to two teachers prior to conducting the interviews. After the interviews, the participants will be given feedback to make sure that the researcher captured their experiences correctly.

Limitations of the study

The study will limited to two rural schools in the Lebowakgomo Circuit. The study will not include former model C schools (schools predominantly white and well resourced) which could make it more inclusive and comprehensive. The study will be based on the teachers teaching Grade 12 first additional language reading and test the learners. The study concentrated upon the assessment of reading.

Suburban schools will be not visited due to time and financial constraints. Nonetheless, the results obtained will suggest what is happening in similar schools in South Africa. The results cannot, however, be generalised as teachers from different geographic areas were not tested.


According to Silverman (2000), informed concern involves giving information about the research that is relevant to a participant's decision to participate in the study. The decision can only be taken if the participants understand the information given (i.e. language of information). It includes ensuring that a participant's decision is voluntary. In this study the initial meeting with the relevant teachers, heads of departments and/or principals will provide the opportunity to explain the study in depth and to clarify questions that participants have.

The interviews will be planned to take place after school activities, so as not to disrupt the smooth running of the school's learning activities. The teachers' schedule will also need to be considered to avoid disrupting extramural activities in the two schools, marking and preparation that educators need to do. As stated earlier, the interviews will be conducted with full consent from each teacher and the research findings will be made available to the participants upon request.

In this pilot research, ethical considerations will be taken into account. The identities of both of the participants and of schools will be kept confidential. The participants will participate voluntarily and be made aware of their right to choose not to answer questions should they feel uncomfortable. They were also made aware of their right to withdraw from the project without giving a reason.

As mentioned, the researcher will use a qualitative approach to the research. Qualitative research unlike quantitative research is more likely to be personally intrusive and as such ethical guidelines regarding informed concern, confidentiality, anonymity, privacy, deception and care will be undertaken in the study ( McMillan and Schumacher 2006:334).


The schools and the participant's names will be kept confidential. Schools will be labelled school A, school B to protect the participant's identify, yet allows the researcher to link the transcriptions to the field notes.


The researcher will use the unstructured questions based on the questions as set out and the responses as captured in the observational notes and the transcripts of the interviews to analyse the data by clustering and grouping them according to the responses of the participants under every question as formulated in the unstructured questions. The common themes emerging from the responses of the interviews and those transcripts of the observations will then be grouped together and analysed as responses.

In certain instances the participants will be quoted verbatim to emphasize the point made. (Schlebusch and Thobedi 2005:312).

Creswell (1998) in Leedy and Ormrod (2005: 150) describes data analysis as a spiral that is, in view, equally applicable to a wide variety of qualitative studies. In using this view, the researcher will go through the data several times and follow the following steps:

. organise the data in the form of smaller units.

. Read the entire data several times to get a sense of what it contains as a whole.

. Identify general categories or themes, and perhaps sub-categorise or sub themes, classify and categorize accordingly and

. Integrate and summarise the data for the readers. These steps might include offering presuppositions describing relationships among categories.

Above all, the researcher will make a concerted effort to look for evidence that contradicts his or her hypothesis (Leedy and Ormrod 2005: 150).

Data will be analysed empirically. Keys will be allocated to common statements and clustered under various themes. The unstructured questions form the basis of the data analysis and at times the participants will be quoted verbatim to clarify the point they were making and to give substance to the findings (Adeyemi 2008: 70).

Validity and reliability of the study

The validity of a measurement instrument is the extent to which the instrument measures what it is supposed to measure (Leedy and Ormrod 2005: 28) Validity refers to the accuracy references which are made based upon the outcome measures.


South Africa's population of about 50% lives in rural areas and learners attending rural schools perform well when coming to the skill of English reading than those attending urban areas. This is a serious challenge to the education and other authorities and policymakers. However, schools in these communities are also poorer and lack resources and learners come from poor homes and have less exposure to the English language than their urban counterparts. Although teachers may feel affirmed, they are also challenged by their conditions of the schools, which resulted in learner performing badly with their reading skills.

Many parents and teachers perceive English is the gateway to global opportunities and therefore want the learners to participate in the education through the medium of English. In my opinion in conclusion the implementation of the language policy needs revisiting regarding its feasibility and desires of the community. Unless some decisions are taken, learners will continue to struggle with reading. English is increasingly used. Hence the necessary support mechanism needs to be put in place especially the reading skill of second language teachers who are teaching through the medium of English.