Schools Initiative On Mathematics And Literacy Education Essay

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Background and Rationale

'Gettting learning right' is the priority on South Africa's Educational Agenda . Reviews of Curriculum 2005 as well as the Outcomes- Based Curriculum have its focus on learning outcomes, learner-centeredness in the classroom and how to foster a culture of learning among teachers and learners . An imbalanced system of education existed before 1994 with nineteen different educational departments. Children were prepared differently for occupational positions in the different facets of life. Inequality was reinforced. After the 1994 elections things started to change. In 1996 the first Life-Long Learning through a National Curriculum Framework emerged. A teacher- and content driven curriculum was replaced with an Outcomes- based and learner-centred curriculum. A paradigm shift needed to take place (Moll, 2001; Mda & Mothata, 2000; Department of National Education, 2002).

A shift in assessment was also necessary. Single attribute assessment was replaced with multidimensional assessment that encourages knowledge, abilities and thinking processes. There was a shift from behavioural approach to the cognitive approach to learning and assessment. Teachers should be aware of the Theoretical underpinnings of Outcomes- Based Education that they are teaching. Training and support of teachers in this regard are needed (Mda & Mothata, 2000).

Critical thinking demands that learners be critical thinkers. Little action is taken because many educators do not know its teaching practices and learners rely on dependent/ passive learning and are unable to think clearly and make sense of complexity. The Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS) requires a lot of independent and discovery work. The Critical and Developmental Outcomes specified for South African Education consists of goals which indicate what effective thinking can do which we as educators need to promote so that the learners can become effective thinkers who can direct their own thinking processes (WCED, 2002). This study will aim to equip teachers to develop their learning environment into a 'community of enquiry' where inclusiveness, participation, shared cognition, the quest for meaning, thinking for oneself, reading, questioning etc. are evident (Lipman, 2003).

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of Lev Vygotsky will be used in this study. He initiated ideas on cognitive development and emphasised the relationship between language and thinking. His theory suggests that thought can be learned and verbal- and factual knowledge can be accumulated. Applications/ Evidence of his work can be found in the work of Matthew Lipman, Arthur Costa, Alex Kozulin as well as James Wertsch.

Various strategies to help children learn to think more effectively have been developed and researched, one of which is Philosophy for children (P4C). It awakens the children's natural curiosity and extends their understanding because it underpins our experiences of human life and all academic disciplines. Philosophy for children has employed a pedagogy called "the community of inquiry". These communities encourage critical, creative and caring thinking, leading to sounder reasoning, understanding and judgement (Lipman, 1998). He also reasoned that the curriculum should convey aspects of the subject matter that are challenging in order to capture the attention of the learners and to stimulate them to form a community of inquiry (Lipman, 2003).

The Thinking Schools initiative, through which school can choose to be accredited as Thinking Schools by the Cognitive Education Centre at the University of Exeter, seems a possible direction and is being explored. Within two WCED projects certain local schools have begun the process by making a commitment to educator training in the key practices of P4C, either in the Intermediate Phase between 2007-08 or in the Foundation Phase in 2010.

It is advised that learning is viewed as a reciprocal process where the individual influences the group and the group influences the individual (Vygotsky, 1978 in Costa). He therefore recommended that intelligence grows through our own experience as well as being shaped through interaction with others. This theme of learning is found in the work of Costa, Kozulin, Wertsch where they argued that humans have a passion for interdependence.

Learning and development are interconnected from the child's first day of life (Vygotsky, 1978 in Bradbury et al.). He raises the idea of the zone of proximal development which allows us to see how teaching and mediation, permits us to strengthen learning. Costa and others emphasised that the home, school and community environments are crucial in developing a child's full potential.

Many scholars wrote about Vygotsky's theme of Cultural mediation that human intelligence grows from within ourselves as well as through interaction with others. Vygotsky also focussed on language development that makes supports thinking in return helps with imagination and emotional development.

Research Design and Methodology

The research will follow a qualitative as well as a quantitative research methodology. The approach that will be used is called ethnographic method which will reveal ways in which people in school settings come to understand, account for, take action and manage their situation as well as the problems and complications they encounter. I plan that my study will also include a pre- and post measurement single group design. The aim will be to ascribe differences between pre- and post measurements to mediated interventions. I will consider participant observation, unstructured in-depth interviews as well as focus groups.

Participant observation will require from me, for an extensive period of time, to take part in and report on the daily experiences of teachers and learners. As an educator myself, I will become a member of the group that is being studied. In order for me to be able to conduct participant observation, certain procedures will be followed:

Permission will be obtained from the group that will be observed.

I will disclose objectives of the research to the group members.

Participants' anonymity would be ensured.

I will build a position of trust with the group.

I will become the actual research instrument who will write the report.

Observation notes will be made while the activities are taking place.

I will then look for themes or patterns.

In unstructured interviews, the interviewer will suggest the general theme of discussion and will pose further questions as these come up in spontaneous development of the interaction between the interviewer and research participant (Welman, Kruger & Mitchell: 2002). In unstructured interviews an attempt will be made to understand how individuals experience their life-world and how they make sense of what is happening to them.

Lastly, I will use focus groups. These groups will consist of 12 teachers that will be drawn together for the purpose of expressing their opinions on a specific set of open questions. The aim of using such group interviews will be to gather information that will perhaps not be collected easily by means of individual interviews.

The research paradigm that will be used, will be the interpretive approach. The researcher will seek insights, in depth knowledge and understanding of the human behaviour and relationship (Brundett, Burton & Jones: 2008). Within the interpretive inquiry, theory building is vital to the research process and surface from the dialogue between theoretical and professional perspectives and the data gathered. The conceptual framework, in this case, inductive method will be used.

Aims and Objectives

The study will aim to get the teachers' perceptions on the effects of a Thinking School Initiative on the thinking of Mathematics and Literacy. I would like the outcome to be in favour of becoming a 'Thinking School'. If the learner is able to apply logical, critical and reflecting thinking, it will certainly have positive impacts for education. Cognitive Developmental Interventions are needed so that these learners will be able to compete globally in the years to come. If the intervention is successful in enhancing thinking one would expect to find that educators and learners approach literacy/numeracy differently and that learners become more confident and successful. So it is important to find out what kind of intervention can make a difference.

The criteria for the evaluation of a 'Thinking School' according to the Cognitive Education Centre at the University of Exeter will be used to measure whether the 'Thinking School Initiative' was successfully implemented: The school should therefore reflect the following criteria:-

The school principal will commit him -or herself to school improvement via cognitive education.

The school governing body will show support towards cognitive education.

A cognitive Education Co-ordinator will be elected to administer the teaching of Cognitive Education.

A 'drive team' will be elected to support the Co-ordinator.

The greater part of the teaching as well as support staff will implement and practice the procedures of cognitive education.

Cognitive tools, strategies and resources will be used in all facets of the school curriculum.

These tools, strategies and resources will be implemented via an action plan.

Training should be provided to the cognitive Education Co-ordinator with regard to the theory, application and assessment of cognitive education.

The staff will be developed continuously through an ongoing training programme in cognitive education.

The development of the cognitive skills will be examined through other forms of assessment including peer and self-assessment.

The learners will become thoughtful in their learning objectives, attitudes as well as their behaviour.

The cognitive tools and its effects will continuously be evaluated.

The staff of the proposed 'Thinking School' will have regular discussions on how to improve the process of Cognitive Education.

Lastly, the school will show evidence of education where a number of cognitive tools, strategies and resources which will develop effective thinking and learning skills, be incorporated.

The research question that my study will address is, therefore: How and to what extent is the literacy/ numeracy class perceived to be different in selected project schools? Sub-questions to the research will be: What teaching practices are exercised in schools? What are the learners attitudes in schools? Are the learners actively engaged in the class?