Opinionista Lehlohonolo Mofokeng 1 March 2021

Spoon-feeding kills deep learning: We must teach pupils how to fish

Under pressure to get results, principals and subject advisers resort to strategies that only serve the school in the short term and compromise the nation in the long term. When as a teacher you expect more from your learners by challenging them intellectually, you are told you are too harsh. This is not what great nations are built on.

I will never forget my first day in a university lecture hall. It was a complete culture shock to realise how I was expected to become an adult even when my age didn’t say I was. Our first-year business management lecturer was clear on one thing: We were fully responsible for our education, and failure to come to terms with this meant our aspirations were in jeopardy. I am grateful I survived my first year, but not many of our learners are that fortunate

Whenever I look at my learners’ academic achievement, those who passed that is, I always ask the question: Did deep learning really happen, or was I focusing on surface learning?

Will these learners withstand academic challenges that any good university poses if they pursue this route? Are these learners able to understand the subject matter in a way that they can apply it to familiar and unfamiliar situations? If not, what should be done? Unfortunately, our schooling system isn’t designed to encourage deep learning. The evidence of this is found in many of the past papers, where questions are repeated year in, year out.

When you expect more from your learners by challenging them intellectually, you are told you are too harsh. When you demand better academic results from them, you are told a bare minimum will suffice. This is not what great nations are built on.

Because of the pressure to get results, principals and subject advisers resort to strategies that only serve the school in the short term and compromise the nation in the long term. In 2019, I was removed from teaching matric accounting learners because I was “too rigid”. Being rigid means allowing learners into class even when they are routinely late for lessons. Rigidity means allowing learners, even without any medical reasons, more time than is required to write their tests in the name of a good SBA (school-based assessment) mark.

This begs the question: Is this what these kids will experience in any good university?

Another short-term solution is often productive extra classes that have become a culture in almost all of the township schools. I have said it countlessly that until we teach them to be independent students by inculcating self-learning, we should forget about true quality academic results. The problem isn’t that our kids are academically inept. Rather, the problem is we think that by having more extra classes our kids will perform.

We are misdiagnosing the problem. Among many problems, we have taken away these kids’ power to take responsibility for their own education and schooling. Teach them during your lessons and let them learn on their own during these extra classes. In fact, let them play after school.

Let us teach them how to fish, as opposed to fishing for them. This way, we ensure that “an active and critical approach to learning, rather than rote and uncritical learning of given truths”, becomes a reality. DM

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